How Mushrooms May Help Control Diabetes

Diabetes is a big deal. Yet having heard the word so often, many of us barely take note of it, and in many cases, don’t even grasp the fact that diabetes is a deadly disease if not carefully controlled.

In South Africa, 7% of the population between the ages of 21 and 79 is living with diabetes, according to the Mediclinic Infohub. That’s about 3.85 million people – your gran, your best friend or yourself possibly among them. And that’s not even counting the many people undiagnosed.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month in South Africa, with World Diabetes Day being marked on November 14. So in the spirit of the month, let’s learn with help from the South African Mushroom Farmers Association.

What is diabetes?

According to The World Health Organisation (WHO), “Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar), which leads over time to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. The most common is type 2 diabetes, usually in adults, which occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t make enough insulin.”

Can you diagnose and treat diabetes on your own?

Diabetes can only be diagnosed and treated under professional medical care. “There is no cure for diabetes,” states Medical News Today. “However, treatment can manage the condition and people may be able to reach a stage of diabetes remission.”

What are the main interventions for treating diabetes?

Each individual is different and a tailored treatment plan must be made for them by their doctor.

What lifestyle changes are needed to help manage diabetes?

In addition to following medical advice from your own doctor and monitoring your blood sugar, it is important to exercise regularly and follow a balanced diet that takes in sufficient fibre from wholegrains, vegetables and mushrooms to help regulate blood sugar.

How can mushrooms help with blood sugar?

Mushrooms are high in a specific form of soluble fibre called beta glucan that can “help your body regulate blood sugar, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes,” explains Rena Goldman on healthline.com.

“Mushrooms have been found to have high concentrations of β-D-glucans, especially β-glucan, a form of dietary fibre that has shown positive effects in combating type 2 diabetes,” explains a scientific paper published in early 2023 called Exploring Edible Mushrooms for Diabetes: Unveiling Their Role in Prevention and Treatment.

The study, by a multidisciplinary team from India and Korea, notes that “mushrooms-derived functional foods and dietary supplements can delay the onset of potentially fatal diseases and help treat pre-existing conditions, which leads to the successful prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes, which is restricted to the breakdown of complex polysaccharides by pancreatic-amylase and the suppression of intestinal-glucosidase. Many mushroom species are particularly helpful in lowering blood glucose levels and alleviating diabetes symptoms.”

This includes Agaricus bisporus, which are the mushrooms commonly found on supermarket shelves in South Africa, including button and baby button mushrooms, Portabellinis and Portobellos, often called “big brown” mushrooms.

These fungi are also fat-free, low in sodium, and calories and contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that maintain overall health.

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Do mushrooms have specific anti-diabetes properties?

“Preliminary research suggests that the polysaccharides found in mushrooms could contribute to lowering blood sugar. Along with that, mushrooms have a low glycemic load and are highly nutritious,” states US MED in a piece medically reviewed by Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Shirley DeLeon.

“Science suggests that the diabetes-related health benefits tied to mushroom consumption go beyond their low amounts of glucose,” it goes on to say. “Mushrooms are also jam-packed with compounds called polysaccharides, [and] so far, research on these components in animals with type 2 diabetes suggests they could lower blood sugar, reduce blood cholesterol, improve insulin resistance and help with pancreatic tissue damage.”

How do you include mushrooms in your diet?

“Although they’re actually fungi, mushrooms are lumped in the vegetable category for cooking purposes,” notes Healthline’s Goldman, and by adding mushrooms to recipes you “add extra taste without sodium or fat.”

Mushrooms are synonymous with the word umami, which is a satisfying savoury flavour. They can be sauteed, stewed, stuffed, sliced into any meal at any time of the day, and even served raw in salads like our Prawn, Mushroom & Noodle Salad or snacks and other savouries, including our Mushroom & Cheese Scones.

Mushrooms have the additional benefit of being highly economical and can even be finely chopped and used in place of half the meat in anything from burger patties to meaty bakes like bobotie.

You’ll find diabetic-friendly recipes to suit all tastes and budgets on the official South African Mushroom Farmers Association website.

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