If you watch television for more than 30 seconds, you’ll see an ad for a diabetes drug, with discouraging language for people trying to manage this lifestyle disease on their own. The implication is clear. You can’t manage Type 2 diabetes with diet and lifestyle alone. You need whatever drug is being featured to regain control.
Why would pharmaceutical giants want you to believe anything else? Type 2 diabetes has become a multi-billion dollar industry—yes, industry--with jobs and companies deeply invested in this disease not being cured, regardless of what the media tells us; regardless of walks and runs donating millions of dollars to research to find a cure. We seem to be at little risk of a shortage of patients needing the oral agents, injectable compounds, glucose monitors, test strips and other paraphernalia that is characteristic of this modern epidemic.
Diabetes is a life-long disease that affects the way your body handles glucose, a kind of sugar, in your blood. Most people with the condition have what is called Type 2 (which accounts for 90-95% of all cases; the balance being Type 1, the cause of which is unknown). There are about 29 million people in the U.S. with it. Another 86 million have prediabetes: Their blood glucose is not normal, but not high enough to be officially called diabetes yet.
What Causes Diabetes?
Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin which allows your cells to turn glucose from the food you eat into energy. People with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but their cells don't use it as well as they should. Doctors call this insulin resistance.
When this first occurs, the pancreas makes more insulin in an attempt to move glucose into the cells. Eventually the pancreas can't keep up, and the sugar builds up in your blood instead, resulting in diabetes.
The cause of diabetes?
1. Scientists have found different pieces of DNA that affect how your body makes insulin.
2. Being overweight or obese can cause insulin resistance, especially if that extra weight is around your middle. Type 2 diabetes now affects our children and teens just like adults, mostly because of childhood obesity.
3. People with insulin resistance often have high blood glucose, extra fat around the waist, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and triglycerides, a condition known as metabolic syndrome.
4. When your blood sugar is low, your liver makes and sends out glucose. After you eat, your blood sugar goes up, and usually the liver will slow down and store its glucose for later. Some people’s livers continue to pump out sugar continually mostly because of dietary choices.
5. Finally, cells can send the wrong signals. When these problems affect how your cells make and use insulin or glucose, a chain reaction can lead to diabetes. If the cells that make the insulin send out the wrong amount of insulin at the wrong time, your blood sugar gets thrown off. High blood glucose can damage these cells as well.
Known as a lifestyle disease, there are certain things that make the incidence of diabetes more likely.
According to Harvard Medical School of Public Health, while the genes you inherit may influence your risk of Type 2 diabetes, they take a distinct back seat to your lifestyle, diet and behavior. Studies suggest that 90% of Type 2 diabetes can be attributed to excess weight, lack of exercise, dietary choices, smoking and alcohol.
They also indicate that information from several clinical trials support the idea that Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable, almost completely so (and in my experience, largely reversible as well).
1. Control your weight, as carrying more pounds than you need increases the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes seven fold. Losing excess weight can cut your risk of developing the disease in half.
2. Get moving as sedentary living promotes Type 2 diabetes. Working your muscles often and vigorously improves their ability to use insulin and manage glucose. Brisk walking for around 5 hours a week is a great start in reducing your risk. Your risk reduces with more intense and frequent exercise.
3. Turn off the television. Studies show that for every 2 hours you watch television without moving, you increase your chance of developing diabetes by 20%. What?! It appears that the more TV we watch, the heavier we are and the more we snack, creating the perfect storm, so to speak. Once again, get up and move frequently when watching TV…and not just to walk to the fridge for a snack.
Other factors that increase risk include smoking, stress and chronic sleep deprivation.
Since you know me, you know where this is headed…right to the kitchen. Your greatest resource to prevent diabetes, turn it around and manage it begins in the room from which all life springs. Your kitchen is where you can take control of your health and wellness.
Managing your blood sugar through diet choices helps reduce your need for insulin. The aim is to gently raise blood sugar and keep it moderately elevated without any spikes created by eating high calorie foods that are also high on the Glycemic Index.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a system that rates speed at which calories in food raise blood sugar. For example, white sugar is the highest, rated 100. Other foods are tested in comparison to the speed at which sugar raises blood sugar in the human body. The higher the number in the GI the faster blood sugar is likely to rise.
What Do We Eat…or Avoid to Prevent Diabetes?
Let’s start with the bad news. Animal proteins like meat, dairy, cheese, butter, poultry, pork, cured meats, cold cuts and eggs, simple refined sugars and junk food are key contributors to the development of Type 2 diabetes. Studies show that these foods are actually the main contributors, so ditching or minimizing these foods puts you on the path of living diabetes-free.
What we now call the healthy “Mediterranean Diet” is actually founded in ancient wisdom just like most healthy eating plans and results in health and wellness, deliciously.
Often, people with diabetes or who are at risk are under the impression that carbohydrates of any kind are detrimental to their wellbeing, but nothing could be further than the truth.
There is convincing evidence that diets rich in whole grains actually protect us from diabetes (where refined carbohydrates can be a contributing factor in increasing risk).
Whole grains don’t contain one magical nutrient that wards of diabetes and creates health. They are, as we say, the whole package: bran and fiber prevent the quick conversion of whole grains into starches into glucose which leads to slower increases in blood sugar and insulin. It’s that simple.
On the other hand, refined carbohydrates like those found in white rice, white sugar, white flour, potatoes, sweets and many refined, processed foods have what is known as a high glycemic load, meaning they cause sustained spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels and an increased diabetes risk.
You won’t often be told to eat more when you have or are at risk of Type 2 diabetes, but in the case of vegetables, the more the better!
Rich courses of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, vegetables are so low in calories and simple carbohydrates that you can enjoy them freely with the goal of at least 3-5 servings a day (a serving being ½ cup cooked veggies, ½ cup juice or 1 cup raw vegetables).
For some people, starchy vegetables like winter squash and sweet potatoes should be consumed a bit less often until their vitality is restored, but in the end, as I always say, there’s not a vegetable on earth that will steal your health, so enjoy them all cooked in a variety of ways. Lucky for you, I can help with that with loads of veggie recipes at christinacooks.com.
According to the American Diabetes Association, fruit is a must in a healthy eating plan. Loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals, we just need to remain aware of the carbohydrate levels in some fruit and figure that into your plan for the day. Remember that dried fruit and juices are much higher in sugar, so choose fresh whole fruit.
While everyone seems to focus on carbohydrates when it comes to diabetes, fat plays a key role with saturated fats serving as a key factor in increased risk of developing the disease. Avoid animal fats, trans fats and hydrogenated fats to keep your risk low. Studies show that saturated fat can contribute to the development of diabetes as much as sugar. It appears that cell membranes become “clogged” by saturated fat and can no longer uptake sugar from the bloodstream resulting in a build-up of the glycemic load when we eat.
However, enjoying good quality oils that are mono and polyunsaturated, nuts and seeds, olives and even some nut butters are great for day to day diet choices. Just keep their caloric concentration in mind when planning your calories for the day, especially if you need to drop a few (or a lot of) pounds.
This is a big one, I know. It’s important to remember that most sweets, even healthy versions, have a lot of carbohydrate in a small portion so you want to keep portion sizes small. You can work sweet treats into your meal plan but substituting a small portion of dessert for another carbohydrate source in your plan for the day.
What’s a small portion? I advise people to live by the “three-bite rule.” After three bites of whatever treat you decide on, you’re all in. You are completely satisfied and no damage is done.
And when it comes to sweets, don’t discount cinnamon. This delicious spice serves two purposes: it makes any dish seem sweeter and it can help balance blood sugar, so use it as you desire in your dessert creations.
We love to snack in America. For many of us, we prefer it to meals which has become part of the problem with diabetes. Snacking can really throw your blood sugar into chaos if you don’t account for them in your daily plan. Each calorie must be spoken for in a diabetes plan so unfortunately, some spontaneity might be lost in your day, but it will be replaced by much-needed awareness of what you eat.
If you decide to snack, keep the portion small and combine carbohydrates with protein and/or fat for balance. A handful of nuts, a small piece of fresh fruit, a small 1-ounce square of dark chocolate (70% or higher), a bit of nut butter on a slice of whole grain bread or a few crackers would be considered a snack. A bag of cookies, pretzels or chips, not so much.
Because I love you, I wanted to share with you what a typical day might look like in a healthy diet designed to prevent or relieve the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.
Steamed or boiled green vegetables
Green tea (if desired)
Humus and raw carrot, cucumber or celery sticks
Bean and vegetable soup
Fresh Salad with seeds and an olive oil dressing
Steamed vegetables of your choice
Fresh fruit with nut butter
Miso vegetable soup
Tofu stew with root vegetables
Sautéed vegetables with garlic
1-ounce dark chocolate
1 small serving fresh fruit
3 bites homemade dessert
Preventing, managing and even helping to reverse Type 2 diabetes isn’t rocket science. It all begins in the kitchen (and the gym or jogging trail). While you may need medical support or intervention, based on the severity of your disease, what you choose to eat and exercise plays a key role in how you manage your health and wellness.