Diabetes is a growing issue in the United States and world wide. As people tend to be more inactive, live more of their lives inside and eat high calorie dense foods this will continue to be a growing issue. Pharmaceutical interventions can only make so much of an effect to treat the issue and don’t address the decrease in quality of life. The best long term solution is to make lifestyle changes to improve blood sugar levels. There are a few different ways to test if you have diabetes. First is A1c and a normal level is below 5.7%, a level of 5.7% to 6.4% indicates prediabetes, and a level of 6.5% or more indicates diabetes. You could also do a fasting blood sugar test and a level of 99 mg/dL or lower is normal, 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates you have prediabetes, and 126 mg/dL or higher indicates you have diabetes.
Factors that increase your risk of type 2 diabetes include but are not limited to being overweight or obese, inactivity, family history of type 2 diabetes, and blood lipids levels with low HDL and high triglycerides. Things such as family history can not be controlled however there are plenty that can be. We will go over some steps you can take to help improve your blood sugar levels whether you are currently diabetic, pre-diabetic or have risk factors and want to stay on top of the situation. We will go over weight management, physical activity interventions you can make, and finish with dietary changes.
First, maintain a healthy weight because “Obesity is the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes.” Being overweight or obese is a common risk factor for many chronic diseases including diabetes, hyperlipidemia and heart disease. To put it into perspective “Women with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 have a 28 times greater risk of developing diabetes than do women of normal weight.” Having a BMI of 30 or more means you are obese. “The risk of diabetes is 93 times greater if the BMI is 35 kg/m” which is classified as morbidity obese and exponentially increases your risk of diabetes.
Staying active, this not only helps reduce blood sugar levels but also helps maintain a healthy weight. When you are physically exerting yourself instead of the carbohydrates you have eaten getting uptake by insulin and stored in your body your muscles use it. Over time this will help lower your blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity because it doesn’t have to work as hard to uptake the carbohydrates. It also helps maintain weight as everyone is well aware of. This is because you increase your calorie expenditure. Weight management is the regulation between calories in versus calories out and being in a caloric deficit.
Reduce or eliminate refined carbohydrate foods and drinks from your diet. Refined carbohydrates is a very often understood term. Essentially it includes sugars and processed grains. Common dietary sources of refined carbohydrates are white flour, white bread, pastries, sodas, packaged snacks, pasta, sweets, and breakfast cereals. These types of carbohydrate sources are what produce the greatest insulin response in your body because they are broken down so quickly and easily. Oftentimes digestion starts in the body from your saliva. Eating too many refined carbohydrates too often is what eventually leads to insulin insensitivity over time. Eliminating or cutting down on it will allow your insulin sensitivity to recover and have it work properly again.
Eat more fiber because it slows down the digestion of carbohydrates. Like I said earlier these refined carbohydrates break down so quickly so finding ways to slow it down will help with the insulin response. There won’t be as dramatic and large response and therefore won’t put as much stress on the pancreas and your insulin to uptake large amounts of carbohydrates so quickly. Long term this will help improve insulin sensitivity. Eating more fiber will also help with weight management because eating it increases satiety or the feeling of fullness. If you feel full you are less likely to over eat and be in a calorie surplus.
Eat more unsaturated fats because they can improve blood sugar levels as well. Americans tend to have a much higher and disproportionate amount of saturated fat in our diet compared to saturated fats and this raises our LDL levels. “CDC statistics indicate that between 2009-2012, 65 percent of people with diagnosed diabetes who were aged 18 years and above either had high levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol in the blood, or they were using drugs to lower cholesterol.” Eating more unsaturated fat increases HDL and lowers LDL. There is not a mechanism in unsaturated fat that interacts with sugar or insulin, but rather the changing of dietary intake that makes the change. “For each 5 percent of dietary energy that was switched from carbohydrates or saturated fats to mono- or polyunsaturated fats, they found a drop of around 0.1 percent in HbA1c” which is a blood sugar marker. It also works similarly to fiber in that if you eat unsaturated fats with carbohydrates it slows down the digestion of them and once again doesn’t put as much strain on the pancreas and insulin production.
Eat lean protein with every meal. Again the key to more protein in the diet is to replace those refined carbohydrate calories with different and more nutritious macronutrients. Eating protein with carbohydrates just like unsaturated fats and fiber slows down the digestion helping with the insulin response. Lastly it is similar to fiber in that it is very satiating. This will help with weight management because when you are done eating a meal you will feel more full and less likely to binge on high calorie dense foods.
Barnes, Ann Smith. The Epidemic of Obesity and Diabetes, Texas Heart Institute Journal, 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3066828/.
Brazier, Yvette. “Eat More Healthy Fat to Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 20 July 2016, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311727#Dont-fear-healthy-fats.
“Type 2 Diabetes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 Jan. 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193.