Type II Diabetes is the most common type of Diabetes and there are 60 000 newly diagnosed cases each year in Canada. Type II diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels go too high due to poor insulin production by the pancreas or insulin resistance. There are several ways to reduce your risk for diabetes, to manage it if you have it and in some cases, get rid of it.
The first and most important factor is to maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight is a significant risk factor for Type II Diabetes. For some people, losing weight can help reduce insulin resistance and improve blood glucose control to the point where diabetes seems to go away.
Regular daily exercise not only helps improve body weight, it also helps with blood glucose control. Exercise after eating foods that are high in carbohydrates can help lower blood sugar levels.
Likely the most important thing to learn about eating is how to manage portions. Overeating on high calorie foods will lead to weight gain and possibly diabetes. For a diabetic, overeating, in particular on high carbohydrate foods, will lead to high blood sugars which causes damage to the body. Learning to fill your plate with leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables and choosing to eat smaller portions of the other foods will have a significant impact on health.
Protein, Fat and Fibre
When a carbohydrate food is digested and absorbed into the blood stream the glucose circulates in the blood. If your insulin is working fine, the sugar will be taken up into the cells for use as energy. If you have Diabetes, the sugar continues to enter into the blood stream but is not taken up by the cells as quickly. If sugar enters into the bloodstream too quickly this can have serious consequences. In order to slow the digestion and absorption of carbohydrate foods into the blood stream there are several things you can do: add protein, add fat or add fibre. When you eat a carbohydrate food, consider adding a source of protein to it, for example, add sliced turkey to a sandwich or peanut butter to your toast. Nuts and seeds contain fat and protein as well as fibre. Whole grains are higher in fibre than white processed grains and make better choices. Inulin is a fibre that can be added to foods containing sugar to help lower the glycemic index. Research shows that a diet high in fibre (26g per day or more) reduces the risk of Type II diabetes.
By cutting back on added sugars you reduce the total carbohydrates your body needs to deal with. In recipes, consider using less sugar and try substituting sugar with healthier options that provide some nutritional value such as apple sauce, pureed dates or figs. Using 100% fruit juice or fresh fruit in place of sugar is another option. Add less sugar to foods such as hot cereal or coffee. Use pureed fruit instead of sugar sweetened jam or honey, avoid sugar sweetened beverages and buy low sugar cereals and yogurts. Limit your intake of cookies, cakes, pastries and donuts.
Choose Low Glycemic Carbohydrates
Research shows that a diet rich in high Glycemic Index (GI) foods causes the pancreas to work overtime releasing insulin and increasing the risk for insulin resistance and Diabetes. Foods that have a low GI will release glucose into the blood stream more slowly and not will not trigger the same insulin response. Some foods that have a low GI will show this on their packaging. For example, SoLo energy bars. They are not low carbohydrate but they have a low glycemic index which means that they provide a slow release of energy into the bloodstream instead of releasing it all at once causing a blood sugar spike. Other foods with a low GI include apples, oranges, pears, All Bran, lentils nuts, oats and sweet potato.
There is plenty of confusion around the safety of natural and artificial sweeteners. For an artificial sweetener to be sold in Canada it must undergo rigorous testing to prove its’ safety for human consumption. However, current research has found there may be a link with the consumption of very high quantities of artificial sweeteners and altered gut microbiota and glucose intolerance. Although most studies have been done on rats and the quantities used have been significantly higher than what would normally be consumed by a human, there is good reason for further research in this area. For now, limit or avoid artificial sweeteners, use less sugar and consider other natural sweeteners.
Stevia is a plant much sweeter than sugar which is being used in many food products. Sugar alcohols such as Xylitol is another low calorie sweetener that may help fight cavities too. If you have diabetes and you are craving something sweet and want to keep the calories down, consider reaching for a food sweetened with xylitol or stevia. Birdie and Bill’s All Natural soda would be a better option than a can of Coke!
The Bottom Line
To reduce your risk or manage your diabetes it is important to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and be active daily. Your nutrition priorities include eating lots of vegetables and some fruit, choosing mostly whole grains, including lean proteins and good fats, including low GI foods and reducing your intake of sugar.