Fenugreek & How does it affect diabetes?
What is defatted?
Health benefits and medicinal uses of fenugreek
How to consume?
The leaves are sold as a vegetable (fresh leaves, sprouts) commonly known as methi. The seeds (menthe)are used as such or as powdered. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) has long been used in ayurveda
How does it affect diabetes?
Fenugreek seeds are high in soluble dietary fibre like Galactomannan, which helps lower blood sugar by slowing down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates.
There is a common belief that consumption of overnight soaked fenugreek water in the morning reduces the sugar level in the blood. The protein 4-hydroxy isoleucine found in fenugreek stimulates the insulin secretion in the pancreas and lowers the absorption of glucose, according to a study on mice.
The fiber is classed as gaur gum (gel fiber) and neutral detergent fiber. Dietary fiber consists of all palatable foods that are consumed by single-stomach animals (including humans) and that remain largely undigested upon reaching the large intestine. Humans do not possess the enzyme necessary for splitting the bonds linking the individual fiber units.
Many crude fibers, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin, are carbohydrates. Lignin, another form of crude fiber, is not a carbohydrate per se, but it is of plant origin and is also indigestible. For every gram of crude fiber, there are roughly two to three grams of dietary fiber...
In Fenugreek seeds, the gum (gel fiber) fraction consists of galactomannan which is made up of galactose and mannose units. According to Ribes et al (1984), the defatted fraction of fenugreek seeds contains 50.2% fiber and consists of gum, hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. These fibers are similar to the commonly used fiber-containing products in terms of digestibility. Low digestibility indicates better fiber functionality, with lower incidence of gastrointestinal disturbances such as bloating due to fermentation by gastrointestinal microflora.
What is defatted?
Defatted means a product has had its fat removed. There isn't much in the way of fat in fenugreek seeds anyway, they are relatively low in fat at approximately 6-8g/100g.
A question arises whether the fenugreek has to be consumed ONLY as in defatted version and not as we normally consume at home. To attempt to answer this question let us compare both…
The chemical composition of Fenugreek seeds and defatted Fenugreek seeds is given below. Whole Fenugreek seeds also contain 4.8% saponins (steroidal nature).
Composition (%) of Fenugreek Seeds(Aprox)
ComponentWhole SeedsDefatted Seeds
Total Fiber 48.051.7
Detergent Fib 28.032.5
We do not see much difference in any factor other than fat(lipids), obviously.
Health benefits of fenugreek seeds
NSPs (non-starch polysaccharides) increase the bulk of the food and augment bowel movements. Altogether, NSPs assist in smooth digestion and help relieve constipation ailments.
It has been established that amino-acid 4-hydroxy isoleucine present in the fenugreek seeds has facilitator action on insulin secretion. In addition, fiber in the seeds helps lower rate of glucose absorption in the intestines thus controls blood sugar levels. The seeds are therefore recommended in the diabetic diet.
The seeds contain many phytochemical compounds such as choline, trigonelline diosgenin, yamogenin, gitogenin, tigogenin and neotigogens. Together, these compounds account for the medicinal properties of fenugreeks.
This prized spice is an excellent source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, manganese, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure by countering action on sodium. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome-oxidases enzymes.
It is also rich in many vital vitamins that are essential nutrients for optimum health, including thiamin, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin-C.
Medicinal uses of fenugreek seed
Its seeds have been used in many traditional medicines as a laxative, digestive, and as a remedy for cough and bronchitis.
If used regularly, fenugreeks may help control cholesterol, triglyceride as well as high blood sugar (glycemic) levels in diabetics.
Fenugreek seeds added to cereals and wheat flour (bread) or made into gruel, given to the nursing mothers to increase milk synthesis.
Multiple studies have been carried out to investigate the potential anti-diabetic benefits of fenugreek. Of these, several clinical trials showed that fenugreek seeds can improve most metabolic symptoms associated with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in humans by lowering blood glucose levels and improving glucose tolerance. In one study, researchers (in India) found that adding 100 grams of defatted fenugreek seed powder to the daily diet of patients with insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes significantly reduced their fasting blood glucose levels, improved glucose tolerance and also lowered total cholesterol, LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides.
An animal study (for 21 days) concluded that the anti-diabetic action of Fenugreek seeds is contained within the fiber-rich testa and endosperm (Ribes et al, 1986).
The authors of another study concluded that Fenugreek seeds are effective in lowering elevated serum choleserol levels, as well as preventing a rise in serum cholesterol when fed along with a hypercholesterolemic diet. The mucilaginous component of Fenugreek seed fibers was most effective in lowering serum cholesterol. Since high cholesterol levels are known to be associated with diabetes, it was proposed that Fenugreek seeds or its defatted portion may be useful in the treatment of diabetes and the associated hypercholesterolemia.
Type I Diabetes
In a study (1990), ten Type I diabetics were given 100 g/day, fenugreek seeds (powdered, defatted and debittered) with meals, for ten days. Fasting glucose levels decreased by 30%, glucose tolerance improved and sugar excretion dropped by 54%.
In this study, the hypocholesterolemic effect of the defatted portion of the seeds were also demonstrated. As compared to the control group, serum cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels were significantly reduced in the treated group.
Type II Diabetes
Administration of 25g of defatted Fenugreek seed for a period of three weeks significantly improved the performance of Type II diabetic patients in the glucose tolerance test. Some of the patients under treatment also reduced their insulin requirements from 56 units/day to 20 units/day.
Another study investigated the cholesterol lowering effect of fenugreek in patients with high cholesterol.
The results of similar double blind studies (R.D.Sharma,1996) on sixty Type II diabetics, treated with 25 g fenugreek seed powder per day, were equally promising in reducing serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This effect was sustained and lasting, and the inclusion of Fenugreek seed powder produced no undesirable side effects. It was therefore concluded that Fenugreek can be considered to be a potentially useful dietary supplement to prevent hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis in Type II diabetic patients.
How does Fenugreek decrease BS?
A high-fiber diet is associated with the improved ability to handle blood sugar. In the presence of a high fiber diet, the cells are more sensitive to insulin and an increase in the number of insulin receptor sites occurs or alternatively, there is a stimulation of the cell’s ability to burn glucose. Certain dietary fibers reduce the rate of food passage through the intestine and into the bloodstream, thereby helping to control the increase in postprandial blood sugar levels. High-fiber diets are associated with less glycosuria (sugar in urine), lower fasting blood sugar levels, and lower insulin requirements. Water-retaining fibers, especially the mucilaginous compounds, such as the gel fiber present in Fenugreek seeds, reduce the rate of glucose absorption and may also delay gastric emptying thereby preventing the rise in blood sugar levels following a meal. In addition to its hypoglycemic effects, the hypolipidemic effect of Fenugreek fibers have also been documented. Therefore, Fenugreek fibers have a dual role to play in the management of diabetes.
1. Hypoglycemic Effect
The gel fiber fraction of Fenugreek seeds are thought to be responsible for the hyoglycemic effect. Fenugreek affects blood glucose by reducing glucose uptake from the intestine. The delay in gastric emptying and carbohydrate absorption may be attributed to the gel fraction which increases the viscosity of the digesta.
It was speculated that the reduction in insulin requirement seen in some of the Type II diabetic patients may be due to the Fenugreek fibers improving peripheral insulin sensitivity. Frequently, in Type II patients, insulin secretion is normal or even higher than normal but the reduced number of insulin receptor sites on body cell membranes in these patients leads to insensitivity to insulin, i.e., the cells do not respond to insulin. It has been shown in the past that in the presence of a high fiber diet, an increase in the number of insulin receptor sites occurs and the cells become more sensitive to the action of insulin.
In the clinical studies, a reduction in urinary excretion of glucose was also observed, indicating greater retention of dietary carbohydrate in the body. As carbohydrate-rich diets are known to improve glucose tolerance, increased carbohydrate retention may be beneficial to diabetics Clinical studies also indicate that diabetics become sensitive to insulin after adaptation to high fiber diets ).
It has been consistently proved that the rise in plasma glucose after a dose of glucose or meal was prevented by fenugreek seeds. The reduction in area under glucose curve was greatest with whole seeds (42.4%), followed by gum isolate (37.5%), extracted seeds (36.9%) and cooked seeds (35.1%) in that order. The degummed seeds (seeds w/o fiber) and fenugreek leaves showed little effect on glycemia.
Hypocholesterolemic effect of fenugreek fiber:
It has been shown that the gel fraction of fenugreek fiber reduces serum cholesterol levels. This is achieved through the inhibition of cholesterol absorption from the small intestine. Saponins in fenugreek seeds are known to have hypocholesterolemic effects. When saponins are ingested in isolated or food borne forms, they form large mixed micelles with bile salts and significantly reduce serum cholesterol, by increasing fecal excretion of bile salts, therby inhibiting cholesterol absorption.
ICMR), National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) ,Annual Report 2000, refers to the benefits of 25gms of fenugreek in control of BS
Intl J Diab Dev Countries 1992 Vol12 mentionsatestwith42patientsfor six weeks and mentions that consuming10 gms/day had no effectwhile25gms/day had significant reduction in BS.
Int J Vitan Nutr Res 2009 Jan,79(1) talks of a significant reduction >30%) in BS after a trial on 24patients. This report talks of the seeds soaked in hot water and then consumed before each meals.
What other health benefits does it have?
Fenugreek seeds are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which help protect the body’s cells from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Fenugreek seeds are a good source of protein and nicotinic acid which helps in reducing baldness and hair thinning
Grounded fenugreek seeds along with water can be directly applied on to the pimple and acne marks to heal and remove them.
Coconut oil along with fenugreek seeds helps in preventing hair loss and makes them lustrous. Paste of fenugreek leaves when applied helps in reducing dandruff and acts as a conditioner.
Fenugreek is helpful for lactating mothers and arthritis. It should also be avoided by pregnant women
It is rich in many essential minerals. Iron helps in the production of RBC cells and increases haemoglobin in the body. Potassium helps in lowering the blood pressure ( helps to throw out Sodium from the body) in the body.
How to consume?
Fenugreek seeds are readily available in the spice stores all year around. One may find different forms of seeds such as whole seeds, powdered or paste in these stores.
Choose whole seeds from authentic brands. The seeds should feature bright golden-yellow color, hard and exude delicate maple flavor. Store whole seeds in airtight glass container and place in a cool, dark place where it will stay fresh for several months. Powdered or paste fenugreek, however, should be kept in the air-sealed packets and placed inside the refrigerator.
It is recommended that glucose levels, cholesterol and lipid profiles are checked before starting on this supplement and after fifteen days to observe the difference and regulate the drug dosage.
Fenugreek is a functional food item. Functional food or medicinal food is any healthy food which has a health-promoting or disease-preventing property beyond the basic function of supplying nutrients. You need to consume it ten to twenty minutes prior to intake of food, every time you have a meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks). The amount should be same even if you are taking a small meal or snack i.e. 5 gms. Take with little quantity of water. Lesser quantity will not be effective.
Contra: Fenugreek use during pregnancy is not recommended, since it has the potential to induce labor. If you are pregnant and wish to take it, you should do so only after consultation with your doctor.
If you are currently taking any oral medications, you should always use this herb at least 2 hours before or after these drugs. This is important since Fenugreek fiber has the potential to interfere with the absorption of oral medications due to its mucilaginous fiber (which gives it a moist and sticky texture).
Take soaked (hot or cold water) fenugreek seeds before each food intake
If you are using powdered seeds, keep it in fridge in air tight container
Soaked and sprouted seeds… Are they better? Use them in dosa/Idli batter. Many people are already using like this.
Add the methi powder along with your chapati powder.
Monitor BS every 15 days and adjust the dose of your other medicines
Fenugreek seeds do NOT cure diabetes but helps in BS control.
If you are looking for fiber in your food, you can add Basil seeds, Chia seeds, Sabja (Falooda) seeds and Psyllium husk in your food intake.