Diabetic? How Growing a Garden Can Help You Return to Health

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If you’ve been diagnosed diabetic or prediabetic, having a vegetable garden can help you change your eating habits and gain back control of your high blood sugar. Why would a garden help? 

Remember that Type 2 diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar remains elevated, which can lead to serious health consequences over time. Based on several decades of study that I have done to understand the real cause of Type 2 diabetes, I suggest that it is due to a diet high in grains and grain flour products. 

Humans were not meant to eat as much grain–wheat, barley, oats, rice, and corn–as our modern diet now includes. During the first 290,000 years of human existence, we did not eat cultivated grains. Grains became a food staple of mass consumption only after the Agricultural Revolution of the 20th century greatly increased their availability, affordability, and accessibility. For many people, the daily diet now includes 50% of their caloric intake from grains and grain-flour products. Think bread, sandwiches, pizza, tortillas, bagels, muffins, cakes, chips, and so on. 

The Overconsumption of Grains

The problem with eating too many grains is that they produce voluminous amounts of glucose after digestion. The excess glucose that cannot be burned by the body’s cells within hours after eating is converted to fatty acids to be stored in your fat cells. However, given that each person has only a certain allotment of fat cells, they eventually become filled up and there is nowhere for excess fatty acids to be stored. They remain in the bloodstream, the consequence of which is that your muscle cells begin burning the fatty acids for energy more easily than glucose. This causes glucose to remain in the bloodstream, thus high blood sugar. If this situation continues over time, it leads to Type 2 diabetes. 

What does this have to do with gardening? Everything.

A garden can help wean you off grains, step by step, by growing your own bountiful harvests of vegetables. You will also benefit by experiencing great joy at watching your plants grow and producing food for yourself and your family. 

Start by planting a variety of lettuces as the foundation for many different salads to accompany your entrées or top your salads with chicken, fish, or meat as your main meal. Plant some carrots, radishes, cucumbers, green beans, peas, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, or peppers in your garden to add to your salads. 

 

Mustard greens can give the spicy kick to a French salade nicoise with tuna and black olives or a salad with slices of steak. Cook up some lentils and mix with your garden’s red onion, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and throw in some feta cheese for a Mediterranean salad. I worked with professional chef Colleen Cackowski to create a delicious recipe, a Kitcheree Salad with Lentils, that you can find in my new book, The Diabetes-Free Cookbook and Exercise Guide.

If you have space, plant eggplants, artichokes, or yams. Make room for zucchini or squash, either for the vegetables themselves or for their flowers, which are a delightful treat filled with cheese and baked. 

Herbs contain valuable micronutrients and minerals that your body’s cells need for optimum functioning.

You can also plant a variety of herbs—oregano, thyme, rosemary, dill, basil, mint, cilantro, parsley, tarragon, and others that will add flavor to anything you cook—like baked chicken sprinkled with chopped fresh rosemary or thyme, or Scandinavian salmon soup with dill or tarragon. 

       

No matter what you choose to grow, having a garden acts as a reminder that humans are meant to eat fresh, seasonal foods, not prepared or canned goods high in fats, sodium, and preservatives. Eating vegetables you grew and just picked with love and care will transform your attitude and approach to your eating habits and give you the confidence you can eat for health and still feel satisfied and energetic without grains at every meal. Three different vegetables per day can also increase your intake of fiber to the daily recommended amount of 20 to 35 grams, which improves your digestion and results in a slower elevation of blood sugar after a meal. 

Finally, one of the most often overlooked benefits of eating a lot of fresh vegetables is that they force you to chew your food. Chewing allows the orderly release of nutrients contained in each bite, which are then detected by the taste and smell receptors in your mouth and oral cavity. The receptors send signals to a control center in your brain that tracks your nutrient intake. This is in fact how your brain creates the sense of satiation (being full) when eating. Specifically, when the bites of food no longer provide the same degree of enjoyment as the first bite, your brain is telling you that you can stop eating, as you have consumed enough nutrients from that dish until the next meal. 

This reduction in enjoyment of the food at a certain point in a meal is our natural mechanism to avoid overeating. This signal is evident if you watch any toddler eat. You will observe that they eat only when hungry, and stop eating when they are satisfied, even if there is still food on the plate. Adults do this when they are thirsty, drinking only enough until they sense that they are no longer thirsty. But when it comes to food, adults tend to keep eating to fill their stomachs, a learned habit that becomes a consistent eating behavior, leading to weight gain, obesity, and often Type 2 diabetes. 

If you have no backyard space available for planting, consider a planter box or two on your windowsill, porch, balcony, or in a community garden. Invite your family members to join in. Tune into the bounty of nature to obtain over 100 nutrients needed to live healthily. 

 

As a best-selling author and Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Dr. John Poothullil, advocates for patients struggling with the effects of adverse lifestyle conditions.

Dr. John’s books, available on Amazon, have educated and inspired readers to take charge of their own health. There are many steps you can take to make changes in your own health, but Dr. John also empowers us that we must demand certain changes in our healthcare system as well.

His latest book, “The Diabetes-Free Cookbook and Exercise Guide” presents over 80 delicious recipes. A must-have for anyone looking to take control of their health and transform their relationship with food.

Follow or contact Dr. John at drjohnonhealth.com.

 

John Poothullill practiced medicine as a pediatrician and allergist for more than 30 years, with 27 of those years in the state of Texas. He received his medical degree from the University of Kerala, India in 1968, after which he did two years of medical residency in Washington, DC and Phoenix, AZ and two years of fellowship, one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the other in Ontario, Canada. He began his practice in 1974 and retired in 2008. He holds certifications from the American Board of Pediatrics, The American Board of Allergy & Immunology, and the Canadian Board of Pediatrics.During his medical practice, John became interested in understanding the causes of and interconnections between hunger, satiation, and weight gain. His interest turned into a passion and a multi-decade personal study and research project that led him to read many medical journal articles, medical textbooks, and other scholarly works in biology, biochemistry, physiology, endocrinology, and cellular metabolic functions. This eventually guided Dr. Poothullil to investigate the theory of insulin resistance as it relates to diabetes. Recognizing that this theory was illogical, he spent a few years rethinking the biology behind high blood sugar and finally developed the fatty acid burn switch as the real cause of diabetes.Dr. Poothullil has written articles on hunger and satiation, weight loss, diabetes, and the senses of taste and smell. His articles have been published in medical journals such as Physiology and Behavior, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Journal of Women’s Health, Journal of Applied Research, Nutrition, and Nutritional Neuroscience. His work has been quoted in Woman’s Day, Fitness, Red Book and Woman’s World.Dr. Poothullil resides in Portland, OR and is available for phone and live interviews.

To learn more buy the books at: amazon.com/author/drjohnpoothullil

Visit drjohnonhealth.com to learn more. You can also contact him at john@drhohnonhealth.com.

 

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About Dr. John Poothullil 2 Articles
Based on more than 20 years of research into the medical literature, Dr. John Poothullil, MD, FRCP, is Board Certified in Pediatrics and Allergy and Immunology. An award-winning author and health advocate for lifestyle diseases.

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