4 key ways to prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes
This year's Diabetes Awareness Week takes place from 12th to 18th June. The goal of Diabetes Awareness Week is to educate people about diabetes, its causes, symptoms, and treatments. It also aims to promote healthy lifestyles that can help prevent or manage the condition.
In this blog, we will talk through some simple daily nutrition and lifestyle-related habits that support prevention of diabetes. The tips in this blog can (and should) also apply to those people already living with diabetes as they can help to manage and even significantly improve the relevant blood markers that diagnosed the condition in the first place.
According to Diabetes UK, more than 4.3 million people in the UK live with diabetes and 850,000 people could be living with the condition but not yet diagnosed. Diabetes UK also says that these stats are at an all time high. Around 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which is the type we will be referring to within this blog.
What exactly is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the cells in the body have become ‘resistant’ to the action of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.
When cells are resistant to insulin’s actions it means that they no longer take in glucose from the bloodstream, released in response to eating foods and meals. If glucose cannot get into the cells (to be used for energy/fuel), it results in elevations in blood glucose/sugar levels.
If left undetected and or unaddressed, insulin resistance eventually becomes type 2 diabetes, which can lead to a range of further health problems over time, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and vision loss.
The good news is that there are many things we can do, via our nutrition and lifestyle habits, to help cells become ‘sensitive’ to the action of insulin again, and to remain that way, thus preventing the progression onto type 2 diabetes and even reversing it!
Studies show it's possible for some people to reverse it. Through helpful dietary changes and fat loss, you may be able to reach and hold normal blood sugar levels without medication.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes
The biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
Physical inactivity/sedentary lifestyle
Poor diet with low protein intake and reliance on refined carbohydrates and sugar
A family history of diabetes and other insulin-related conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Poor sleep, chronically
Signs of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes may include:
Increased hunger and unable to go more than 2 hour without eating
Remaining hungry almost immediately after eating
Tendency to retain water after eating salty foods
Feeling tired or lethargic after eating a meal
Difficulty sleeping, awakening with a pounding heart during the night
Tendency to carry extra weight around the belly
Weight loss resistance or easily gaining weight
Craving sweet, starchy or crunchy carbohydrate snacks or foods
Mood swings that seem to be relieved by eating refined carbs or sugar
Tendency to feel tired/fatigued in the afternoon or early evening
Fasting blood glucose higher than 7.0 mmol/l (126 mg/dl)
High blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, or A1c on blood work
PCOS, skin tags, acne
Slow-healing sores or recurrent infections
Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
How to prevent (and manage) type 2 diabetes
1) Add ‘movement snacks’ into your day
Increasing activity levels is an important tool to promote healthy blood sugar regulation. Regular physical activity can help lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and help maintain a healthy weight. Movement snacks incorporated into your days are a great way to increase your overall activity levels across a week, the body is designed to move often! Here are some ideas:
Stand up every hour and do:
10 squats, lunges, jumping jacks or press ups
March or jog on the spot for 30 to 60 seconds, repeating a few times
Do a few laps of the garden or go up and down the stairs a few times
Take a quick walk around the block
Do a few yoga sun salutations
If you’ve got more time, take a longer walk
Incorporate a walk/longer walk into your commutes to and from work, the shops, social plans etc., everyday.
Make a point of taking your phone calls standing up and moving around the house or on a walk.
2) Eat more protein (with ALL meals)
Protein is the number one nutrient/food group for healthy blood sugar regulation. Protein slows the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream from sugar foods and carbohydrates and once you start increasing protein, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your energy improves and your sugar cravings reduce! For good health and blood sugar management, a meal should never be without an optimal amount of protein. We recommend having a minimum 30g of pure protein with all meals.
Great choices include chicken, turkey, eggs, all fish, beef, lamb, tempeh or tofu, beans, lentils and quality cheeses, if you tolerate dairy.
3) Change your relationship with carbohydrates
Switching your sources of carbohydrates to those that break down slowly into glucose is also key for keeping blood glucose levels within healthy range after meals. Carbohydrate is the number one fuel source for the cells in the body and brain, and so it’s important that we eat some each day to provide the fuel we need to function at our best. However, ‘carbohydrate’ is an umbrella term that refers to a large group of foods, from bread and pasta to leafy green vegetables and lentils. ALL carbohydrates finish up as glucose (sugar) in the blood once consumed but you want to rely on carbs that break down slower into glucose plus result in less sugar than, for example, refined sources of carbs do.
Great choices with your meals include beans, lentils, brown or wild rice, quinoa, whole oats, pasta made from buckwheat, brown rice or spelt, dark rye or spelt bread, and starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, baby new potatoes, yam, beetroot, parsnips, and carrots.
4) Lift weights
Strength training, aka lifting, pushing and pulling relatively heavy weights, has been shown to improve cell uptake of glucose from the bloodstream, promoting insulin sensitive cells. Lifting weights 2-3 times per week for 20-30 minutes is a key tool to be leveraging in the management and or prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that cannot be cured as such, however it can be managed, its progression slowed, and put into remission through significant lifestyle changes. We hope this blog and our 4 tips have been helpful for you this Diabetes Awareness Week and that you have been inspired by some or all of them.