I have posted more than 30 items of advice on the Real Diabetes Truth blog since the beginning of this year, so I thought now would be a good time to look back and summarise the main messages that have emerged. Below are my ‘top ten’ ways to avoid, or better manage, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
1. Eat a low GL diet. A diet that is low in carbohydrates will help you to control your blood sugar level. GI stands for ‘glycaemic index’, a measure of the speed at which a carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels. More useful in practice is the idea of ‘glycaemic load’ (GL), which also takes account of how much of a carbohydrate is in a food and what portion size is being eaten. If you are not already eating in a low GL way, put it at the top of your to do list!
2. Cut out sugar as far as possible. A diet high in sugar is a sure way to raise sugar levels in the blood. High blood sugar slowly erodes the ability of cells in the pancreas to make insulin and the damage becomes permanent with time. Sugar also causes many of the diseases associated with ‘metabolic syndrome’, including high blood pressure, diabetes and accelerated ageing. Sugar is more dangerous to your health than saturated fat or salt. Keeping to a low GL diet will help to control sugar cravings.
3. Get regular exercise.Not only will it keep your weight down, improve your cardiovascular fitness and make you feel good, for those with type 1 diabetes it lowers blood sugar levels and may help you to reduce the amount of insulin you need. Exercise can also reverse the root cause of type 2 diabetes, by reducing insulin resistance, so that glucose is used more effectively. When muscle cells are made to contract during exercise, they take in glucose in the presence of insulin much more readily than do passive cells.
4. Top up your vitamins and minerals. Vitamin D promotes insulin production and maintains insulin sensitivity, while Vitamin B1 is excreted more rapidly in diabetes and its deficiency lies behind many diabetic complications. The minerals chromium, calcium and magnesium are also especially important for people with diabetes. Advice on supplementation is given in my posts about these nutrients.
5. Know your fats. Not all fats are created equal. Saturated fats, mainly found in meat and dairy products, can block the mechanism by which your pancreas knows when to release insulin and can contribute to type 2 diabetes. Unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, which are abundant in oily fish, actively promote insulin sensitivity and help to control blood sugar levels, as well as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
6. Get enough sleep. When you sleep, your brain secretes a hormone called melatonin, then when you wake up your adrenal glands produce another hormone called serotonin. Both of these have been found to affect blood sugar control and people who get insufficient sleep or who work irregular shifts are at a higher risk of developing diabetes.
7. Eat the diabetes ‘super foods’. You can help to control your blood sugar levels by making certain foods a regular part of your diet. Fish and nuts both contain omega-3 fatty acids, which promote better glucose uptake and lower blood sugar levels. Red grapes (and red wine) contain resveratrol, which improves insulin sensitivity and strawberries contain fisetin, which may reduce the risk of diabetic complications. It’s also good to know that coffee and dark chocolate can help to improve insulin resistance while protecting the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
8. Get herbal help. There are several herbs that can help you to control your blood sugar safely, without the risk of drug side effects. Bitter melon, ivy gourd, gymnema, cinnamon and fenugreek have all been shown to be effective in clinical trials. Medicinal mushrooms also contain many different chemicals that can aid blood sugar control, through a variety of biological mechanisms in the body.
9. Minimise reliance on drugs. Although medications have their place in the treatment of diabetes and are sometimes essential, you should work with your doctor to reduce your need for them. The measures outlined above should help with this. All diabetes drugs have side effects, some of which are life-threatening. In addition, statin drugs for controlling cholesterol levels have been found to actually cause diabetes.
10. Put yourself in control. This really is your best strategy for avoiding or managing diabetes. Recent reports have slammed the woeful state of NHS diabetes care. Don’t assume that doctors and nurses know best, or even know what they are doing. Read all you can about diabetes and its treatment. Question any medication you are asked to take and if something doesn’t seem right, make your voice heard!
Thank you for reading Real Diabetes Truth over the past months. There is plenty more good news about effective alternatives to mainstream drug treatment on the way! If you have any comments on my blog posts or experiences to share, I would love to hear them. Just scroll down to the bottom of each post (after the references) to leave your remarks or questions.
In my next blog post, I want to tell you about alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant that a recent clinical trial has found to be well-tolerated and effective for blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes.
Wishing you the best of health,
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth
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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
1. Yan S, Li J, Li S, Zhang B, Du S, Gordon-Larsen P, Adair L, Popkin B. The expanding burden of cardiometabolic risk in China: the China Health and Nutrition Survey. Obes Rev. 2012 Jun 28. [Epub ahead of print]