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Is Sabudana Good for Diabetes?

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Nutritionists and dieticians are often asked questions about Sabudana for diabetes patients. Some common questions include: Is Sabudana good for diabetes? Can diabetics eat Sabudana? Does Sabudana increase blood sugar levels

In this blog, we attempt to answer some of these persistent queries and shed light on the topic to help you determine whether Sabudana is healthy or not, particularly for diabetics.

What is Sabudana?

Sabudana, or Sago, is a food product made from the milk of the tapioca root. The root is cleaned, peeled, and crushed to release the milk, which is then left in a container for about 3 to 8 hours. 

The milk settles down while residual impurities float to the top, allowing for separation. The milk cake is then converted into small globules using specialized machines, sorted by size, and roasted or steamed as required.

History of Sabudana in India

Sabudana has been an integral part of Chinese cuisine for centuries, but its history in India is not very old. It was first introduced in the late 1800s by the rulers of Travancore during a famine. 

Initially, people were reluctant to accept this unfamiliar tuber as part of their diet. However, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it proved to be a vital source of sustenance for the kingdom as rice reserves had depleted. 

Sabudana as we know it today was introduced almost a hundred years later – in the 1940s – when the first Sabudana units were established in Salem, Tamil Nadu.

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Popularity of Sabudana

Over the last 80 years, the popularity of Sabudana has grown consistently in India. Several localized recipes give it the native flavors of each state. 

In Maharashtra, it is soaked in water overnight and combined with spices, peanuts, and potatoes to make Sabudana Khichdi and Vadas. In South India, it is used in Payasams flavored with jaggery and dry fruits

Sabudana porridge and Papads are popular in many parts of the country as well. Most importantly, it is considered the best fasting food by many – especially during Navaratri – as it is high in calories. 

Now, considering that Sabudana is high in carbohydrates and low in protein, the question that follows is – Is Sabudana good for diabetic patients?

To understand whether Sabudana is good for diabetes or not, we first need to understand some basic concepts related to Sabudana and diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is an elevation in blood glucose levels due to insulin insufficiency caused by autoimmune destruction of beta cells in the pancreas (Type-1) or insulin inefficiency due to lipotoxicity, causing insulin resistance in cells (Type-2). 

Gestational diabetes is a third variety that is wholly different, caused by a functional deficiency of Vitamin B6 and temporary in nature.

Why are cases of diabetes rising?

Some statistics suggest diabetes prevalence is around 7-8% of the population, but this figure could stretch to 10-15% if unaccounted cases are considered. This steep rise in diabetes incidence, particularly in the 40 to 50-year age group, is attributed largely to two reasons. 

  1. Ultra-processed food commonly eaten today is toxic for our system and among the root causes of most chronic illnesses. 
  2. Our approach towards treating diabetes has been questionable. Modern-day healthcare focuses on controlling blood sugar levels with insulin medication, which does not cure the patient. Instead, it keeps them sick and insulin-dependent for life. High blood sugar is not the cause of diabetes; it is the effect. The root cause of diabetes is insulin resistance. If insulin resistance is corrected, diabetes can be reversed.

That said, we should also not forget that the primary culprit is still ultra-processed food. Therefore, it is best to switch to unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Moreover, it is advisable for a diabetic patient to consider the glycaemic index of foods to make informed dietary choices.

What is the Glycaemic Index?

The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It indicates how quickly a food can raise your blood sugar level after consumption. 

The faster a food raises our blood sugar level, the more detrimental it is to our system as the sugar spike prompts the pancreas to increase insulin production. 

Over a long period, this could lead to insulin toxicity and affect our organ systems. Therefore, it’s essential to eat low glycaemic and low insulin index foods to maintain health. 

Ideally, diabetics should opt for low-medium glycaemic index foods with a GI of 55 to 69 at most, to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. The lower the GI, the better. High GI foods are not recommended for diabetics.

Why are high GI foods not recommended for diabetics?

High GI foods are absorbed and assimilated quickly by the body, leading to a spike in blood glucose. To manage this sugar, the pancreas increases the secretion of insulin, resulting in high insulin levels or hyperinsulinemia, which drives insulin resistance. 

Insulin resistance, in turn, is the driver of most chronic diseases in the modern era.

A diabetic person already has insufficient or inefficient insulin secretion and insulin resistance. Consuming high GI foods further spikes the blood glucose level and for a longer time, leading to excess sugar in the blood, which causes glucose toxicity.

What is the glycaemic index (GI) of Sabudana?

The following chart elaborates the nutritional content of one cup of Sabudana:

NUTRITIONNUTRITIONAL VALUE
Calories 400-500 kcal
Carbohydrates100-125 g
Fiber1.37 g
Protein0.29 g
Fat0.03 g
Calcium30.4 mg
Iron2.4 mg
Magnesium1.52 mg
Sodium2 mg
Vitamin B61 mg
Potassium16.7 mg
Vitamin B52 mg

The chart above illustrates why Sabudana is classified as a high-calorie food. A cup of Sabudana contains 400-500 kcal of energy. However, it also has a low fiber content of 1.37 g. Low fiber content corresponds with a high GI. 

The GI of Sabudana stands at 67, which places it at the higher end of the medium range (55-69). For reference, some commonly consumed foods like Dosa and Idli have a GI in the range of 75-90, whereas semi-polished rice has a GI in the range of 50-65, considered good for healthy metabolism.

Can diabetes patients eat Sabudana?

Given that the GI of Sabudana is on the higher side of medium, Sabudana can be consumed by diabetics but with portion control. If consumed in large quantities, it could cause a spike in blood sugar levels. 

It’s important to note that the same portion control doesn’t apply to ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed foods, even when consumed in small quantities, can significantly impact our health.

Since Sabudana has low fiber content, it is also advisable to consume it with fiber-rich vegetables, or you could eat vegetables 15 minutes before consuming Sabudana. Keep in mind that the excess starch should be thoroughly drained from the Sabudana after cooking.

Recipes of Sabudana for Diabetic Patients

Sabudana Recipe 1

The following is the recipe for Sabudana Khichdi suitable for diabetics:

Ingredients:

  • Sabudana (tapioca pearls): 1 cup
  • Water: 1 cup
  • Capsicum (diced): 1 
  • Peanuts, roasted: ¼ cup
  • Mix sprouts: ½ cup
  • Green chilli, minced: 1
  • Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
  • Mustard seeds: ¼ tsp
  • Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
  • Salt: To taste
  • Oil or ghee: 1 tbsp
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional): 2 tbsp

Instructions:

  • Rinse the Sabudana in cold water until the water runs clear
  • Soak the Sabudana in a cup of water until the Sabudana is soft and translucent (about 2 hrs)
  • Heat the oil or ghee in a pan over medium flame 
  • Add cumin and mustard seeds, let it sizzle for a few seconds until fragrant
  • Add green chilli and turmeric, stir for a few seconds 
  • Add chopped veggies and sprouts, stir fry for 5-7 minutes (until it turns soft)
  • Drain excess water from the soaked Sabudana, add it into the pan 
  • Stir to mix the Sabudana evenly with the spices
  • Add the peanuts and salt to taste, stir to mix evenly
  • Reduce the heat to low flame, cover the pan, and cook the Khichdi for 10-15 minutes
  • Stir occasionally until the Sabudana Khichdi is cooked
  • Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve hot

Sabudana Recipe 2

The following recipe is for Sabudana pancakes:

Ingredients for Sabudana pancakes:

  • Sabudana: ½ medium wati (25g),
  • Rajgira flour: 2 tbsp
  • Ginger paste: 1/2 tsp
  • Green chilli paste: ¼ tsp

Ingredients for green chutney:

  • Chopped coriander: 2 tsp
  • Ginger paste:1/2 tsp,
  • Green chilli paste: ¼ tsp,
  • Ground roasted powder: ½ tsp

Instructions:

  • Soak the sabudana in little water for 2-3 hours 
  • After they swell, add Rajgira flour and ginger-chilli paste.
  • Add salt and mix well
  • Now make 2 pancakes from it on a non-stick pan with 1 tsp oil each
  • Serve hot with coriander chutney

Despite its high calorie and low fiber content, Sabudana can be consumed occasionally by diabetics in moderation, until complete reversal of the condition is achieved. However, such consumption must be measured given that the GI of Sabudana is on the higher end of the medium range.

Before asking if Sabudana is good for diabetics, it’s crucial to remember that Sabudana is ultimately a processed food, and diabetes is a lifestyle disorder largely caused due to consumption of ultra-processed foods. There’s no magic pill to reverse diabetes. The only sustainable solution lies in modifying our diet to include minimally processed foods with good nutritive value. Hence, it’s imperative to consume whole foods, selected according to personal preference and suitability.

Many diabetics are often confused about their dietary choices. Several adopt food habits based on hearsay. However, our body phenotypes differ from person to person. Even for individuals with the same disorder, the affected organ systems can vary. 

Therefore, it’s important for diabetics and those suffering from other chronic disorders to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice on managing diabetes or any other chronic disease with diet. A personalized protocol and precision medicine are essential for the reversal of all chronic disorders.

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