Health: Type 2 Diabetes and Diet Tips

You stare down at your plate, having a war with yourself. The bacon leers up at you, chanting, eat me, I am 1.7 oz of fat, 89 calories, and 742 milligrams of sodium! But no sugar, so it’s okay. The eggs chime in, shouting out their calorie content and cholesterol content. The muffin, not to be outdone, starts reciting the five different kinds of sugar it is composed of, but it has blueberries and that’s a fruit, so it’s okay too.

This may seem ridiculous to most, but to someone who is forced to calorie-count and carb-count, this battle goes on every day. This is especially true if you are diabetic, where nutritionists, doctors, tv ads, and yoga instructors all clamor for your attention (and money).

Unfortunately, Type 2 diabetes has become big business for companies at the cost of those who live day to day being bombarded with conflicting information, advice, and magical medication. Insurance companies complain and food companies to make “diabetic friendly” chocolates. But it is an individuals’ responsibility to make healthy choices for themselves, because big business and big brother have other obligations.

Types of Diabetes

There are three types of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Insulin is needed by the body to break down sugars. It is more common in young people under 20, although it can happen at any age, and affects whites more frequently. Type 1 diabetes is rare, affect 1 out of 250 Americans, and is thought to be triggered by genetics, viral infections, and/or other environmental factors.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, as the name suggests. It is usually diagnosed around 28 weeks, although it may have little or no symptoms, and generally disappears after the baby is born. Gestational diabetes is thought to be caused by the hormones produced during pregnancy and needs to be managed to ensure the safety of the baby.

Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas either produces little or no insulin or the body does not recognized insulin. Insulin is needed to regulate glucose (sugar) into cells; without it, glucose stays in the blood stream, creating potentially fatal problems. Type 2 diabetes is 99% of diabetes in the United States. It is estimated that 23.6 million Americans have diabetes, which is approximately 8% of the population, and is projected to keep rising, especially in children. Type 2 diabetes has been linked to organ, digestive, eye, circulatory, and nerve pains and failures.

How are Diabetes and Diet Connected?

Diet is a huge part of this statistic, and the truth of it is, obesity causes diabetes. The larger the body, the harder the body has to work to ensure it runs properly. And eventually, your cells run down. It is like buying a sports car and then using it like an F-150 to haul tractors. The car is not made to withstand that much weight, and neither is the human body.

In 2007, 26.4% of men and 24.8% of women were obese in the United States. This number has only risen, and with it, so has Type 2 diabetes. Doing a quick search and cross-referencing Canada and the United States, Canada’s obesity rate was 13.4% and the United States was 30.1% (based, I am assuming, on more current numbers); Canada’s diabetes rate in the population was 3.2% of the population and the United States was 7.8%. So, hmm, double the obesity rate corresponds pretty closely with double the diabetes rate. Scary!

Statistics are not in our favor, let me just say that.

The Trials of Dieting

I don't really want to read the words "healthy" and "dieting" in the same sentence. Mock diets are running rampant, promising to melt the fat right off our bones, grow a full head of shiny hair, and make us ten times smarter.

This hub is about creating healthy habits within a normal diet. Habits take time to develop and they take will power. You can't just think about changing your diet, you have to act on it, and act on it enough to create a life-long habit.

Read ten different sources, and they will all tell you ten different things. However, there are a few things that most sources agree on, and I've broken them down into easy explanations (I tried to weed out the medical gobbly-gook).

Will these steps cure diabetes? No. Diabetes is not curable at this time. But diabetes is manageable. Will these steps 100% prevent diabetes? No, previous diet, genetics, exercise routine, and a million other factors go into what happens in your body. But these steps are a good way to stay healthy and give your body a helping hand.

Limiting Sweets

Two cookies a day is what I have been told. Let me tell you, I look at those two little pathetic oreos and think how lonely they will be in my stomach… And I didn’t eat my two cookies yesterday, can I eat four today? But you SAID two cookies a day! What about low fat cookies? Can I have more? Oops, I ate more than two cookies, I am a failure.

This bit of advice seems deceptively simple.

It might be easier to, instead of placing a hardcore number on the sweets, like, say, half a cup of ice cream, use substitutes. And I am not saying swap out your chocolate bar for a “diabetic chocolate bar.” I mean swap your chocolate bar for a bowl of fruit and drizzle a little honey over it instead. Or swap out the ice cream for low-fat, low-sugar yogurt with some blueberries.

Eat 5-6 Meals a Day

Now this one might have you reeling and cussing me out. We all know you are to eat THREE meals a day! Three: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The experts say we need to have a huge breakfast and a big dinner! And I eat potato chips too… that’s more often, right?

The reason behind eating more often is simple. Your body uses a lot of calories burning food, and the more often it has to digest food, the more often it burns calories. It also lowers the amount of glucose flooding the body at one time, giving the body a better chance at regulating the levels.

5-6   small meals a day give the body what it needs, just in small doses. And no, chips, granola bars, and goldfish crackers are snacks, not meals. Meals entail vegetables, fruits, grain, and proteins. Even a “meal” of natural peanut butter, celery, and raisins would still provide nutrients you need without flooding your body.

Limiting Excessive Carbs

Ah-ha, you’re thinking you caught me in a lie. I said this would be simple. Carb-counting is stressful and not simple at all. In fact, looking at that little pamphlet from McDonalds makes you sick to your stomach. You freak out because you can’t find the carb number on a loaf of homemade melon bread you bought at the farmer’s market. Suddenly you realize you can’t put anything in your mouth without checking the label first because it might put you one carb over.

Rather than counting carbs, just know which foods are loaded with carbs. This requires you to take a quick look at your normal diet and make some changes. You like pasta but it has too many carbs and not enough nutrients? Swap it out for quinoa pasta or whole grain pasta instead.

Carbohydrates, despite what fashion diets say, are not inherently evil. The reason diabetics must be careful about carbs is because carbs are composed of glucose. A limited of portion can provide energy for the body without raising the blood sugar level to harmful levels.

Eat Your Veggies (and fruits too)

Who here has seen a kid pitch a fit over broccoli? Oh, me, me. Who here has seen a grown man of 50 pitch a fit over broccoli? Oh, me, me… wait… Not so cute, is it? Somewhere in growing up, Americans have come to view fruits and veggies as the enemy. And I don’t think making the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street a Veggie Monster is really the solution either.

It’s okay to not like broccoli. Or Brussels sprouts. Or blueberries. But you still have to eat your vegetables. Here I come with this substituting business again. So you like sweet potatoes; you like them a lot. That’s great, sweet potatoes are very good for you! If you like sweet potatoes, there’s a very good chance you’ll also like acorn squash, pumpkin, and yams. Variety is key. It is boring to eat the same food every day, and different fruits and veggies have different good stuff in them.

Fruits and vegetables are good for diabetics because fructose, the sugar found in fruits and vegetables, have a very low glycemic index. This means the body’s blood sugar level stays lower after eating fructose than glucose.

Good Fats

  • Avocado
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, and peanuts
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Peanut butter and peanut oil
  • Sesame seeds

Bad Fats

  • Processed foods like snacks (crackers and chips) and baked goods (muffins, cookies and cakes) with hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil
  • Stick margarines, butter, and lard
  • Shortening
  • High-fat dairy products such as full-fat cheese, cream, ice cream, whole milk, 2% milk, cream sauces and sour cream
  • High-fat meats like regular ground beef, bologna, hot dogs, sausage, bacon and spareribs
  • Chocolate
  • Coconut oil and palm kernel oil
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey) skin

Eat Less Fat

I feel somewhat like I’m beating the dead horse, er cow in America, but limiting fat is important for diabetics. “Bad fats,” also known as saturated fats raise blood pressure, which in turn raises blood sugar levels. Bad fats also raise body weight (I don’t need to explain this one, I think). One of the worst things a diabetic can do is eat a huge steak. The only way to do something worse is eat a huge steak all the time.

“Bad fats” include most meat, but red meat, meaning beef and pork, especially. Other “bad fats” are creams, full fat dairy, coconut oil, palm oil, and lard. Another type of “bad fats” are trans-fats, which come from processed goods like shortening and fast food. “Good fats,” also known as Monounsaturated fats, are a good choice for substituting for “bad fats.” Monounsaturated fats are in avocados, canola oil, nuts and nut oil, and olive oil.

Instead of a third paragraph, I'm going to direct you below to the youtube video. It's a bit "science-y" but not overwhelmingly so. And it does a good job explaining how fats affect the body.

Limit alcohol

This last point may be the least popular point of all. People get a little testy about their alcohol, even more so than their diet or exercise. However, it’s not called a beer belly because beer makes you look like a super model. And alcohol is especially dangerous for diabetic because it is composed of carbs, which in turn, is composed of glucose, especially beer and sweet wines.

Alcohol raises the blood sugar and blood pressure when consumed. And most medications have warnings about mixing with alcohol because alcohol interferes with the metabolizing of the medication in the body. In addition to that fun stuff, alcohol can stimulate the appetite, which triggers the munchies, spiking blood sugar up even further.

A glass or two every once in awhile isn't the end of the world. But it's a good idea to use the idea of moderation with alcohol, especially if it has spiked your blood sugar in the past. Stay away from beer and sweet drinks.

Conclusion

If this sounds like I am echoing my previous hub Easy Tips to a Healthy Lifestyle, I am! Not completely, since that is a general hub and this one is geared towards diabetes, but the premise is the same. A healthy, happy body requires attention and care, which requires making healthy choices.

Even changing a few unhealthy habits can mean the difference between Type 2 diabetes, or not. Life threatening complications, or not.

I know several young women who have been diagnosed with either pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, one as young as 16, that need to make changes now or face the consequences later. And it’s up to them to make the changes, not big brother and not big business.

And if I sound a bit preachy, it's not intended that way. While researching this hub, I was bombarded with an excessive amount of information, stalked with diabetes ads about diets and test strips, and shown how much people love to make things complication. So I understand how daunting it can be.


Disclaimer

I am not a doctor. I have not been to medical school. I cannot prescribe medication or do blood tests over the internet in any case.

I am not a dietitian either. In fact, I encourage you to seek out a certified dietitian to help you make appropriate changes and stay on track with your healthy habits.

I wrote this hub at the request of a diabetic friend who wanted some simple and easy information about diabetic eating.

Stock photos from http://www.sxc.hu

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