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How to avoid the diabetic epidemic

I have written about the importance of eating an anti-inflammatory diet, the perils of sugar on our immunity and gut health.
Diabetes is not a death sentence and you can often control many of the symptoms yourself. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

I have written about the importance of eating an anti-inflammatory diet, the perils of sugar on our immunity and gut health.  Today, I would like to explain in simple terms what diabetes is and how to avoid it, incorporating healthy eating habits and consulting the glycemic index in menu planning. 

Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic. This is a different disease than type 1 (juvenile) diabetes, which is an unavoidable auto-immune disease that generally only strikes children. I have been the mother of a type 1 diabetic son for almost 20 years and had to immediately educate myself (and get over my needle phobia) when he was diagnosed. The pancreas stops producing insulin so type 1 diabetics are dependent on an outside source of insulin (injected by needle or a pump).  Type 2 diabetes is generally adult-onset diabetes and is often avoidable. Managing it requires changes to lifestyle (nutrition choices and physical activity) and often medication.  

How do we get type 2 diabetes?  When we consume foods that contain carbohydrates (breads, cereals, crackers, chips & baking) and products with obvious sugar in them (candy, desert, pop, high sugar fruit & juice) our pancreas produces a hormone called insulin to convert the carb sugars into an energy our body can use. Insulin regulates the amount of sugar in our bloodstream (a.k.a. blood sugar).  Too much sugar in our bloodstream means our pancreas needs to work overtime to create insulin, causing it to get tired and then our bodies may become insulin resistant. This is type 2 diabetes. Inflammation in the form of weight gain often occurs alongside this type of diabetes. (This is a simple explanation of a complex health issue.)

The foods that cause blood sugar spikes are often addictive, so we tend to eat much more of them than the odd treat and daily consumption will catch up with us.  We need to change how we eat, choosing foods low on the glycemic index (meat and fish proteins, fruits like grapefruit, apples, pears, peaches and berries, veggies such as zucchini, peas, spinach, peppers, onions, kale, eggplant, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, legumes and beans (kidney beans and lentils are the best), nuts (peanut butter without sugar added), carbs like large flake or rolled oatmeal – the kind that takes a few minutes to cook rather than the quick oats (avoid the instant packages that are full of added sugar).  Also keep in mind how much sugar we drink (in pop and juices).

The curcumin in turmeric root also appears to help regulate blood sugar, as does cinnamon.  Please look up the glycemic index on the internet and plan your meals.  I know a lot of people will be cringing at this but if you want to avoid diabetes, you have to stop eating foods that spike your blood sugar, plain and simple. Exercise also burns blood sugar so if you are diabetic or prone to diabetes, getting adequate exercise daily should be a crucial part of your health regime.  

Diabetes is not a death sentence and the more positive changes you make with diet and exercise, the less medication you may need. I know people who manage their diabetes completely with nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Please take charge of your health.  We live in our bodies so if we don’t take care of them where else will we live? 

Claire Nielsen is a health educator and owner of Aunty Claire’s Elixir for Life Ltd. Questions?