Diabetes describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the person has high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both. Patients with high blood sugar will typically experience polyuria (frequent urination), they will become increasingly thirsty (polydipsia) and hungry (polyphagia).
There are three types of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes
The body does not produce insulin. Some people may refer to this type as insulin-dependent diabetes, juvenile diabetes, or early-onset diabetes. People usually develop type 1 diabetes before their 40th year, often in early adulthood or teenage years.
Patients with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin injections for the rest of their life. They must also ensure proper blood-glucose levels by carrying out regular blood tests and following a special diet.
Type 2 Diabetes
The body does not produce enough insulin for proper function, or the cells in the body do not react to insulin (insulin resistance).
Some people may be able to control their Type 2 diabetes symptoms by losing weight, following a healthy diet, doing plenty of exercise, and monitoring their blood glucose levels. However, Type 2 diabetes is typically a progressive disease – it gradually gets worse – and the patient will probably end up having to take insulin, usually in tablet form.
Overweight and obese people have a much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those with a healthy body weight. People with a lot of belly fat are especially at risk. Being overweight/obese causes the body to release chemicals that can destabilize the body’s cardiovascular and metabolic systems.
The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is also greater as we get older. Those with a close relative who had Type 2 diabetes, people of Middle Eastern, African, or South Asian descent also have a higher risk of developing the disease.
Men whose testosterone levels are low have been found to have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Low testosterone levels are linked to insulin resistance.
What Is Pre-diabetes?
The vast majority of patients with Type 2 diabetes initially had pre-diabetes. Their blood glucose levels where higher than normal, but not high enough to merit a diabetes diagnosis. The cells in the body are becoming resistant to insulin. Even at the pre-diabetes stage, some damage to the circulatory system and the heart may already have occurred.
This type affects females during pregnancy. Some women have very high levels of glucose in their blood, and their bodies are unable to produce enough insulin to transport all of the glucose into their cells, resulting in progressively rising levels of glucose.
The majority of gestational diabetes patients can control their diabetes with exercise and diet. Undiagnosed or uncontrolled gestational diabetes can raise the risk of complications during childbirth. The baby may be bigger than he/she should be.
Women whose diet before becoming pregnant were high in animal fat and cholesterol had a higher risk for gestational diabetes, compared to women whose diet were low in cholesterol and animal fats.
Doctors can determine whether a patient has a normal metabolism, pre-diabetes or diabetes in one of three different ways:
- The A1C test
– at least 6.5% means diabetes
– between 5.7% and 5.99% means pre-diabetes
– less than 5.7% means normal
- The FPG (fasting plasma glucose) test
– at least 126 mg/dl means diabetes
– between 100 mg/dl and 125.99 mg/dl means pre-diabetes
– less than 100 mg/dl means normal
- The OGTT (oral glucose tolerance test)
– at least 200 mg/dl means diabetes
– between 140 and 199.9 mg/dl means prediabetes
– less than 140 mg/dl means normal
All types of diabetes are treatable. Diabetes Type 1 lasts a lifetime, there is no known cure. Type 2 usually lasts a lifetime, however, some people have managed, through a lot of exercise, diet and excellent body weight control to get rid of their symptoms without medication.
Patients with Type 1 are treated with regular insulin injections, as well as a special diet and exercise.
Patients with Type 2 diabetes are usually treated with tablets, exercise and a special diet, but sometimes insulin injections are also required.
Small changes equal big results
Whether you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes, there is some good news. You can make a big difference with healthy lifestyle changes. The most important thing you can do for your health is to lose weight—and you don’t have to lose all your extra pounds to reap the benefits. Losing just 5% to 10% of your total weight can help you lower your blood sugar considerably, as well as lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s not too late to make a positive change, even if you’ve already developed diabetes. The bottom line is that you have more control over your health than you think.
Not all body fat is created equal
The biggest risk factor for developing diabetes is being overweight, but not all body fat is created equal. Your risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen opposed to your hips and thighs.
“Pear-shapes” store most of their fat close below the skin. “Apples” store their weight around their middle, much of it deep within the belly surrounding their abdominal organs and liver. This type of deep fat is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. In fact, many studies show that waist size is a better predictor of diabetes risk than BMI.
You are at an increased risk of developing diabetes if you are:
- A woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more
- A man with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more
Eating right is vital if you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes. While exercise is also important, what you eat has the biggest impact when it comes to weight loss. A person with diabetes has the same diet as anyone else: no special foods or complicated diets are necessary.
A diabetes diet is simply a healthy eating plan that is high in nutrients, low in fat, and moderate in calories. The only difference is that you need to pay more attention to some of your food choice, especially the carbohydrates you eat.
Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs
Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels, more so than fats and proteins, but you don’t have to avoid them. You just need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat.
In general, it’s best to limit highly refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, and snack foods. Focus instead on high-fiber complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs. Slow-release carbs help keep blood sugar levels even because they are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin. They also provide lasting energy and help you stay full longer.
Making the glycemic index easy
The glycemic index (GI) tells you how quickly a food turns into sugar in your system. Glycemic load, a newer term, looks at both the glycemic index and the amount of carbohydrate in a food, giving you a more accurate idea of how a food may affect your blood sugar level. High GI foods spike your blood sugar rapidly, while low GI foods have the least effect.
8 principles of low-glycemic eating
- Eat a lot of non-starchy vegetables, beans, and fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, and berries. Even tropical fruits like bananas, mangoes, and papayas tend to have a lower glycemic index than typical desserts.
- Eat grains in the least-processed state possible: “unbroken,” such as whole-kernel bread, brown rice, and whole barley, millet, and wheat berries; or traditionally processed, such as stone-ground bread, steel-cut oats, and natural granola or muesli breakfast cereals.
- Limit white potatoes and refined grain products such as white breads and white pasta to small side dishes.
- Limit concentrated sweets—including high-calorie foods with a low glycemic index, such as ice cream— to occasional treats. Reduce fruit juice to no more than one cup a day. Completely eliminate sugar-sweetened drinks.
- Eat a healthful type of protein at most meals, such as beans, fish, or skinless chicken.
- Choose foods with healthful fats, such as olive oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), and avocados. Limit saturated fats from dairy and other animal products. Completely eliminate partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats), which are in fast food and many packaged foods.
- Have three meals and one or two snacks each day, and don’t skip breakfast.
- Eat slowly and stop when full.
Eating for diabetes doesn’t mean eliminating sugar. If you have diabetes, you can still enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert now and then. The key is moderation.
How to include sweets in a diabetes-friendly diet
- Hold the bread (or rice or pasta) if you want dessert. Eating sweets at a meal adds extra carbohydrates. Because of this it is best to cut back on the other carb-containing foods at the same meal.
- Add some healthy fat to your dessert. It may seem counter-intuitive to pass over the low-fat or fat-free desserts in favor of their higher-fat counterparts. But fat slows down the digestive process, meaning blood sugar levels don’t spike as quickly. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should reach for the donuts. Think healthy fats, such as peanut butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt, or some nuts.
- Eat sweets with a meal, rather than as a stand-alone snack. When eaten on their own, sweets and desserts cause your blood sugar to spike. But if you eat them along with other healthy foods as part of your meal, your blood sugar won’t rise as rapidly.
- When you eat dessert, truly savor each bite. Make your indulgence count by eating slowly. You’ll enjoy it more, plus you’re less likely to overeat.
Tricks for cutting down on sugar
- Reduce how much soda and juice you drink. If you miss your carbonation kick, try sparkling water either plain or with a little juice mixed in.
- Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by ¼ to ⅓. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, for example, use ⅔ or ¾ cup instead. You can also boost sweetness with cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla extract.
- Find healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Instead of ice cream, blend up frozen bananas for a creamy, frozen treat. Or enjoy a small chunk of dark chocolate, rather than your usual milk chocolate bar. Dark chocolate does have some health benefits.
- Start with half of the dessert you normally eat, and replace the other half with fruit.
Fats can be either helpful or harmful in your diet. People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease, so it is even more important to be smart about fats. Some fats are unhealthy and others have enormous health benefits. But all fats are high in calories, so you should always watch your portion sizes.
- Unhealthy fats – The two most damaging fats are saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products such as red meat, whole milk dairy products, and eggs. Trans fats, also called partially hydrogenated oils, are created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid and less likely to spoil—which is very good for food manufacturers, and very bad for you.
- Healthy fats – The best fats are unsaturated fats, which come from plant and fish sources and are liquid at room temperature. The healthiest oils are safflower, sunflower, and extra virgin olive oil. See previous posting about their health benefits. Also focus on omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and support brain and heart health. Good sources include salmon, tuna, and flaxseeds.
Ways to reduce unhealthy fats and add healthy fats:
- Cook with safflower, sunflower, or coconut oil. Do not heat olive oil, otherwise it’s chemical make up changes and you lose it’s tremendous health benefits.
- Trim any visible fat off of meat before cooking and remove the skin before cooking chicken and turkey.
- Instead of chips or crackers, try snacking on nuts or seeds. Add them to your morning cereal or have a little handful for a filling snack. Nut butters are also very satisfying and full of healthy fats.
- Instead of frying, choose to grill, broil, bake, or stir-fry.
- Serve fish 2 or 3 times week instead of red meat.
- Add avocado to your sandwiches instead of cheese. This will keep the creamy texture, but improve the health factor.
- When baking, use applesauce instead of shortening or butter. However about of oil you would use in your baking recipe, you use the same amount of applesauce. Applesauce actually makes the dessert more moist than oil.
- Rather than using heavy cream, make your soups creamy by adding low-fat milk thickened with flour, pureed potatoes, or reduced-fat sour cream.
If you’re overweight, you may be encouraged to note that you only have to lose 7% of your body weight to cut your risk of diabetes in half. And you don’t have to obsessively count calories or starve yourself to do it.
When it comes to successful weight loss, research shows that the two most helpful strategies involve following a regular eating schedule and recording what you eat.
Eat at regularly set times
Your body is better able to regulate blood sugar levels—and your weight—when you maintain a regular meal schedule. Aim for moderate and consistent portion sizes for each meal or snack.
- Don’t skip breakfast. Start your day off with a good breakfast. Eating breakfast every day will help you have energy as well as steady blood sugar levels.
- Eat regular small meals—up to 6 per day. People tend to eat larger portions when they are overly hungry, so eating regularly will help you keep your portions in check.
- Keep calorie intake the same. Regulating the amount of calories you eat on a day-to-day basis has an impact on the regularity of your blood sugar levels. Try to eat roughly the same amount of calories every day, rather than overeating one day or at one meal, and then skimping on the next.
When it comes to preventing, controlling, or reversing diabetes, you can’t afford to overlook exercise. Exercise can help you lose weight, and is especially important in maintaining weight loss. Regular exercise can improve your insulin sensitivity even if you don’t lose weight.
One of the easiest ways is to start walking for 30 minutes five or more times a week. You can also try swimming, biking, or any other moderate-intensity activities—meaning you work up a light sweat and start to breathe harder. Even house and yard work counts.
Helpful Herbs and Spices
Turmeric – Normalize insulin and triglyceride levels while boosting antioxidant defenses; keeping triglyceride and insulin levels low, effectively reduces your risk for numerous health conditions like diabetes.
Magnesium – Ingesting the highest amount of magnesium slashes risk for diabetes. It influences the release and activity of insulin.
- Foods high in magnesium: whole-grain foods, greens, legumes, seeds, nuts, and unrefined grains.
Cinnamon – Reduces fasting blood sugar levels and reduces blood sugar after a meal, reduce overall body fat, and increase lean muscle mass.
Fenu Greek – Reduces blood sugar, increases insulin sensitivity, and reduces high cholesterol.
Ginseng – Slows carbohydrate absorption, improves the body’s use of blood glucose, and increases insulin production in the pancreas.
Gymnema Sylvestre – Reduces blood sugar by blocking “sugar-binding sites” in the cells, not allowing glucose to accumulate in the body, increases insulin production.