Formerly known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, type 2 diabetes is a condition where the blood-sugar levels are high. It affects around 250 million people worldwide, mostly in affluent countries where people eat more highly processed and refined food and exercise less. In short, it is a disease of overconsumption. Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult onset diabetes until recently when adolescents and even young children have been diagnosed in no small part due to appalling diets. The good news is that if caught early enough, type 2 diabetes can be reversed with diet alone.
- The trouble is, there are few, if any, warning signs that you have type 2 diabetes until it is too late. Very often, the first time you are aware of a potential problem is via a blood or urine sample. However, the following are some symptoms that your blood-sugar levels might be awry.
- Feeling unduly tired and fatigued.
- Feeling excessively hungry or thirsty.
- Frequent urination.
- Blurred or failing vision.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Pain or numbness in hands and feet.
Behind the scenes: how diabetes works
On the face of it, having high blood-sugar levels doesn’t sound too serious, however, the body is a finely tuned machine. Or should be. The amount of sugar that circulates in the blood (also known as blood glucose) is kept closely within strict limits. Levels too low can cause hypoglycaemia (hypo=low; glyc=sugar; aemia=blood) and can result in a coma. Levels too high can cause hyperglycaemia (hyper=high; glyc=sugar; aemia=blood) and can result in a coma also. A lose–lose situation. If diabetes is not treated, high blood sugar will eventually harm both the large and small blood vessels, resulting in a host of complications including leg ulcers, impotence, gangrene, cataracts, blindness and/or kidney damage.
Blood sugars rise after meals as glucose is absorbed from the food we eat. All carbohydrates – pasta or pineapple – are made up of glucose molecules held together by chemical bonds. In response to the rise in blood glucose, the hormone, insulin, is released by the pancreas. Insulin encourages glucose into cells. Cells use glucose to create energy for cell business, whether it be toe-cell business or brain-cell business. At any moment in time, the amount of glucose circulating in the bloodstream of the average person is a meagre 5 g – or the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar. The hormones that manage blood-sugar levels work constantly to maintain the status quo.
There are two forms of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is often first diagnosed in those under 20 years old. In this case, the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas are destroyed and these diabetics require lifelong insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes is more common, affecting more than 90 per cent of cases. It occurs mostly after 40 years of age. Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes manifests as an insulin resistance, where cells resist insulin’s invitation to accept glucose. This results in high blood-glucose levels. Treatment is via diet or tablets. If left to progress, ultimately, the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas give up the ghost, as in diabetes type I, and these people will also need to rely on injected insulin. Type 2 diabetes is predominantly a lifestyle disease brought about by poor eating and exercise habits. If dealt with early enough, it can be reversed.
What causes it?
- Diabetes is indisputably linked to the Western style of diet and lifestyle. Societies following traditional diets generally do not experience type 2 diabetes. In a nutshell, where there is excess fat, alcohol and sugar combined with insufficient fibre and exercise, diabetes is more common.
- There is a genetic susceptibility. Peruse your family tree.
- Obesity is associated with insulin resistance.
- Heart disease and diabetes are two sides of the same coin. Those with elevated cholesterol and/or low HDL levels have a higher chance of developing diabetes. And vice versa. Once you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your chance of also suffering heart disease more than doubles.
People who have the apple-shaped distribution of fat around the tummy, rather than the pear-shaped distribution around the hips, are more at risk of developing diabetes. It is as much about the circumference as the shape of the fruit. For women, you have an increased risk of diabetes (and heart disease) if your waist is larger than 80 cm, and a greatly increased risk if it is over 88 cm. For men, your increased risk is when your waist measures more than 94 cm, and greatly increased risk is over 102 cm. A tape measure may seem a low-tech approach to predicting this serious illness, however, this simple and inexpensive method accurately predicts the amount of visceral fat, or fat in and around the liver. This is evil fat. Formerly, fat was considered to be a benign, and slightly annoying, body tissue that hung around making us look bad. However, some fat, including the visceral variety, is active. In a bad way. It produces inflammatory substances that create insulin resistance, resulting in diabetes. Losing weight is much more important than for just aesthetic reasons.
What to do
Diabetes can be a life-threatening condition. If you are taking insulin or tablets for diabetes, it is vital that your doctor is made aware of any changes you are considering to your diet or if you wish to use natural remedies. It is also important to have your blood-sugar levels monitored daily.
- Follow the recommendations for the Low-Starch Diet
- Particularly relevant to the diabetic, and those wishing to avoid this fate, is to eat small meals at frequent intervals to sustain blood-sugar levels. Eat a small meal containing protein and complex carbohydrates every 2–3 hours. Examples include hummus on a wholemeal cracker, tuna and salad, or a slice of vegetable frittata.
- Avoid or severely restrict sugar, coffee and alcohol. They all have an effect on blood-sugar levels.
- Fibre is integral to the good diabetic diet, particularly soluble fibre. Many studies have shown that soluble fibre enhances insulin sensitivity, as well as slowing the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Soluble fibre is found in legumes, vegetables, psyllium, chia seeds, nuts and all other seeds. Avoid refined flour products (eg cakes, white bread, biscuits etc).
- Eat foods with a low- to medium-glycaemic index. Avoid high-glycaemic index foods. The glycaemic index is a ranking of foods based on their immediate effect on blood-sugar levels. If you are diabetic, you want foods that will slowly increase blood-sugar levels, rather than those which will supply a quick burst of sugar. Foods with a low-glycaemic index include bran, oats, buckwheat, pasta, baked beans, lentils, kidney beans, soya beans, apples, pears, peaches and milk. Foods with a high-glycaemic index are best not eaten on their own. High-glycaemic foods include most breakfast cereals (except muesli and porridge), bread, biscuits, parsnip, potatoes (especially mashed) and lollies.
- A small glass of dry red or white wine with dinner can help lower blood sugar. Wait until you have your blood-sugar levels under control before going overboard with this suggestion.
- Onions and garlic can significantly lower blood-sugar levels. Eat daily.
- Other foods that beneficially regulate blood-sugar levels include legumes, cinnamon (add a teaspoon to your porridge), fenugreek, blueberries and bitter melon.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners (even the natural ones like stevia). Not because they are bad for you, but because they keep you in the sweet-tooth loop. Most research shows that consuming artificial sweeteners doesn’t help you lose weight, in fact the opposite occurs. Philosophically, the aim is to eat nutrient-dense foods. Artificial anything doesn’t form part of this equation.
- Reduce red meat and animal fats (including dairy fat). Avoid margarine. A high-fat diet increases your risk of getting diabetes and developing the many complications of that disease. Eat more ‘good’ fats including fish, avocadoes, olive oil, coconut, nuts and seeds. Good fat increases satiety, that is, you feel fuller longer. Also, many good fat foods contain other nutritional prizes such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.
- Herbs for diabetes include goat’s rue, gymnema, cinnamon, American ginseng, coleus, codonopsis, licorice and fenugreek.
- Chromium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, EPA and DHA, alpha lipoic acid and the B complex vitamins are all important for insulin response.
- Herbs that can help the circulatory complications of diabetes include ginkgo biloba, bilberry and ginger.
- Vitamin E prevents and treats many of the complications of diabetes. It is a wise preventative treatment. Take 100–500 iu daily.
- If you are carrying excess weight, particularly around the belly, make losing weight and most importantly, centimetres off waist, your number 1 priority.
- Exercise is important for diabetes. Firstly, it is vital in any weight-loss program, and secondly, exercise improves insulin sensitivity.
- Give up smoking. Not only does nicotine interfere with blood-sugar levels, it restricts circulation.
- Stress affects blood-sugar levels. Learn to chill.
At a glance
- Caffeine, alcohol and not surprisingly, sugar, all have an effect on blood-sugar levels. For the time being, while you are getting your blood-sugar levels to a happy place, avoid the two former and forever part company with the latter of these three foods.
- Fibre helps to lower blood-sugar levels. Make sure every meal you eat is high in natural fibres. It’s easy, as most good food is usually high in fibre. Enjoy more legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
- Eat a small meal containing protein and complex carbohydrate every 2–3 hours.
- Onions, garlic, legumes, fenugreek, cinnamon, blueberries and bitter melon can all help regulate blood-sugar levels. Eat them often.
- Don’t fall into the trap of eating foods that contain artificial sweeteners. There is no proof that they help you lose weight (if that is what you are after) and only serve to keep you on the sweet tooth merry-go-round.
- Herbs for diabetes include goat’s rue, gymnema, cinnamon, american ginseng, coleus, codonopsis, licorice and fenugreek.
- Try chromium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, EPA and DHA, alpha lipoic acid and the B complex vitamins.
- Herbs to help the circulatory complications of diabetes include ginkgo biloba, bilberry and ginger. Vitamin E is also important.
- If you are on the plump side, losing weight is so very important for beating diabetes. It is your top priority.
- Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, an important goal. So don’t put it off any longer.
- The hormones of stress, adrenaline and cortisol negatively affect blood-sugar levels. Although it seems tangential to your condition, managing stress is an important skill to learn.