Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s talk about selenium-rich foods for diabetics to improve their immune health. Your thyroid gland plays an important role in your body, by managing hormones and helping regulate metabolism. A poorly functioning thyroid can lead to a number of problems, especially for diabetics who already have enough to deal with.
Unfortunately, diabetics experience thyroid problems at a higher rate, and the thyroid problems can potentially make their diabetes worse. Since your thyroid helps regulate most other systems in your body, it can affect your immune system if it’s not working properly.
There are even cases where your immune system will damage the thyroid, making everything worse. However, to combat this, you should include food in your diet that give you a nice little boost of selenium, which helps your thyroid perform better.
What is selenium and what does it do?
Selenium is a nutrient that the body needs to stay healthy. Selenium is important for reproduction, thyroid gland function, DNA production, and protecting the body from damage caused by free radicals and from infection.
The thyroid gland has high amounts of selenium that play an important role in thyroid function. Studies suggest that people—especially women—who have low blood levels of selenium (and iodine) might develop problems with their thyroid.
By getting your thyroid under control and having it work better, you’re going to be able to control your blood glucose levels much easier, something that is crucial for diabetics.
Selenium doesn’t just help your thyroid, though. It’s also been found to help your immune system and even heart health, both of which are also very important for diabetics.
How much selenium do I need?
The amount of selenium that you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in micrograms (mcg).
|Life Stage||Recommended Amount|
|Birth to 6 months||15 mcg|
|Infants 7–12 months||20 mcg|
|Children 1–3 years||20 mcg|
|Children 4–8 years||30 mcg|
|Children 9–13 years||40 mcg|
|Teens 14–18 years||55 mcg|
|Adults 19–50 years||55 mcg|
|Adults 51–70 years||55 mcg|
|Adults 71 years and older||55 mcg|
|Pregnant teens and women||60 mcg|
|Breastfeeding teens and women||70 mcg|
Now it’s just a matter of finding the right food to get your selenium from. You don’t need a lot at all – around 50-60 micrograms per day is fine. As long as you stay under around 300 micrograms you’ll be fine, but you shouldn’t go over that amount. Long-term intake of too much selenium can have harmful effects, including hair and nail loss, gastrointestinal symptoms, and nervous system abnormalities.
What foods provide selenium?
Selenium is found naturally in many foods. The amount of selenium in plant foods depends on the amount of selenium in the soil where they were grown. The amount of selenium in animal products depends on the selenium content of the foods that the animals ate. You can get recommended amounts of selenium by eating a variety of foods, including the following:
- Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products
- Breads, cereals, and other grain products
The first common source of selenium is chicken. Of course chicken can be cooked in a ton of different ways, plenty of which are fine for diabetics. You want to avoid fried altogether, but you can season it and pan sear or bake it instead.
You should also be sure to avoid sugary sauces like barbeque sauce. Selenium can also be found in eggs in decent amounts. Eggs are a good food for diabetics because they’re high in protein and fairly low in carbs, especially if you’re not adding in things like cheese to the mix.
Just having some sunny side up or scrambled eggs in the morning is a good way to get those nutrients in early on. Finally, the best source of selenium is Brazil nuts. Just 5 whole Brazil nuts is enough to give you your daily intake.
These can be eaten as a quick snack in the afternoon or along with another meal, and they’re low carb enough for diabetics to not have to worry about them.
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I wanted to talk about this topic because it is absolutely possible to prevent and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes (but you cannot reverse Type 1). Yes, it’s possible! and emerging studies looking at lifestyle medicine and prevention support this! But I always tell my patients that you must be dedicated and diligent in adopting a healthy lifestyle to get the best results. You can create certain behaviors and practices that will not only enrich your life, but that you can pass on to your family, friends, and community, to help break the cycle of this chronic disease so that you can leave a legacy of health to your loved ones.
I use lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications, to treat lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers, just to name a few. Lifestyle practices, such as eating a whole-food plant-based diet and regular physical activity, can help you improve your blood sugar levels, maybe reverse type 2 diabetes. In certain cases, these approaches may even outperform pharmaceutical therapy. But I always tell my patients that conventional medications may be appropriate at this time to prevent catastrophic illness, but over time, you can work to make the necessary lifestyle changes to possibly reduce and/or eliminate medications. Please remember to always consult your physician for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any decisions whatsoever.
Tools For Diabetes Prevention and Monitoring
Blood Sugar Monitoring
As you know, I always stress the importance of taking control of your health. Monitoring your blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to do this. To do this, a single drop of blood is collected with disposable lancets and placed on a disposable test strip, which you insert into a home blood-sugar monitoring device, called a glucometer.
The common times for checking your blood sugar are when you first wake up (fasting), before a meal, 2 hours after a meal, and at bedtime; however, you should check your blood sugar as many times a day as your health care team suggests.
Monitoring your blood sugar level provides you and your doctors with important knowledge about how food, activity, medication, stress, and other elements might affect your blood sugar levels. This data will assist you and your doctor in developing a therapy plan that is suited to your demands.
Since weight management is very important in combatting chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend that you be mindful of your weight and its fluctuations, and that you monitor your weight AT LEAST on a weekly basis. I recommend a scale that includes a body composition monitor (*this scale cannot be used with a pacemaker or other implanted devices).
Physical activity (or exercise) can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few. Physical activity actually improves insulin sensitivity. Physical activity can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
I often recommend yoga and resistance training for physical activity, but as you are aware, there are plenty of forms of “movement” that you can do! But for the basics, especially if you’re just getting started, yoga and resistance training are where I would start.
Yoga can be a great way to improve your strength and flexibility, manage your stress, improve your heart health, and lose weight! I recommend using a grounded yoga mat to connect yourself with the earth and reduce inflammation.
Resistance training is the mainstay for overall health. It not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength. Here are some basic dumbbells/free weights that I recommend to everyone.
Remember, living a healthy lifestyle including eating a whole foods plant-based diet and regular physical activity are the best ways to prevent diabetes. Please talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches, including supplements, you use. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
PS. I am always asked what tools and resources I recommend to help you reach YOUR health goals. Here is the ever-growing, always updated list for you.
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