DIABETES AWARENESS WEEK – What is diabetes and how can it be managed and avoided through diet?
According to Diabetes Australia 280 Australians develop diabetes daily making diabetes the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. Undoubtedly most people have heard of diabetes but surprisingly are not aware of the dietary and lifestyle practices placing us at risk. Thankfully knowledge is power and there are steps we can take daily to decrease our risk of diabetes and hopefully stop this epidemic in its tracks.
Diabetes is a chronic disorder of poor blood sugar control; specifically levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. The hormone insulin works in the body to regulate blood sugar levels by allowing glucose to move from the blood into the cells to be used as energy. Diabetes may occur when insulin is not working to move glucose out of the blood and into the cells.
Diabetes is classified into two types; type 1 insulin dependent (T1D) and type 2 non-insulin dependent (T2D). T1D involves complete insulin dependency as the pancreas cannot make insulin or our cells do not respond to insulin. The exact cause is unknown but it cannot be prevented and may occur from early on in life or adulthood.
T2D is a chronic condition with progressive loss of insulin sensitivity. It occurs when the pancreas does not make the amount of insulin our body needs. Previously it was believed to be an adulthood condition but it is now increasingly affecting children.
The most common symptoms of diabetes are
- Increased thirst
- Slow wound healing
- Excessive urination
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss (T1D) or gain (T2D)
- Mood swings
- Insatiable appetite
As explained, T1D is often from heredity roots and cannot be prevented. Conversely, there exists no defined cause of T2D. Instead it is a complex interplay of hereditary and various lifestyle influences including family history, obesity, abdominal adiposity, poor diet, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, chromium deficiency, and low-grade systemic inflammation, polycystic ovary syndrome (women), gestational diabetes and inactivity. Undoubtedly dietary change is a major modifiable risk factor, and dietary change has proven successful in both prevention and management of diabetes.
For both T1D and T2D the main dietary goals are to keep blood sugar levels within an optimal range, maintain a healthy weight and decrease oxidative damage and inflammation from erratic blood sugar levels. To decrease your risk of or assist with the management of diabetes, adopting some of the suggestions below is a healthy place to start:
Consume protein at each meal and snack
- Adequate protein assists to keep blood sugar levels stable
- Don’t just think of meat as your protein, research has shown partial replacement of meat protein with vegetarian protein improves insulin sensitivity and both total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol in humans, legumes, nuts, seed, soy milk, tofu as alternatives.
Ensure a source of fibre at each meal
- Dietary fibre may slow glucose absorption from the intestines which lowers the glycaemic index of your meal
- Increased production of short-chain fatty acids by bacterial fermentation of fibre is also believed to have beneficial effects on glucose and energy regulation, critical for keeping blood sugar levels stable
Opt for Low-GI wholegrain carbohydrates
- Diets high in low-GI wholegrains are associated with a 20-30% reduction in risk of development of T2D due to their fibre, vitamin, mineral and phytochemical content
- Phytochemicals function as antioxidants and have the potential to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation, both implicated in development of T2D
- Research has shown an association between vegetarian diets and improvements in glycaemic control in diabetes, increased fibre is a possible mechanism to explain this effect and possible associated weight loss known to improve glycaemic control
Eat Oily Fish (omega-3)
- Include oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids 2-3 x weekly to help with the ability of glucose to get into cells and to protect against diabetic neuropathy
Fill your plate with foods rich in anti-oxidants
- Reduce oxidative stress from poor blood sugar management with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory rich foods including, garlic, onion, green tea, berries, dill, spinach, parsley, pumpkin, avocado and carrots
- Include lots of bioflavonoids in the diet to promote insulin secretion including strawberries, citrus fruit, tropical fruit, broccoli, capsicum and tea
Stock up on extra vitamins and minerals
Certain vitamins and minerals are well known for their beneficial effects in diabetes, including:
- Chromium: known to decrease fasting glucose, try cinnamon, black strap molasses, oatmeal, prunes and mushrooms
- CoQ10: famous for its antioxidant and blood sugar balance actions, try beef, sardines, mackerel, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower
- Magnesium: a common deficiency in diabetics and a necessary cofactor in glucose metabolism, try dark leafy greens, whole grains, fish, avocado and bananas
- Selenium: a potent antioxidant and protects insulin receptors, try brazil nuts and seafood
- Zinc: another common deficiency in diabetics, known to lower elevated blood sugar levels, try pumpkin seeds, beef and oysters
Flavour your meals with herbs and spices
- Fenugreek seeds assist insulin to pull glucose out of the blood into the cells, promoting healthy blood sugar levels
- Garlic is beneficial for its antioxidant properties and reducing free radical damage
- Rosemary may show promising results for increasing glucose uptake and improving not only high blood sugar levels but also dyslipidaemia, it works due to its an anti-oxidant potential
Along with diet, regular strength and aerobic exercise must be mentioned. Exercise is the gold standard approach for improving insulin sensitivity and assisting to control blood sugar levels. If you struggle finding the time to exercise, research has suggested short bursts of exercise may prove beneficial for blood sugar control as compared to longer sustained workouts. Further, going for a stroll around the block after meals is also a great way to reduce blood sugar spikes associated with eating!
To help keep your blood sugar on an even keel try my creamy chicken and kale spelt bake which has a healthy balance of low-GI carbohydrates, protein, soy and antioxidant/anti-inflammatory rich vegetables:
Belobrajdic, D & Bird, A 2013, ‘The potential role of phytochemicals in wholegrain cereals for the prevention of type-2 diabetes,’ Nutrition Journal, Vol. 12, pp. 62.
Diabetes Australia, Diabetes, 2015. Available from: < http://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/>. [6 July 2015]
Hameed, I et al 2015, ‘Type 2 diabetes mellitus: From a metabolic disorder to an inflammatory condition,’ World Journal of Diabetes, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 598-612.
Labban, L et al 2014, ‘The effects of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) leaves powder on glucose level, lipid profile and lipid perodoxation,’ International Journal of Clinical Medicine, Vol. 5, pp. 297-304.
Naimi, M et al 2015, ‘Increased skeletal muscle glucose uptake by rosemary extract through AMPK activation,’ Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 407-13.
Van Nielen, M et al 2014, ‘Partly replacing meat protein with soy protein alters insulin resistant and blood lipids in postmenopausal women with abdominal obesity,’ Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 144, pp. 1423-9.
Yokoyama, Y et al 2014, ‘Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systemic review and meta-analysis,’ Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy, Vol. 4, No. 5, pp. 373-82.