12 January - 20 June 2016

Are lentils a superfood for Type 2 Diabetes?

A study conducted by scientists from the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph and published in The Journal of Nutrition has found that replacing carbohydrates from high glycaemic index (GI) foods with lentils can significantly help attenuate postprandial blood glucose response and so lessen risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

A study conducted by scientists from the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph and published in The Journal of Nutrition has found that replacing carbohydrates from high glycaemic index (GI) foods with lentils can significantly help attenuate postprandial blood glucose response and so lessen risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

High blood glucose levels, scientifically know as hyperglycaemia, is a well-known risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes as it is associated with insulin resistance. With the incidence of type 2 diabetes rising, there has been a greater focus on dietary interventions for the management and even prevention of the disease, as certain foods and dietary patterns can help improve glycaemic control.  Dietary interventions for type 2 diabetes are often focused on foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) as these release sugar in the blood more slowly that those with a high GI. This helps stabilise the body’s glycaemic response to carbohydrates. Not only do lentils have a low GI, they also have a good nutrient profile in general as they are rich in dietary fibre and phytochemicals, yet low in fat which have been shown to have a positive effect on the risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Moravek et al. investigated the effect of replacing half the available carbohydrate (AC) in white rice and potatoes with lentils on the glycaemic response to these carbohydrates. The researchers measured fasting blood samples as well as the postprandial blood glucose response (PBGR) in order to gain glucose and insulin data. In a crossover design, 2 groups of 24 healthy adults randomly consumed 4 dishes; 50g of AC from control white rice, and rice replaced with 50% of AC from 3 types of lentils (large green lentils, small green lentil and red split lentils). Therefore, the dishes in the experimental groups were comprised of half white rice and half of each type of lentil separately.

To compare the impact of lentils with other sources of carbohydrates, the process was repeated for instant potato, and the same combinations of 50:50 potato and each type of lentil. Consequently, participants underwent a total of 8 dietary conditions. The researchers chose this experimental design of lentils mixed with rice and potatoes in a 50:50 ratio for their results to reflect how lentil are most commonly consumed as “People don’t typically eat pulses on their own, but rather consume them in combination with other starches as part of a larger meal”.

Movarek et al. found that participants’ Relative Glycaemic Response (RGR) to potato and white rice decreased by 35% and 20%, respectively, when half the AC was replaced with lentils. The impact on blood glucose was similar between each of the lentil types.

The researchers explain these results by stating that pulses, such as lentils, slow down the digestion of starches consequently decreasing the rate at which sugar is released in the blood stream. One of the researchers, Alison Duncan continues by stating that a slower absorption of sugar results in fewer “spike[s] in glucose” avoiding a “mismanagement of blood glucose” which is one of the main risk factors of type 2 diabetes. Consequently, they argue that lentils lower the risk of the chronic disease by promoting glycaemic control.

Duncan explains lentils’ mechanism of action on glycaemic control is through their components which inhibit enzymes involved in absorption.  With the high production rate of lentils in Canada, Duncan hopes that these findings will act as a catalyst for an “increase in awareness of the benefits and consumption of lentils in the country”.

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