The wonderful, Shanti Pappas of Happy Belly Health and I recently hosted a talk on diabetes. Here are answers to some of the great questions asked during the session:
Q: What is Diabetes and how did I get this?
A: Diabetes, simply put, is excessively high blood sugar. We all need sugar as a source of energy for the cells in our bodies and diabetes is a condition where sugar is too high in the bloodstream. This means that there is less sugar entering cells to be used for energy and the symptoms of diabetes stem from there.
In type 1 diabetics, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are damaged through an autoimmune process in those with a genetic predisposition. Insulin is the hormone that helps transport sugar from the blood into our cells. So without it, sugar remains in the cells and causes the symptoms above.
In type two diabetes, the pancreas in not damaged but it may produce less insulin or the cells of the body are less responsive (resistant) to insulin so it is more difficult to transport sugar to use for energy. This is often related to genetic factors, obesity, lack of exercise, poor diet high in fats and processed sugars.
Q: If I lose weight will it cure me?
A: It can help. Excess body fat contributes to insulin resistance so losing weight can help you better control blood sugar and manage symptoms. Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires consistent management but it is possible to be symptom-free.
Q: What’s a good start? Exercise? Diet?
A: The best place to start is to have your blood sugar checked and regularly monitored to be sure that the appropriate interventions are used in your care. Talk to your doctor about what your options are. Often changes in diet and exercise are sufficient but medications and supplements may be necessary to get the best control of blood sugar.
Exercise is a great place to start. The recommended activity level is 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity exercise. This can be as simple as walking briskly or you can try jogging, hiking, swimming and cycling with some strength training like push-ups, sit-ups and planks.
The best diet is a balanced one – whole grain, healthy fats, vegetables and proteins.
Avoid processed, refined carbohydrates (sweets, candies, desserts) and focus on whole grains like brown rice, whole oats and quinoa which include fiber that helps balance blood sugar. Fruits and vegetables are also great sources of fiber so get your fill of these each day. Err on the side of vegetables especially when juicing because fruit juices increase your blood sugar at warp speed!
Healthy fats can help reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. Try avocados, raw nuts and seeds, nut butters, olive oil and coconut oil.
Nuts and seeds are also great sources of protein. Protein is the secret weapon to blood sugar balancing. It can also be found in beans, fish poultry and red meat too. Keep red meat minimal in your diet as it can be high in harmful fats. Opt for grass-fed beef or organic poultry.
Q: What about my heart health? Should I be worried?
A: Diabetes increase heart disease risk. High blood sugar in the blood stream damages blood vessel walls and contribute to inflammation, plaque formation and high blood pressure. Luckily, exercise and a balanced diet will help reduce heart disease risk too. Also watch out for salt intake. Too much salt will increase blood pressure and increase risk of heart attacks and stroke. Reduce your risks now starting here with a Heart Healthy Shopping list.
Q: What about stress? Is that a factor too?
A: Yes, actually. High stress means you produce more stress managing hormones like cortisol. High cortisol causes blood sugar to increase because it signals your liver to break down emergency sugar stores. Also, skipping meals puts the body in a “stressed” state because blood sugar drops to a level where your body enters survival mode, producing cortisol to get blood sugar back to normal so you’ll have enough energy to keep functioning.
Keep your stress managed with exercise, balanced meals/snacks and, of course, having fun!
If you have more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below or contact me for a complimentary 15-min consultation.
Here’s to your health,
Photo credit: The Discovery Health Journal
Photo credit: Eli Lilly and Co.