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Recent reports suggest that there are now a very significant number of type 2 diabetes sufferers who, by adopting certain lifestyle adjustments, have reduced and stabilized their blood glucose levels to the extent where medication can be reduced or is even rendered unnecessary. This is great news because the less medication needed, the better for long-term health. Although diabetes is a lifelong disease, with a few lifestyle changes the complications can be avoided. For the many millions who are currently in the pre-diabetic stage, these adjustments could even mean that the disease will never progress into the full-blown version.
Commitment, patience and determination are needed to make and sustain dietary changes, but the rewards are huge ― not just life enhancing but in certain cases, life-saving. Here are some top dietary tips to help you make those vital changes:
Eat well – Contrary to popular belief you don’t have to cut down on the amount of food you eat. The secret to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight and managing your blood sugar levels lies in the choices you make rather than the quantity. If you have a good appetite just make sure you fill up with vegetables, salad, lean meat or fish and introduce more beans and pulses into your diet.
Eat regular meals – Try to have your breakfast, lunch and evening meal, plus healthy snacks, at the same time each day. This helps your glucose levels to be more stable and avoids you getting too hungry. If you are going out and are unsure of the timing of your next meal, take a sealed box with some cold chicken and salad, hummus and carrot sticks or some couscous salad with a few nuts and dried cranberries. This simple tactic will avoid the carb-kick generated by eating sandwiches.
Choose wholemeal instead of refined carbohydrates – White bread, pasta and rice will cause spikes in blood sugar. If you can get used to switching to wholemeal versions they are absorbed much more slowly into the blood stream and this will keep you feeling full for longer, which in turn will keep your glucose levels more stable. Unrefined carbs also contain good dietary fibre to help your digestive system function well; plus they are much better options for avoiding weight gain. Try sweet potato (yams) sometimes instead of white potatoes; they are very low glycaemic index (GI) which means they release sugar into your bloodstream very slowly. They are delicious baked in the oven then filled with vegetable chili or tuna and sweetcorn.
Breakfast cereals – A very good choice for low GI is porridge; it will keep you feeling full for ages. Obviously you won’t be slathering it in golden syrup or sugar but you could always add a few berries. Blueberries are particularly good with porridge.
Drop sugar from your life – If you hate the thought of a cup of coffee or tea without added sugar, there’s no need to deprive yourself. Just substitute sugar for artificial sweetener. It may take a lot of willpower, but try to get out of the habit of wanting something sweet each time you have a hot drink. Cake and biscuits are fine just kept as an occasional treat such as celebrations or visit to a restaurant, but it’s easy to get into the habit of having them regularly. If you are in a café and wish to have something sweet then go for a scone or slice of tea loaf. Ask if they have any cakes made with wholemeal flour and/or made with artificial sweetener.
Fruit juice is bad news – It is way too high in concentrated fruit sugar. Without all the fibre you get from eating the whole fruit it is just too easy to get a huge amount of the sugar in a small glassful. Instead go for water, either still or sparkling. If you crave a fruity drink then make a spritzer with a dash of reduced sugar cordial or try chopping some fresh fruit and mint leaves (Pimm’s style but probably without the gin) topped up with sparkling water. Slices of fresh lemon and lime are good in sparkling water too – and a useful tip – drink water with slices of lemon or lime, it will help get rid of cravings for sweet things.
Go easy on certain fruits – This advice does tend to fly in the face of the usual healthy eating recommendations but the fact is that too much fresh fruit will impact on your blood glucose levels. Grapes, tangerines, cantaloupe melons, mangoes and bananas, for instance, are high in sugar. Better choices are apples, strawberries, raspberries, watermelons, blueberries and cranberries. Dried fruits, apart from cranberries, are also too high in concentrated sugar and best avoided.
Eat less full-fat dairy – It is surprisingly easy to cut out more than half the dairy fat in your diet. Just make certain changes to things that you regularly consume. Milk for instance; you could make the switch to skimmed milk and after a few days you would hardly notice the difference but you would be saving a huge amount of fat. Use very little butter; just a scraping of real butter is much better for you than using low-fat butter substitutes. Remember too that cheese is just a block of solid fat. Go for a small grating of very strong cheese or Parmesan for maximum flavour. Natural Greek yogurt (0% fat) is much better for you than sweetened yogurts, and you can add your own fruit. If you like the ready-made versions then go for low-fat and low-sugar varieties.
Olive oil in moderation – When cooking meat or sautéing vegetables just get some kitchen roll and make it into a pad, and then tip the olive-oil bottle so that some oil soaks into the paper. Use this pad to wipe all over the pan, and you will have avoided having everything swimming in oil. When making salad dressing, use a little extra-virgin olive oil mixed with wine vinegar and a pinch of mustard powder. A dash of soy sauce is also a good addition.
Lean meat – Always trim the visible fat from meat and take the skin off chicken too. A useful tip is to remove fat before you cook the meat then you won’t be tempted by it when it’s cooked and crispy. This tip will help more than you might imagine in the process of losing weight.
Red vs white meat – Try to replace red meat with chicken, turkey and fish whenever possible. These are much healthier choices in general, but for those with diabetes even more so. White meats are better for your arteries and, therefore, your heart.
Lose the fat – Grill (broil), steam and bake when possible instead of frying, but there are certain dishes such as bolognaise and chilli which just do need to be sauteed. Invest in a good quality ceramic pan ― they are worth their weight in gold when it comes to fat-free cooking.
Oily fish – If you choose something like fresh salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines or pilchards at least twice a week – more if possible, you will be getting your recommended omega-3 fix. This is particularly good for the heart as well as cell renewal, joint care and brain function. If you don’t like oily fish a good quality omega-3 supplement would suffice. Walnut, flax, evening primrose and rapeseed oils also contain omega-3, as do fresh seeds such as hemp, pumpkin and sunflower. Wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals are also useful sources, although oily fish is by far the highest source.
Vegetables – The mainstay of a healthy diet. Make sure you Include as many green, leafy vegetables as you possibly can. Green vegetables are super foods and in addition to helping your diabetes symptoms they will also help your weight loss and protect you from other diseases, including cancer. Kale is the top player in the super-food stakes, but spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and chard are all close contenders for that top spot.
Eat plenty of chili peppers and garlic – Australian researchers have discovered in a 2006 study that the amount of insulin needed to lower blood sugar after a meal is reduced if the food contained chili. It also reported that if chili was a regular addition to the diet that insulin requirement would drop even lower. Garlic is good too; it helps keep blood vessels healthy.
Go easy on alcohol – Avoid drinking on an empty stomach and although it may seem a bit boring, try to limit your alcoholic drinks to a couple of small glasses of wine or no more than a couple of half-pints of beer over an evening. Making wine into a spritzer helps to spin it out a bit, or better still (rather than diluting good wine) have a sparkling water with slices of lime and lemon in between your allowance.
These tips for a more healthy way of eating will significantly lower your blood glucose levels as well as helping you to lose weight. It is important to note that if you are already using blood glucose-lowering medications you should make these changes gradually and be sure to monitor your blood sugar as you go to check that levels do not drop too low.
For even more profound results, combine your healthy diet with low impact daily exercise such as walking and swimming. Stress-relieving techniques such as meditation or yoga will also help to stabilize your blood sugar levels. You will find that these lifestyle changes will do more to help your type-2 symptoms than any amount of medication.
By Alec Deacon
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