Healthy Nigerian foods for people with diabetes mellitus

Nigeria is an African country with diverse cultures and tribes. Likewise, they have varying dishes. But, which of the Nigerian dishes can help people with diabetes lower their blood glucose levels?

People eating Nigerian (African) foods on a round table

There are different healthy Nigerian foods for people with diabetes, such as chicken sauce, unripe plantain, moi moi, whole wheat meals, vegetable soup, and unsweetened zobo drinks. This article will explore the best foods for people with high blood sugar levels living in Nigeria.

If you have diabetes and are battling with keeping your blood sugar level low, your doctor will most likely advise you on dietary and lifestyle management strategies. Aside from taking medications, making the right choice of food and eating the right meals can help deal with the condition.

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes is a common metabolic condition characterised by increased blood sugar levels. A person is diagnosed with diabetes if their fasting blood glucose is 7 mmol/L (126 mg/dL) or higher, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

Aside from high glucose levels, other symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, feeling of tiredness, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, constant feeling of thirst, a numb or tingling sensation in the hands or feet and slow healing sores.

Diabetes is divided into type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

Clinicians believe that type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune disease that attacks the organ (pancreas) responsible for secreting insulin hormone.

Cells need insulin for glucose uptake, and in the absence of insulin, glucose will remain in the blood and will be unable to enter the cells where it will be needed to produce energy.

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin; thus, the body will be unable to produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes can produce insulin; however, their bodies cannot utilise insulin well. This means the insulin doesn't function effectively, and glucose accumulates in the blood.

Type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1. About 90-95% of people diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Diabetes is a chronic health condition. This means you need the help of a doctor to manage the condition. People with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin daily to survive. There are different ways of taking insulin, such as needles and syringes, insulin pens, insulin inhalers and insulin pumps.

On the other hand, people with type 2 don’t need to take insulin. However, they will need medications such as metformin, acarbose (Glucobay) and pioglitazone (Actos) and dietary and lifestyle adjustments to manage the condition.

Prevalence of diabetes mellitus in Nigeria

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Studies have shown a global rise in type 2 diabetes over the years. This increase also applies to Africa, with studies indicating that the prevalence of the condition in urban Africa is similar to or may even supersede that of developed countries.

There is insufficient research on diabetes and its prevalence in Nigeria and some other African countries. According to a study, most of the evidence pool for diabetes in Nigeria comes from the southern part of the country. 

In 2016, WHO estimated 28,000 diabetes deaths in Nigeria. This figure may not be accurate, as national mortality data were unavailable for computing the estimates. 

However, estimates showed that more Nigerians were admitted to hospitals for diabetes-related complications. This means that many people visit the hospital only at the advanced stage of diabetes. 

The current figure published by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reported the prevalence of diabetes mellitus in adults aged 20-69 years as 1.7% (1.2-3.9 million people with diabetes).

However, it is believed that IDF significantly underreports the diabetes burden in Nigeria, given that there are many people with undiagnosed diabetes in the country and not enough data for computing estimates.

List of foods that can lower your blood sugar level

If you have diabetes, it will be best to be selective of the foods you eat. You may want to eliminate foods high in carbohydrates and foods with a high glycemic index (GI). 

Foods with a high glycemic index are foods that can cause a quick spike in your blood glucose level. Examples are starchy foods like white bread, sweet potatoes, white rice, breakfast cereals and sweetened foods like cookies, cakes and refined beverages. 

Research suggests that sticking with foods with a low glycemic index is best for people prone to diabetes as they reduce the risk of developing high blood sugar. They help control blood sugar by releasing glucose more slowly and not causing blood sugar levels to spike. 

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Research indicates that eating foods with a low glycemic index can help with weight loss if you are also trying to keep your weight within the normal BMI range. People achieved significant weight loss after sticking with foods with low GI. These foods may also help prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Aside from limiting high carb foods, you should also consider meals that contain healthy fats, enough proteins and fibres. With that said, below are great Nigerian foods for people with diabetes mellitus.

  • Low carb meals: E.g., unripe plantain porridge, boiled or roasted plantain, moi moi, wheat bread, wheat meals with soup, Irish potatoes, water yam, breadfruit and brown basmati rice.
  • Swallow: Of course, people with diabetes can still enjoy swallow made from Nigerian staple foods. E.g., Guinea corn fufu, amala from unripe plantain, fufu made from wheatmeal flour, Semovita, and unripe plantain fufu.
  • Nigerian foods that contain fibre: You can go for foods like spinach, cabbage, garlic and ginger, carrots, vegetable soups, corn, apples and mangoes.
  • Nigerian soups: Your swallow will not be complete unless paired with a plate of delicious healthy soups, such as waterleaf soup, okra soup, vegetable soup, bitter leaf soup, afang soup, ogbono and egusi.
  • Nigerian stews and sauces: Foods like your brown rice and roasted or boiled plantain will go well with spicy stews like tomato stew, banga soup, chicken/turkey sauce, smoked fish sauce, shrimp sauce, oil bean sauce and fresh fish sauce.
  • Nigerian comfort foods: If you are the type that likes going out to unwind with friends in the evening, you will want to watch what you eat out so you don’t eat foods that will spike your blood glucose. Opt for isi ewu with utazi leaves, bush meat pepper soup, cow leg, nkwobi, chicken/fish pepper soup, peppered gizzard/snail and liver sauce.
  • Healthy Nigerian snacks: Boiled groundnuts, coconut, cashew nuts, fried breadfruit, walnut, garden eggs, peanut butter, akara balls, oatmeal, African almond (udara) and avocado pear
  • Health drinks: Unsweetened zobo drink, soya bean drink, unsweetened yoghurt, joro (millet) kunu drink and dawa (guinea corn) kunu drink.

Summary

Being diagnosed with diabetes doesn’t mean you have to eat uninteresting foods or foods that test bland. Nigeria is blessed with natural foods and a large variety of healthy meals that are good for people with diabetes. 

You can draw a three-course meal plan with the foods listed in this article. You can also consult a dietician to help you draw up a standard Nigerian meal plan.

References

  1. Augustin L.S.A. et. al. (2015). Glycemic index, glycemic load and glycemic response: An international scientific consensus summit from the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC)
  2. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). What is diabetes?
  3. Diabetes UK. (n.d.). Diabetes medications.
  4. Guariguata, L et al. (2014). Global estimates of diabetes prevalence for 2013 and projections for 2035.
  5. International  Diabetes Federation. (2017). IDF Diabetes Atlas. (Eight Edition 2017)
  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. (2016). Insulin, medicines & other diabetes treatments
  7. Whiting, David R et al. (2011). IDF diabetes atlas: global estimates of the prevalence of diabetes for 2011 and 2030
  8. World Health Organisation (2016). Global report on diabetes.
  9. World Health Organisation. (n.d.). Mean fasting blood glucose.