I can’t think of any disease that is more closely related to nutrition than type 2 diabetes. Poor nutrition plays an important role in developing type 2 diabetes and good nutrition is a powerful tool in treating and preventing it. We live in a society in which food is abundant; it’s all feast and no famine, particularly during the holiday season. As a result, overeating leads to obesity, which puts the body in a compromising position and burdens the organs with extraordinary demands.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90 to 95 percent of diabetes sufferers. To help understand type 2 diabetes, let’s consider what happens every time we consume food that contains carbohydrates or protein. Upon digestion, food breaks down into a simple absorbable nutrient: sugar (also called glucose). Glucose then enters the blood stream to provide energy that is necessary for cellular function throughout the body. As soon as blood sugar rises, insulin is released as a response, lowering the blood-sugar levels back to normal. If we expand energy by raising our activity level, we use up the sugar quickly and efficiently, but if not, we store it for later use.
There are two major issues with overeating. The first is that as more and more glucose is dumped into the blood stream as a result of consuming food, more insulin production and release is necessary, and the pancreas may not be able to keep up with the demands. Secondly, if we are fairly inactive, energy continues to get stored and eventually the cells get saturated, and no more can get in. The insulin is therefore not functioning, no matter how much is available. This is a condition known as “insulin resistance.”
Whether caused by low insulin production or insulin resistance, glucose will remain traveling in the blood stream, which can cause two serious problems. First, the cells become starved for energy. Then, over a longer period of time, high blood-sugar levels damage the blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. If diabetes is undetected for a prolonged period of time, it can eventually lead to life-threatening complications.
Scientists are not exactly certain why type 2 diabetes occurs but they have identified that 80 percent of individuals with this disease are overweight, have high blood pressure and have high cholesterol levels in their blood. These conditions can all be mitigated and even reversed with a healthy lifestyle that includes a sensible diet and regular exercise.
It is important to remember that the onset of type 2 diabetes is often very gradual and may develop without any symptoms at all. Unfortunately, it is most often diagnosed only after it results in obvious complications such as circulation problems, nerve damage, eye problems and kidney damage – all of which can almost always be prevented.
My recommendations are fairly straightforward and serve as a guideline to preventing and treating type 2 diabetes:
• Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet including plenty of raw fruits, vegetables and vegetable juices. This reduces the need for insulin, reduces blood-sugar surges and lowers the level of fats in the blood.
• Avoid or minimize high-glycemic foods such as white rice, white flour products, pasta, starchy vegetables and many processed foods. These are quickly converted into blood sugar during digestion, causing insulin levels to shoot up.
• Supplement your diet with foods that help normalize blood-sugar levels such as berries, eggs, cheese, fish, leafy green vegetables, garlic, legumes, brewer’s yeast, soy- beans and spirulina.
• Avoid trans-fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and simple sugars. Instead, consume beneficial fats such as olive oil, fish oil, almond oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, flax oil, sunflower oil and pumpkin oil.
• Exercise regularly.
• Consider using herbs that are known to modulate blood- sugar levels: gymnema sylvestre, bitter melon, fenugreek and bilberry extract.
• Consider supplementing your diet with vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, chromium, zinc, B6, B12, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, biotin, copper, selenium, manganese and vanadyl.
Taking control of your diabetes instead of letting it control you can help you feel less overwhelmed about being restricted and deprived of certain food choices. Eating wisely and exercising are the two best ways to improve overall health for many healthy years to come.