Whenever I talk about diabetes the first thing most people say is ‘I do not even touch sugar’!
And I think with the growing number of pre-diabetics and diabetics across the globe, I really wanted to discuss this topic in terms of what lifestyle medicine can do to support care around diabetes.
You will be surprised to see that there is a lot you can do!
Yes, sugar is the thing which becomes higher than it is needed in blood which is then measured by blood tests and the diagnosis of diabetes is made. But this sugar is not just the sugar that we mix in our tea or coffee. I am talking about any sugar- brown, dark or other processed forms which most of us eat hidden in cakes, biscuits and store bought savoury products. The table sauces are notorious for hidden forms of sugars. I would also want to point out that any refined carbohydrates would result in increasing the blood sugar as well.
So what is this sugar doing which is causing diabetes?
Once we eat refined carbohydrate or sugar laden food it sends signals for release on insulin. This insulin then opens channels for the sugar to get into our muscles and give the energy required for day to day metabolism. Insulin also helps to store the excess sugar in the form of fat, which is deposited into the abdominal organs like the liver and pancreas. It is very easy to see that if we are having a high refined carbohydrate and sugar diet repeatedly throughout the day, it will result in more and more insulin being released, which then leads to abdominal obesity with fat deposit. This leads to insulin not being able to do its job efficiently and with time results in insulin resistance. With every meals this cycle continues and overtime causes diabetes.
The main effect caused by the high blood sugar is inflammation. This slowly effects every part of the functioning of our body. For example, the inflammation will result in tiredness, higher risk of infection, damage the lining of our blood vessels and nerves. The risk of dementia increases too and research shows that any improvement in diabetes has a profound effect on reducing the overall risk of cardiac diseases, mental health as well as immunity.
My tips to improve diabetes with lifestyle changes:
- Sleep is the time when the body deals with repair and healing. The high cortisol levels which drive the sugars higher, get a break. The inflammation can be reduced by making sure of getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
- 15-20 minutes of moderate intensity movement three times a day. If you can do this after meals it can really help prevent or reduce the spike in blood sugar level.
- Be part of a community where you can share your ideas and benefit from what others have found useful. I have done some virtual group consultations where people often picked up little tips from each other. This can also help you be more accountable to changes you want to make and stick to your goals.
- Have home cooked unprocessed food in which you are including more plants as the bulk of every meal. There are various diets currently being researched and low carbohydrate and keto diets look promising in the short term. However, more studies are needed to know the long-term effect of avoiding nutrient dense complex carbohydrates in the form of fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables, which are the basis of these diets. I prefer to advise around the whole food plant based diet (WFPBD) as there is so much evidence that if followed consistently, it can be as effective as metformin (first line drug mostly used for treating diabetes) in controlling the blood sugars. The anti-oxidants, polyphenols as well as fibre in the WFPBD makes it a sustainable option which not just improves diabetes but has a beneficial effect on heart health, kidney health as well as the immunity which are all often linked with Diabetes.
- Time restricted eating- if you decide to take away one thing from this blog, I would urge you to try this one. There is plenty of evidence that limiting the number of hours in which you have your meals can have a huge improvement in blood sugar control. Start by eating within a window period which works best for you. For example, eating between 11am to 7pm.This window may not work for everyone and if you need help in looking at your options drop me an email. I would advise that anyone who is using medication for cardiac issues or diabetes please discuss this with your doctor before starting.
If any of the above tips have made you curious, I would say try them for just 6-8 weeks and see the difference. One thing I am sure of is that they will not have any side effects!
This is a topic I am passionate about and if you need any guidance in improving your pre-diabetes or diabetes control, please do feel free to contact me.
Have a lovely week.