by Nusheen Orandi
You may think you’ve never heard of this legume, especially since it sounds like an ancient language or something. But its supplement form hit health food stores and is becoming an area of interest in nutrition research. You might even see it in grocery stores “superfood” exclamations soon. What makes people with diabetes or high cholesterol look to fenugreek for help?
What Is Fenugreek?
Common in the diet of Iran, Egypt, and Nepal, people use both the leaves and seeds of fenugreek in cooking, making it a unique and sustainable item. Fenugreek has a variety of uses, including:
- Integration into spices: many contain fenugreek in its powdered form to add flavor to stews, sauces, and curries.
- Seeds are eaten whole or added to many dishes as a legume.
- Integral part of pita bread: Egyptian cuisine mixes the seeds with maize to make the bread.
- As a mircrogreen or herb: they add flavor to Persian stews and Indian curries.
Nutritionally, fenugreek is a rich source of protein (23-26%), carbohydrates (58%), fiber, calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and other healthful phytochemicals that make it a valuable component to these diets. In fact phytochemicals, natural chemical compounds in plants, found in fenugreek captured the attention of nutrition science research.
Fenugreek for Diabetes
Apparently fenugreek adds healthful advantages to many diets, but why would people with diabetes try eating more of it? Research shows that eating fenugreek might lower blood sugar. Because the seeds contain mucilaginous fiber (a type of soluble fiber) and steroidal sapogenin (steroid compounds in plants), fenugreek might benefit people with diabetes to control their blood sugar. Ancient Chinese and Indian cultures used fenugreek medicinally as an anti-diabetic therapeutic treatment, just by soaking it in hot water and eating it.
Helping High Cholesterol
For the same reasons that suggest lowering blood sugar, fenugreek might also lower blood cholesterol. Although scientific evidence conflicts, a particular study demonstrated how fenugreek could lower LDL (“bad cholesterol”), as seen in many rat studies. However, limited human studies support this finding. Other studies attribute this cholesterol-lowering effect to flavenoids (a type of phytochemical) abundant in fenugreek seeds, specifically naringenin. One study found that fenugreek decreased triglycerides and cholesterol in patients with coronary artery disease
Studies on fenugreek extracts demonstrated that the phenolic compounds in fenugreek, especially the seeds, give it potential as a good antioxidant source. This could explain why fenugreek neighbors other herbal supplements in health food stores.
Fenugreek research also surrounds topics like breast milk production, gastrointestinal therapeutic treatments, weight loss, and atherosclerosis prevention, however significant results remain to be seen.
So give fenugreek a go, by adding flavor to this simple red lentil soup.
Nusheen Orandi is a first-year student from California in the Nutrition Communication program with a concentration in Agriculture, Food and Environment, She likes to spend her time tea-shop hunting, tensely watching the Tottenham Hotspurs, and cooking and eating with friends and family.