Enjoy a Healthy Diabetes Diet -Manage or Avoid Pre-diabetes and Diabetes
With over half of America on the road to prediabetes and diabetes according to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it is more important than ever to consider a diabetes diet as you review your healthy eating meal plan. Studies show you can prevent diabetes (and even reverse it!) by using your ability to choose a healthy lifestyle in conjunction with a diabetes diet (or prediabetes diet).
With diabetes being the 8th leading cause of death world-wide and the 7th leading cause of death in America, now is the time to be proactive about learning what you can do to either reverse or reduce and even eliminate the chance of diabetes in your life.
One of the factors that increase your chances of prediabetes and diabetes is a poor or unhealthy diet. Many of us have missed the boat when it comes to learning about healthy eating behaviors. Instead, we choose the wrong foods and override the signals from our brain that tell us we are full.
We consume too many carbohydrates, fats and sugars with too little exercise to make use of that type of fuel and energy we’ve eaten, which can lead to critically high levels of sugar in our blood stream. We eat too few proteins and natural foods that actually promote good health, digestion, energy, body functions and a longer life. As a result, our bodies become ridden with toxins, illnesses and diseases like heart disease, prediabetes and diabetes.
Knowledge truly is power in our world and we have access to some of the most amazing breakthroughs ever known in prolonging life, exploring space, healing diseases and illnesses, scientific breakthroughs, and technological advances that no one even imagined just a few short years ago.
However, with all this knowledge available quite literally at our fingertips, people are still dying needlessly from heart disease, and preventable illnesses like diabetes. Preventing diabetes and prediabetes, and reversing a diabetes diagnosis with a diabetes diet, or prediabetes diet, is one of the breakthroughs to which we need to be paying more attention.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic disease (a diseases affecting the body’s metabolism) in which the body’s pancreas is not able to produce enough (or any) insulin. Insulin is an important hormone that acts as a ‘key’ that attaches itself to the glucose (sugar) found in various forms of carbohydrates you ingest, allowing the glucose to be absorbed by cells within the body to be used for energy, or stored for future use.
When the body is not able to produce enough (or any) insulin to handle the intake of sugars coming into the body, it will cause elevated levels of glucose in the blood. An elevated glucose level in the blood is referred to as hyperglycemia. (When blood sugar is too low, it is referred to as hypoglycemia.)
When glucose levels are raised, it can cause:
- High levels of sugar in the urine causing frequent urination
- Increased thirst and a very dry mouth
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Breath that smells like fruit
- Constantly feeling tired
- Dry or flushed skin
- Confusion or difficulty with focus or paying attention
- Nausea and vomiting
If high glucose levels are left untreated, a serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) could occur. This is also known as a diabetic coma. If levels become even more critical, this is when death occurs, putting diabetes as one of the Top-10 causes of death world-wide.
The warning signs for DKA could develop slowly, but when vomiting occurs, this condition can become life-threatening within hours. This is a dangerous and serious condition. If any of the above warning-signs are experienced, please contact your health provider immediately. For more information regarding ‘What is Diabetes?’ please visit Diabetes.org.
Types of Diabetes You Can Manage With a Diabetes Diet
Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as insulin-dependent or juvenile-onset diabetes as it is most typically diagnosed in children) accounts for only 5% to 10% of the population diagnosed with diabetes. With this diagnosis, the body does not produce insulin so insulin must be prescribed by a doctor and taken daily, usually through some form of insulin injection in order to live.
There is no prevention or reversal for this type of diabetes, but it can be properly managed with a diabetes diet (which will be mentioned in more detail below). There are many children who have learned to manage their type 1 diabetes with a diabetes diet, and they continue their diabetes diet as adults living long, healthy lives.
Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas produces insulin, but the body is insulin resistant and is not able to utilize it properly. About 90% of those diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2. When glucose begins to build up in the bloodstream instead of going into cells to be used as energy, it can cause two problems:
- Your cells may be starved for energy.
- Eventually, high glucose levels in the blood could hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart.
Type 2 diabetes is treated with lifestyle changes – exercise and healthy eating habits with a diabetes diet – as well as through oral medications and insulin.
What is Prediabetes?
It is estimated that 86 million Americans over the age of 20 have prediabetes. Before developing type 2 diabetes, those diagnosed almost always have prediabetes and may display systems like increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. When medically tested for these symptoms, they will show high glucose levels, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as a diabetic.
People with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years if it is left untreated along with no lifestyle or diet changes. They also have a higher chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Around 5% to 10% of people with prediabetes have a progression into type 2 diabetes, annually. For more information regarding ‘What is Prediabetes?’ please visit Diabetes.org.
Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes
There are known risk factors that indicate whether or not a person is more likely to develop prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. These factors include:
- Age, especially over 45
- Being overweight or obese with a body mass index (BMI) above 25
- Having high blood pressure
- A family history of diabetes
- A history of diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes)
- Given birth to a baby weighing nine pounds or more
- An ethnic background of African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
- Being physically active less than three times a week
If you have any of these risk factors associated with indicators or symptoms of diabetes or prediabetes, please contact your healthcare provider today to talk about the possibility of diabetes or prediabetes, so you can receive treatment if necessary.
Can You Prevent or Reverse a Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosis with a Diabetes Diet (or Prediabetes Diet) and Lifestyle Changes?
Yes, it is possible to reverse prediabetes and a diabetes type 2 diagnosis. For those diagnosed with prediabetes, there is evidence of reducing the risk entirely with healthy lifestyle modifications (a diabetes diet and increased activity).
Even if prediabetes is not caught early, research shows you can lower your risk of progression into type 2 diabetes by 40% to 70% .
Getting a diagnosis of prediabetes or even diabetes type 2 is not a life-sentence. There’s still time to turn things around. Gregg Gerety, MD, chief of endocrinology at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y. says, “It’s an opportunity to initiate lifestyle changes or treatments, and potentially retard progression to diabetes or even prevent diabetes.”
Another concern to watch for and address on low blood sugar is Hypoglycemia – which occurs when the body can’t process sugar effectively, and is most common in people with diabetes
Gerety believes that making these seven changes in your daily habits is a good way to prevent diabetes progression:
- Exercise more. Going for a walk at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is a great way to start. Exercising is one of the best things you can do to lower your risk of diabetes. Patti Geil, MS, RD, is the author of What Do I Eat Now? She says, “Physical activity is an essential part of the treatment plan for prediabetes, because it lowers blood glucose levels and decreases body fat.”
- If you are overweight, lose 7% of your body weight. This alone can reduce your risk of diabetes by up to 58%!
- Visit your doctor more. Gerety believes that, “Patients like some tangible evidence of success or failure,” and a doctor visit every three to six months can do just that. You receive positive reinforcement if you’re doing well, and if you’re off track, a doctor can help you figure out why and reset your course.
- Eat better by incorporating a diabetes diet (or prediabetes diet). There’s more about that below in our section: What is a Prediabetes Diet or a Diabetes Diet?
- Incorporate better sleeping habits. Theresa Garnero, author of Your First Year with Diabetes says that not getting enough sleep regularly makes losing weight harder. Lack of sleep also makes it harder for your body to effectively use insulin, which could increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Find or create a support group. Feeling alone and isolated can add to your stress and anxiety which increases poor eating, exercising and sleeping habits. Joining a group of others who are experiencing your same diagnosis can be a huge encouragement and resource for you. Being held accountable during tough times and cheered on through successes is great motivation that helps keep you on track. Certified diabetes educators can also be effective coaches during your season of change.
- Don’t hope for better health, decide to make it happen. Mind-set is everything, and you have the power to choose how you live. Garnero says to “Make a conscious choice to be consistent with everyday activities that are in the best interest of your health. Tell yourself, ‘I’m going to give it my best. I’m going to make small changes over time.’” Enforcing that power in your life and making the commitment to honor yourself and your needs will make all the difference in the world for you and your family.
What is a Prediabetes Diet or a Diabetes Diet?
To reduce or completely remove your risk of diabetes, a diabetes diet (which is the same as a prediabetes diet) is a proven way for you to get your health back on track. This diet is simply a healthier way of eating by choosing foods that work better with your body’s biology.
A diabetes diet (or prediabetes diet) meal plan will help your body better regulate your insulin and glucose levels. Here’s what you need to incorporate in your diabetes diet:
- Load up on non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, carrots, and green beans. Make your goal to consume at least three servings every day.
- Include high-fiber foods into your healthy meal plan. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer and also helps you eat less. At least half your plate should contain fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned as long as there is no salt added) that have been steamed or sautéed in a low amount of healthy fats.
- Fruits should be enjoyed in moderation due to their natural sugars. Consuming one to three servings of fruit a day is a good goal. Gummy fruit snacks are not healthy, nor are they considered fruit.
- Saturated fats (which come from beef, full-fat dairy products, poultry and eggs and some vegetable oils) are necessary for your body, but only in small amounts. Less than 6% percent of your daily calories should come from saturated (and trans) fats.
- Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are what you should have more of as part of a healthy diet to help reverse and reduce the risk of diabetes through your diabetes diet and healthy eating plan. Unsaturated fats are found in natural products like pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds, as well as olive, and peanut oil – these are all monounsaturated fats. [NOTE: Canola oil used to be classified as a healthy option however recent studies show it’s best to stay away from this oil.] The polyunsaturated fats you want to consume for a healthy diabetes diet consists of Omega-3 fatty acids found in some types of fish (like herring and salmon) and in plant products like walnuts and flaxseed.
- Look for whole-grain foods instead of processed grains. Just because bread is brown doesn’t mean it is whole-grain and healthy. Be sure to read labels and look for the words ‘whole-grain.’ A ‘wheat’ ingredient is still processed. There’s a whole section on whole-grains in our previous article on Healthy Meal Planning.
- Choose lower-calorie options of food like skim-milk, lower-fat versions of cheese, yogurt, and salad dressings, and whole-wheat or baked crackers and chips instead of the high-calorie snacks. There are also low-calorie desserts to research.
- Skip sugary drinks. Sweet tea isn’t so sweet for your body. Sweetened lemonades, sugary coffee treats, and sodas also harm your efforts for controlling your sugar intake and insulin levels. Your body will crave what you already consume, so take a few days to cut sugary drinks from your diet and before you know it, you will stop craving them and will have given yourself a huge healthy leap forward in your diabetes diet and healthy lifestyle choices.
Registered dietitian Barbara Borcik, RD, LDN, CDE, gives us her advice: “My number one recommendation to people is: Don’t drink your sugar. Sugary drinks provide nothing more than empty calories, and they won’t help you feel full. All the sugary drinks out there are a real risk factor for obesity.”
- Pay attention to your portions. You don’t have to cut all the foods you like from your diet. However, if you pay attention and slow down while you are eating the foods you enjoy, you will realize that smaller portions are just as satisfying. It’s time to reeducate yourself on healthy portion sizes. This is especially important regarding starchy foods like white rice, potatoes and pasta. Also, every meal does not have to end in a decadent dessert–save those for special occasions.
- Moderate your alcohol intake. When you already have insulin issues, drinking alcohol can worsen diabetes complications and cause a dangerous low blood sugar level. This is because your liver is busy removing alcohol from your blood instead of helping you regulate your blood sugar. For moderate consumption, take note of your alcohol portions: a serving of alcohol is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit (80-proof). Men should have no more than two servings and women no more than one serving per day.
- Choose lean meats. Lean meats are considered cuts that have the word “round” or “loin” in the name. Examples include top-round, pork tenderloin, and sirloin. Also, avoid cuts labeled “Prime” as they will have more fat. Instead choose cuts that are graded “Select” or “Choice.” Fish, chicken, and turkey are also leaner choice for meat. When choosing ground beef, choose leaner options like 90% lean meat and above.
- Stay hydrated. Many times when we are dehydrated, we will misinterpret that signal as hunger. This can lead to overeating. Staying hydrated will help you keep your blood sugar better regulated as well. The amount of water you need to drink daily depends on several factors: how much you weigh, your activity level, and where you live. The rule of thumb is to drink between .5 and 1.0 ounces for each pound you weigh. If you live in a hot climate, sweat a lot, and exercise a lot, you will be in the upper end of that range.
Final Notes on Reversing and Preventing Diabetes and Prediabetes
A diabetes diet is not about eliminating everything you love from your diet. You can still enjoy delicious foods, treats and drinks–but in moderation. The diabetes diet is simply about the power of knowledge and using that power to make better choices about how you live, so you can live longer and reverse a diabetes type 2 diagnosis, or eliminate your risk of diabetes altogether.
Here are a few points to remember as you embark on this journey of better health to lower your risk of diabetes:
- Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals can lead to binging later which could spike blood sugar and lead to weight gain.
- Avoid late-night snacking. This usually involves mindless eating on high-carb foods with no concern for portion sizes. This can result in high blood sugar levels when you wake up the next morning.
- Check your blood sugar regularly. As you change your diet, keep monitoring your blood sugar levels so you can keep it regulated.
- Get up and move. We’ve said it before, but it merits saying again – you need to be active. Our lifestyles have turned sedentary in nature and this is affecting the overall health of our population. Do not skimp on exercise. You should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week. A walk around the block or on the treadmill (even stepping or jogging in place) for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week will be effective at helping to reduce your risk of diabetes progression.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stress and anxiety will release stress hormones that can directly alter blood sugar levels. Also, when you’re stressed, you are less likely to take the time to properly care for yourself and maintain healthy eating habits or lifestyle choices. There are many things you can do to learn how to better manage your stress and anxiety like identifying your triggers and incorporating calming techniques prior to stressful situations.
The International Diabetes Federation predicts that at the rate we are going, 642 million people will have diabetes by the year 2040. The worst part about that is most of the diagnosis could be prevented. Now more than ever, diabetes and prediabetes is a real threat to your health, and your life. Please think enough about yourself and your family to incorporate a diabetes diet and incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into everyday life so you can prevent diabetes and prediabetes, reverse it, or at least lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. You, and your family, are worth it!