While diabetes is a growing epidemic, not all hope is lost. Take the time to understand what’s really going on the body, and make prevention a priority.
BY: COURTNEY FERREIRA, MS, RD, LDN
November is National Diabetes Month, so it’s important to raise awareness of this prevalent disease. The stats are staggering: one in three Americans have prediabetes, and at least 30 million people currently have diabetes. What’s more alarming? 24% of people with type 2 diabetes have not been diagnosed or don’t know they have it.
Too many people lack awareness of their own health and what is happening in their body. Those who are told they are prediabetic often get unspecific recommendations to “eat healthy” and “exercise more”…whatever that means.
How can we prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes?
Let’s start with education, but not education of what to change, do, or eat. We need to educate about what is happening in your body. How can Americans be expected to take control of their health if they are not educated on what happens in your body when you eat carbohydrates? Hopefully, this awareness will inspire you to build your plate differently.
First, what is diabetes?
There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, once called “juvenile diabetes”, is a condition that typically manifests during childhood and teen years. Developing type 1 diabetes is not something you can control. It occurs when your body attacks cells in your pancreas and leaves you unable to absorb energy from the food you eat. No amount of “healthy habits” can prevent or reverse this disease. Individuals with type 1 diabetes will need to give themselves insulin injections for the rest of their life to make up for this.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is a preventable disease. Although genetics may play a role in who may be more susceptible in developing the disease, it is one of the chronic diseases that can be completely avoided with diet. Many people wrongly perceive type 2 diabetes as a disease of the overweight and obese: however, this is a myth! People in smaller bodies can, and do, have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when our body becomes unable to handle the load of carbohydrates we bring in at one time.
So what’s up with carbohydrates in diabetes?
On a traditional food label you will see ‘Total Carbohydrates’ listed in grams, which encompasses sugar, fiber and starch. Although the process that occurs in your digestive tract (mouth to intestines) may vary, eventually the carbohydrates you ingest will be broken down into their simplest form: a glucose molecule. In the small intestine, these simple sugar molecules will be absorbed into your body.
Now that there is sugar in your blood. Three things will occur.
- Your cells will use the sugar molecules for energy.
- Once your cells have had their fill, sugar will be stored for use in your liver and your muscles. These stored sugar molecules, called glycogen, are stored in these places to be used during exercise, between meals, and while you sleep.
- Your liver and muscle have a limit on how much sugar they can store, and it is not much. At this point, if there is still sugar in your blood it will be stored as fat.
In a healthy person, this process will repeat. Each time they eat, their body will place the sugar in cells, store it in the liver and muscle and then as fat, all in an effort to remove most of the excess sugar from the blood. Thanks to a hormone released by the pancreas called insulin, it signals for basic sugar molecules to get inside cells for energy.
Problems can develop when the blood stream is overloaded with more sugar molecules than it can use. Over time, it can lead to dysfunctions in insulin, in which it stops working and sugar molecules have a more difficult time getting into the cells for energy. This is called insulin resistance. When this occurs consistently, high blood sugars become the norm.
You won’t likely be aware that it is happening as there are no symptoms of insulin resistance, but it can lead to prediabetes and eventually diabetes. So what is a good way to make sure you are not putting too much demand on your body and putting yourself at risk for insulin resistance and diabetes?
Eat real food whenever you can.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite foods, just do so with mindfulness and gratitude. Listen to the cues of your body to know when you are truly craving that special something. Focus on nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates, such as greens and veggies, whenever you can. Seek out fiber and complex carbs, and balance out carbohydrates on your plate with a fat and a protein source. There is no need to count carbs when you are creating a varied, balanced meal.
Exercise also helps your body use sugar to replenish or fuel activity, so go on a light walk before or after a meal. Enjoy a carbohydrate-dense meal after exercise – your body will eat that fuel right up.
Through a better understanding of our physiology, fate is indeed in our hands.
Adapted from the original article.
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Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life, visit Courtney at the RealFoodCourt.