Health & Nutrition with Rosie Shelley
EACH year, November 14th marks World Diabetes Day, reminding us that alongside obesity rates the number of diabetes diagnoses is rising at an alarming rate. There are now an estimated 225,840 people here living with the condition, around 90% of whom have lifestyle-driven type 2, and the figure is expected to climb to almost 279,000 by 2030.
Up to 24,000 Irish people may be unaware that they have diabetes – look out especially for tiredness, weight loss, and an increased need for fluids and urination. The risk of type 2 increases by a shocking 89% with every 5kg increase in weight, and it can’t be overstated that type 2 diabetes is an almost entirely preventable condition. Getting tested, and if diagnosed following your doctor’s advice are so important because the ramifications can be severe.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, or want to reduce your risk, the central consideration is to cut out all refined sugars and grains such as white bread, rice and pasta, all of which act like sugar in the body, rapidly raising blood glucose levels and stimulating the laying down of fat. The old prototype diet for diabetics, with its insistence on high carb and low fat, is thankfully (but slowly) being dismantled. It’s no accident that rates of obesity and diabetes almost doubled in the years between 1980 and 2008, the peak ‘low-fat diet’ years.
You do need fibre, and regularly eating small amounts of wholegrains, especially oats, buckwheat and quinoa – as opposed to white grains – will reduce your risk by 18%, but focus on plenty of vegetables alongside unprocessed proteins and healthy fats, which blunt the rise in blood sugar levels. These include oily fish, some meat, eggs, dairy (eating full fat dairy has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 by almost a quarter), virgin olive and coconut oils, avocados, nuts and seeds, and beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Include plenty of those plant based proteins – and cook from scratch – for a 34% lower risk of diabetes. On the flipside, Harvard University scientists demonstrated that pro-inflammatory sugar, white carbs, artificial sweeteners, energy drinks, fizzy drinks, trans/hydrogenated fats, and processed meats increase risk by 51%. Other research has shown a 33% higher risk from daily servings of potatoes, and a surprising 50% higher risk in people who get too much of the mineral selenium, which makes taking a supplement inadvisable.
Having more than four courses of antibiotics over fifteen years makes you 53% more susceptible, according to a study of 1.4 million people. This is interesting because of the link, now being extensively investigated, between a poor gut bacteria profile and diabetes. Both diabetics and the obese have quite a different make up of gut flora to other people, which influences their metabolism of sugars and fats. Poor gut bacteria contribute to inflammation, and we know now that diabetes is an inflammatory disease, so taking a good probiotic supplement and eating fermented foods would be highly advisable. Various research shows that while infants given probiotics are less likely to develop diabetes, one daily serving of plain, live (probiotic) yoghurt cuts your risk by a third, that apple cider vinegar (a probiotic food) lowers blood sugar levels after eating and improves insulin sensitivity, and that raising levels of good gut bacteria also boosts weight loss.
Other foods and drinks that have been demonstrated to slash your risk include anti-inflammatory turmeric and chilli, and cinnamon, which switches on genes that control blood sugar; a glass of red wine with dinner, tea, green tea, chamomile tea and coffee; nuts, particularly almonds and walnuts; an egg a day; pears, parsley, and at least one daily serving of a green leafy vegetable. Along with beans, nuts and seeds, greens are an excellent source of magnesium, which is needed for insulin to work properly and the higher your levels the lower your risk. Taking magnesium (and many of us are deficient) also lowers the incidence of diabetic complications.
A combination of sleep deprivation (which causes hormone disruption), sedentary behaviour and late night snacking is known to be a recipe for diabetes. ‘Evening chronotypes’ have been found to be 73% more likely to develop the condition, and to have more abdominal fat (the dangerous kind), while less than six hours sleep a night increases risk, as does sleeping more than nine, or napping in the afternoon for more than 40 minutes. It’s just been shown that while a ten minute walk after every meal lowers blood sugar levels by 12% more than one thirty minute walk, you’ll reduce them by a whole 22% if you walk after your evening meal.
With the success of diets like the 5:2 and intermittent fasting, scientists are increasingly looking at the ways in which both fasting and calorie restriction can help prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes. If you have a diagnosis you need to check with your GP first, but the expert to go to here would be Dr Michael Mosley, and the evidence based, low carb plan he outlines in The Eight Week Blood Sugar Diet (more on Dr Mosley soon).
• For more info, call Diabetes Ireland on 1850 909909 or go to www.diabetes.ie
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