Dals or pulses and even lentils — known for their nutritional value — are recommended for everyone, especially for people with chronic conditions like diabetes which is characterised by elevated blood sugar levels. But how do they help, and are there any specific dals that doctors advise to manage blood sugar levels? We reached out to experts to understand more about how certain dals (and which ones) are better for diabetics and why.
What causes diabetes?
Since the total number of people living with diabetes is projected to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045, according to the International Diabetes Federation’s IDF Diabetes Atlas Tenth edition 2021, it is important to understand the major factors behind this surge. “Dietary habits, as well as obesity, are the major reasons,” said Garima Goyal, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator.
So, how are dals beneficial for diabetics?
Since a large segment of the population is vegetarian, especially in countries like India which is touted to be the diabetes capital of the world, pulses play an important role in the diabetes diet plan, especially as a source of protein, said Goyal.
“Research has shown that pulses — which are slow digesting in nature due to their high fibre, protein, and complex carbohydrate content — help control blood glucose levels in the body. Also, since they have a comparatively low glycemic index (GI), they don’t spike blood glucose levels post-consumption. Additionally, they are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals such as iron, folic acid, zinc, and magnesium. Certain plant compounds called phytochemicals (saponins and tannins) are also present in pulses which exhibit strong anti-carcinogenic and anti-oxidant properties. It has been proven by research that pulse consumption improves lipid profile and blood pressure as well,” Goyal told indianexpress.com.
Agreed clinical dietician Hafsa Iftikhar and said that living with diabetes or any other chronic disease requires one to make multiple lifestyle tweaks including nutritional aspects such as incorporating foods with low glycemic level, cholesterol lowering properties, more dietary fibre, minerals, and healthy fats, “which will eventually help manage the condition”.
But which dals help?
If you have diabetes, then you need to choose your dal wisely, said Dr Jinal Patel, dietitian, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai. “Choose masoor dal as it helps in managing blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and even aids weight loss. Urad dal will help in the management of blood sugar levels and provide energy. Also, don’t miss moong dal. It is low in calories and loaded with vital nutrients, fibre, and protein,” she told indianexpress.com.
Goyal further listed some options diabetics can have as part of their diet plan
Chickpeas – High in fibre and protein, and a storehouse of vitamins and minerals, this lentil (chane/chole) is great for a diabetic. Also, owing to its low glycemic index of 33, blood glucose values do not spike after consumption. Chickpea flour can also be used (instead of wheat flour) for making rotis. A popular Mediterranean dip called hummus, which is  prepared with chickpeas, also helps keep a person fuller for longer.
Kidney beans – “Have you given up on consuming rajma only because you are a diabetic? You do not need to as kidney beans have a low glycemic index of 19, high protein content and high fibre value, especially resistant starch — all of which make it suitable for consumption by a diabetic,” said Goyal, adding that the starch of kidney beans has slow digestion properties and doesn’t influence the blood sugar levels significantly.
Bengal gram dal – ‘Chane ki dal’ also acts as a superfood for diabetics due to its high protein value and low glycemic index of 8. Being rich in folic acid and iron makes it a healthy option for increasing the production of red blood cells in the body and should, hence, be consumed by anemics. Its high fibre content improves digestion and reduces the chances of constipation. Also, fibre is responsible for keeping the blood sugar levels under control and maintain insulin levels in the body. Being calcium and phosphorus rich, its a good pulse for bone health, too. The antioxidants present in it also aid the body’s detoxification process.
Green gram dal – ‘Moong dal’ is the one which benefits patients with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and hypothyroidism. So its a good option to control metabolic syndrome. Also it has a glycemic index of 43. It can also be sprouted to increase its vitamin C content. You can make a khichdi with this dal.
Split and de-husked black gram dal (urad dal) – “All South Indian dishes such as idli and dosa are made with urad dal. Its glycemic index of 43 makes it a suitable pulse for diabetics. It is rich in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Its magnesium and  fibre content keeps cholesterol under control, while potassium boosts blood circulation,” said Goyal.
Do diabetics need to keep anything in mind before consumption?
For those looking to “try different combinations of dal”, Dr Patel said it is “imperative for you to consult an expert who can guide you when it comes to opting for an appropriate dal to manage blood sugar levels“. “Remember to stick to the instructions given by the expert and eat in the quantity recommended by him/her,” Dr Patel said.
Concurring, Goyal mentioned that “portion size is the key”. “It may have numerous health benefits, but it does not mean you can go overboard with its consumption. Excessive consumption of pulses may cause flatulence production and intestinal discomfort,” she said.
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