by Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN
Diabetes is an unfortunate epidemic in the world, especially in Westernized cultures. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed every year. This is particularly devastating because diabetes can be 100 percent treated and reversed with proper diet and a healthy lifestyle.
The World Health Organization defines diabetes as a “chronic condition that occurs when the pancreas does not produce adequate insulin or when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin that it produces.” The cascade of events is typically hypoglycemia or periods of low blood sugar, to insulin resistance and then loss of insulin function. One of the best criteria to evaluate the body’s response to glucose (sugar) is the hemoglobin A1C.
A hemoglobin A1C greater than or equal to 6.5 percent is considered a diagnosis of diabetes. Some research suggests that 6.0 percent is diabetes, and anything between 5.7 and 6.0 is prediabetic. The hemoglobin A1C is not dependent on physical activity or daily dietary patterns, but an average of glucose control in the last three months.
Basically, the A1C measures how well the body responds to sugar. When sugar becomes overloaded in the blood, the body cannot keep up and causes a diabetic cascade. Some symptoms and changes that happen throughout this process are blurred vision, frequent urination, frequent thirst, slight pain or tingling in your feet, weight loss or weight gain, skin changes and fatigue.
The good news is that diabetes can be prevented and does not have to be an epidemic. There are three main ideas that should be put in place to prevent and heal from sugar imbalances. Firstly, one should opt for the Mediterranean diet that is filled with low glycemic fruits and vegetables. This diet is based off the original food patterns from Crete, Greece and southern Italy. It is characterized as having an abundance of plant foods, monounsaturated fat as in olive oil and low in meats and dairy products.
The glycemic index is a measure of the blood glucose response after ingestion of a food per gram of carbohydrate, compared to the reference food value, white bread or 50g of glucose. Glycemic index provides a method of carbohydrate counting by representing a number that symbolizes its effect on post-meal glucose control. Common low glycemic fruits and vegetables include berries, kiwi, leafy greens and asparagus while high glycemic index foods include melons and starchy vegetables.
The second consideration is decreased carbohydrate intakes. This means watching portion sizes and reducing the daily intakes of breads, pastas, cakes, cookies, potatoes, etc. The correct portion size of pasta is about the size of a hockey puck. Limiting carbohydrate intake to three to four servings per day and watching portion sizes will allow for balanced blood sugar. The reasoning for this is that carbohydrates, especially quick metabolizing carbohydrates like white pasta, white bread and white sugar send blood sugar sky high very quickly. The pancreas and liver do not have time to help balance out the high sugar, therefore it stays high in the blood.
Another consideration for managing and preventing diabetes is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is described as a longer period between meals than the average breakfast, lunch dinner. The most common type of intermittent fast is when the evening fast is increased to 16-18 hours. This may mean eating dinner earlier or breakfast later. Intermittent fasting is beneficial because it improves dietary metabolism and increases insulin sensitivity.
Managing and preventing diabetes should be a primary focus on one’s health, since the amount of cases being diagnosed is growing each year, especially in our youth. In addition to dietary changes, there are a few nutraceuticals that have shown to have profound developments on improving blood sugar balance as well. However, opting for real foods and a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean-influenced diet is a great step toward improving sugar balance.
Elizabeth McMillan, LDN, CNS is a nutritionist at Rose Wellness where one of her primary focuses is on blood sugar balance, diabetes management and healing.