Stop Diabetes Before it Starts

By Stephanie Bouquet, SB Nutrition Consulting

(reprinted from Coastal Grower Magazine, Winter 2012)

The statistics are staggering. As of 2011, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have Type 2 diabetes. It is a rapidly growing epidemic with speculation that the number will continue to increase yearly. Medical complications of this disease are numerous including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease (neuropathy) and amputation. The indirect and direct costs to manage diabetes are astronomical.   Can this disease be prevented? Are there warning signs that can be identified to prevent this disease from occurring? There just might be.

Prediabetes is a condition in which an individual’s glucose (sugar) level in the bloodstream is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as Type 2 diabetes. People with prediabetes are at a high risk of developing diabetes if left unattended. There is a series of blood tests that can be performed to determine if blood sugar levels fall into the prediabetes range. The most common test used is the fasting blood glucose value. A large prevention study, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), first published in 2002, showed that dietary and lifestyle intervention staved off the development of Type 2 diabetes in prediabetic individuals by 58-71 percent during  the initial three-year study period. The study concluded that the following four lifestyle changes were most effective for the prevention of diabetes disease development:

Weight Loss

Extra body weight acts like a barrier preventing the hormone insulin from taking glucose out of the bloodstream and moving it into the cells for energy. The body “resists” insulin’s function, a classic symptom of Type 2 diabetes. A weight loss of as little as five percent of current body weight can make a difference (for a 150 pound person, that would be a seven to eight pound loss) and improve insulin sensitivity. The problem is that dieting is not the answer to weight loss. A diet is a temporary way of restricting calories or foods that may lead to the desired pound loss, but once old behaviors or foods are reintroduced, weight will return. Small changes in dietary intake must be made permanent.

 Decrease Fat Consumption

Of the three nutrients we consume for energy (carbohydrates, protein and fat), fat contributes the most to caloric intake. Every gram of fat provides nine calories. The typical American diet gets  35-40 percent of its calories from fat sources. Reducing the fat content in the diet will assist with weight loss and improve heart health. Saturated fats (animal flesh and products) and trans fats (packaged, prepared foods or fast foods) should be limited as these fats tell the liver to make unhealthy LDL cholesterol in the body. Unsaturated fats (canola/olive oil, avocados, nuts) can improve heart health and add flavor if used sparingly.

Increase Dietary Fiber Intake

Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that the body doesn’t digest completely. When it is consumed, blood sugars rise slowly putting less of a load on the body to bring energy into the cells. Which foods have fiber? Main dietary sources include whole grains, cereals, dried beans, fruits and vegetables. It is recommended to consume between 25-35 grams of fiber per day (or fifteen grams per 1,000 calories consumed).  Remember to phase fiber into the diet gradually and increase fluid consumption with the intake for best results. Fiber supplements, such as Metamucil or Benefiber, may assist with increasing intake, but it is always advisable to try food sources first.

 Get Moving

Activity makes the insulin in the body work better. To achieve the best results, exercise should be consistent and performed on most days of the week. Positive blood sugar benefits were seen in the DPP study with participants performing 150 minutes of exercise per week. Additional minutes of exercise are needed to produce weight loss. What is the best type of exercise to perform? Whether it be walking, jogging, cycling or dancing, the best one is the activity you enjoy and will continue to do for a lifetime.