Millions of Americans suffer from diabetes, but a simple dietary amino acid could help turn the tide.

If you suffer from type 2 diabetes, you may want to consider snacking on nuts instead of candy.

Not only are nuts devoid of sugar, but they also help get rid of it, at least in mice. New research shows that the amino acid arginine, commonly found in almonds and hazelnuts, proves just as useful as established type 2 diabetes drugs at metabolizing glucose in mice.

In experiments on both lean (insulin sensitive) and obese (insulin resistant) mice, scientists from the University of Cincinnati and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark observed impressive results. The arginine improved the burning of glucose by as much as 40 percent. It also stimulated production of glucagon-like peptide, or GLP-1, an intestinal hormone that regulates appetite.

However, that doesn’t mean people with type 2 diabetes should go out and buy arginine supplements. They do not work in the same way as dietary arginine, which stimulates GLP-1.

“When it comes to patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I doubt that nuts alone would have any effect to reverse their disease,” scientist Christoffer Clemmensen told Healthline. “However, a complete alteration in lifestyle—diet and exercise, sleep habits, etc.—has been shown to potently reverse the early stages.”

Even better than nuts are less energy-dense foods such as salmon, chicken, and eggs, said Clemmensen, who conducted the experiments in Copenhagen. He is currently researching at the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity at Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health in Munich.

The scientists made their discovery about arginine by using a special animal model in which the GLP-1 receptors were genetically turned off. In mice without the receptor, the arginine did not have an impact on glucose metabolism.

This showed that arginine and GLP-1 have a biological relationship. Although it could be years away, this discovery could lead to more effective medical treatments for type 2 diabetes.

Clemmensen said he expects similar results in human trials. “However, a key issue for future studies is to explore what doses of arginine can be tolerated by humans and to confirm that there are no adverse effects associated with arginine supplementation. It may be that the best strategy is to create a ‘dietary cocktail,’ including several nutrients all known to [aid] glucose metabolism.”

The new research could also help answer long-standing questions about obesity. “In general, eating nutrients that stimulate satiety (fullness) hormones like GLP-1 should be beneficial for weight maintenance,” Clemmensen said. “On the other hand…thus far nutritional anti-obesity strategies have been largely unsuccessful.”

He stressed, however, that arginine-rich foods may combat the progression of obesity “not only because of the arginine and its ability to induce GLP-1 secretion, but because these food sources are typically rich in multiple essential amino acids and an array of beneficial micro-nutrients.”

Meanwhile, an official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta published an article Wednesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine regarding the diabetes epidemic. Anthony D. Moulton and others called for more laws to combat the spread of type 2 diabetes and help control it in the population.

In 2010, an estimated 26 million Americans suffered from diabetes—more than 8 percent of the population. Of those, an estimated 7 million didn’t even know they had the disease, according to the CDC.