What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism. How we process carbohydrates, lipids and protein is inextricably linked to our blood glucose control, manufacture and energy production. After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream, where it is used by cells for growth and energy. For glucose entry into cells, we require insulin.
Diabetes can occur when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin or if the cells of the body become resistant to insulin. When one becomes insulin resistance, the blood glucose cannot get into the cells, which can then lead to serious complications. Diabetes is characterised by poor glucose control (elevated fasting blood glucose readings) and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, renal disease and other health complications.
Patients typically present with increased urination, increased thirst, polydipsia, and increased hunger/appetite. Diabetes is diagnosed via blood tests that check and measure your glucose and insulin levels and glycated haemoglobin – a measure that identifies your average plasma glucose concentration over a three month period.
Type 2 Diabetes is considered a hereditary and/or lifestyle disease and therefore diet and lifestyle changes can significantly reduce a persons risk of developing diabetes by 58%.
As a Naturopathic Nutritionist I have a large focus on disease prevention and the following tips are ones I use regularly in clinic with my clients :
Diet should consist primarily of fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre, combined with a portion of lean protein at each meal. The most beneficial fibres are water soluble forms such as oat bran, nuts, psyllium seed husks, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pears, apples and vegetables. These foods slow down digestion and absorption preventing rapid glycaemic rises and increasing the sensitivity of tissues to insulin. 35g fibre daily is recommended.
Foods high in glycaemic index such as processed and refined foods, foods high in sugar (in any form), alcohol, caffeine and soft drinks (especially diet forms) should be avoided.
Legumes, onions and garlic are particularly useful and should be included regularly.
80-90% of diabetics have a body mass index (BMI) above 30 which is considered obese. Abdominal fat cells secrete hormones such as resistin, leptin, tumor necrosis factor and free fatty acids that reduce the effect of insulin and impair the use of glucose in body. This results in insulin resistance and ultimately Type 2 Diabetes.
Weight loss and maintenance of weight loss results in a decrease in insulin resistance. Client’s do not have to achieve ideal body weight to improve control of blood glucose, a weight loss of as little as 4.5–9 kg will be helpful, however the weight loss must be maintained for the benefits to be long lasting.
Studies combined with much clinical experience indicates that if patients can be encouraged to exercise frequently then they can avoid most diabetic medications and reverse their blood sugar fluctuations. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the risk of diabetes was reduced by 58% in the intervention group. The reduction in the incidence of diabetes was directly associated with changes in lifestyle enabling authors to conclude that Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.
Magnesium deficiency, which is often seen with a Western diet, has been found to be related to poor glycaemic control and impairment of insulin secretion. Insulin resistance in return can interfere with the uptake of Magnesium by the cells, thus creating a vicious circle. Food sources of Magnesium include green leafy vegetables, wholegrains and nuts. High dietary intake as well as supplementation have improved metabolic function in diabetes and metabolic syndrome patients.
How your body process carbohydrates plays an important role in your general health and wellbeing. Your genetic makeup can affect how your body processes carbohydrates and there is often a hereditary component to diabetes. The AMY1 gene is a gene that produces the enzyme amylase – an enzyme found in saliva that begins the digestion of carbohydrates found in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Some of us don’t produce enough amylase to break down our carbohydrates. Genetic testing of the AMY1 gene copy number variation indicates your genetic predisposition for starch metabolism and with this new information adjusting your dietary carbohydrate intake can make a big difference in better managing your blood sugar levels and minimising the risk of developing diabetes. Testing the AMY1 gene can improve the management of diabetes, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, difficult weight loss and dental tooth decay.
Superfood Bircher Muesli Recipe
Bircher will last for 4 days in the fridge so its handy if you need to be organised for the week. The hero of this breakfast is the humble prune. Not only does it have as many antioxidants as goji berries but it’s also an awesome intestinal broom. Try this Superfood Bircher Muesli as a great high fibre way to start your day.
- 125g (1 cup) rolled oats (or quinoa flakes for a gluten free bircher)
- 40g (1/4 cup) almonds – crushed or slithered if you prefer
- 30g (1/4 cup) sunflower seeds
- 40g (1/4 cup) chia seeds
- 15g (1/4 cup) shredded coconut
- 45g (1/4 cup) chopped and pitted dried prunes
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground all spice
- 1.25 litres (5 cups) almond milk, coconut milk or water
- 1 granny smith apple, grated (skin and all)
- 4-6 prunes chopped
- 6 heaped tablespoons of your favourite full-cream or coconut yoghurt
Pop all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine. It’s going to look like a regular muesli mix at this stage. Add your spices, liquid (milk or water) prunes and grated apple and place in the fridge overnight to soak. In the morning fold through some yoghurt and top with some fresh berries.
NOTE: Soaking the seeds overnight increases digestibility and the addition of the grated apple adds pectin which is a great source of prebiotic fibre and has cholesterol lowering abilities.