Diabetes Prevention and Support through Nutrition
by Joshua Gaudry, accredited Food Scientist for Flannerys Corinda
There are many resources out there on what Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is and how it is currently treated, which stress the importance of getting checked by your doctor and factoring in risk factors. Unfortunately, there are less resources on the underlying mechanism of how this disease is developed. Can it be reversed? What preventative measures can we take to stop ourselves from developing it? I should make a disclaimer that all information in this blog is merely advice and when making any drastic diet or lifestyle changes it’s VERY important to consult with your doctor. It’s better to catch insulin resistance early and start taking measures and making lifestyle changes before it develops into Type 2 diabetes, and the best way to do that is to get tested.
This is a systemic issue within society and the food system and it’s no wonder people are confused about how to be healthy. An article on diabetes on Nutrition Australia’s website claims that eating 3 serves of dairy a day will help with your diabetes…what about all those people who are sensitive to dairy? It’s not surprising to find out that this article was written by Dairy Australia.
This cycle of chronic disease development is a far bigger issue than we realise and has to do with more than just genetic risk factors. It has more to do with humans as a species living a lifestyle and eating foods far from what we have evolved to eat.
You might have noticed that many of the seemingly separate chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, infertility, autoimmunity, depression, neurodegenerative diseases seem to occur together. This is because most chronic diseases share a common mechanism – Inflammation.
Put simply, your food and lifestyle choices influence inflammation in the body and affect your hormones. To understand these mechanisms a bit better we’ll look at what’s going on in our bodies when we make certain food and lifestyle choices and how these can lead to the hormonal domino effect that leads to obesity, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
Try Flannery’s great anti-inflammatory Almond Butter Curry recipe.
What is Diabetes?
The two types of diabetes Type 1 and Type 2, are both diseases that affect our ability to control our blood levels of glucose.
The mechanism of Type 1 is that our body doesn’t produce enough insulin, which is the hormone that tells our body where to store energy and helps with taking glucose out of the blood. In Type 1 there is a severe lack of or complete failure of our pancreas cells to produce insulin, commonly due to an autoimmune condition. People are commonly born with Type 1 but can also develop it later in life. When a person has Type 1 they must inject insulin daily to stabilise their blood sugar levels.
In the case of Type 2 Diabetes the cells in the pancreas still produce insulin, but due to overstimulation of the insulin response the cells within the body don’t respond to insulin anymore. The cells become insulin resistant causing the pancreas to work harder and harder and produce more and more insulin until the cells get so tired some of them begin to die. It is often developed later in life due to diet and lifestyle choices like a lack of exercise, poor quality sleep and a high carbohydrate intake.
Glycaemic Index VS Glycaemic Load
Glycaemic Index has been a useful tool for diabetics as it is a description of how fast a certain food turns to sugar in your blood, which then determines how strong of an insulin response it needs to mount to counteract the spike. If we want to prevent and treat diabetes we want to avoid big spikes in our blood sugar, and in turn prevent big spikes in our insulin. Lots of foods have a GI rating on the box now with a GI less than 55 considered to be low (good) and anything above 70 considered high (bad). One thing that was a bit of an oversight when creating the Glycaemic index is a regular serving size was not considered and hence there is now a term known as Glycaemic load, which factors in a regular serving size. Most things with a high Glycaemic index will have a high Glycaemic load but there are some exceptions.
Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance
Maintaining your blood glucose is important as there are certain parts of your body like parts of your brain and red blood cells that can run on nothing but glucose. When our bodies become insulin resistant blood sugar levels can drop to dangerous levels. It might seem intuitive then that if we eat lots of carbohydrates, as they are converted to glucose, we would therefore maintain our blood levels of glucose. This is not actually how it works at all and we are far better off trying get the body to run primarily on fat and provide just enough carbohydrate to fuel the tissues that run solely on glucose. When we reduce the body’s total need for carbohydrate we in turn protect ourselves from blood sugar crashes.
Simple Diet Changes to help Prevent and Support those with Diabetes
Eat more Meat, Fats and Vegetables
A diet focussed on quality sources of proteins such as meat, eggs and seafood paired with a high vegetable intake and a high intake of good fats such as those found in olive oils, avocados, some nuts and fish. Seem to be one of the most powerful things we can do for our health.
Moderate Fruit intake
Depending on your current situation and level of activity fruit intake should be moderated. If your very active and quite lean you can get away with some fruit but if your already on your way to insulin resistance it’s better to limit fruit intake to 1 serve a day and to opt for the lowest GL fruits like apples, pears and grapefruits.
Decreasing Your Intake of Sugar and High GI complex Carbohydrates
Eating protein and good quality fats helps signal your satiety hormones which give you that satisfied full feeling after a meal. If you increase your intake of protein and fats and decrease your intake of carbohydrates you will likely consume less calories overall due to the satiety inducing effects of protein and fat. Complex carbohydrates or starches like those found in grains and tubers are just long strands of glucose or sugar molecules linked together. They turn to sugar in your blood slower due to the need to be digested but in the long run all end up as sugar in your blood.
Limit or Completely Cut out Grains
I think I might lose a lot of people on this one but bear with me. It might seem drastic but let me explain how grains can negatively impact your health regardless whether you are a gluten intolerant such as those with Coeliac disease.
The reason grains are so irritating to our system is due to the range of natural defence mechanisms that the grain has evolved to try to prevent it from being eaten and digested so it can pass through the systems of animals intact and in turn grow more grains, they don’t want to be eaten and they have developed ways to prevent that.
The hard to digest proteins in grains such as glutens, lectins and prolamins damage our intestinal lining, if your microvilli are damaged you do not absorb nutrients properly. The lectins in grains also damage your gallbladder and inhibit bile production. If you do not absorb fats and fat-soluble nutrients you will also have problems utilizing minerals you do absorb. On top of that the Phytates found in grains bind so tightly to minerals that they impair mineral absorption.
Various compounds and proteins found specifically in grains open the door to auto-immunity. The intact proteins hitting the walls of the intestines creates intestinal permeability or a leaky gut, which lets large particles leak into the system, these intact large proteins entering our system aren’t meant to be there so our bodies think they are foreign invaders so they create antibodies to attack these proteins, this causes an immune response and unnecessary systemic inflammation.
This leaking of intestinal contents into our system where they shouldn’t be can also lead to auto immunity and allergies to normally benign foods. Leaky gut can create auto immunity because some of these proteins look like other proteins in your body. These antibodies you’ve now created can attach to these proteins in your body, say in one of your organs- such as your pancreas, and mount an immune response to attack that tissue. Your pancreas cells may then become inflamed, or die, and may lead to Type 1 diabetes.
The worst offending grains are wheat, rye, barley and millet but all grains have natural defence mechanisms that have the potential to irritate the gut, rice and corn can be problematic too, but can usually be tolerated infrequently.
The recommendation is pretty simple; replace your grains with fruits and veggies and you will feel better. You will still get enough fibre from your vegetables minus all the anti nutrients and inflammation associated with grains. It’s hard to believe, I know, with so much information saying we need whole grains to be healthy but give it 30 days and see how you feel. It has to be a minimum 30 days to see if you benefit from this because even eating grains every 2 weeks is enough for your intestinal cells to remain damaged. After 30 days, reintroduce the grains 1 by 1 if you feel it necessary and monitor how you feel and how your system tolerates it.
Try our Gluten Free Maca, Walnut & Banana Loaf
Avoiding Industrial Vegetable Oils
Avoid industrial oils such as vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and replace them with coconut oil for cooking at high temps and olive oil for low temperature cooking and for dressings etc.
The Detrimental Effects of Overconsumption of Carbohydrate
Overconsumption of carbohydrate regardless of Glycaemic index will result in that excess energy to be converted into fat. That fat will either be stored on your body or be used for energy. The problem with this process of conversion from carbohydrate into fats is that a by-product of the conversion actually down regulates the receptors sites in your brain that sense the hormones that tell you your full or satiated. So over time with a consistent overconsumption of carbohydrates we lose our natural sense of when our energy stores are full (when to stop eating). This then leads to further overconsumption, which leads to further loss of sensitivity to feeling full. This is the beginning of the hormonal cascade that leads to obesity, insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.
This chronic overconsumption of carbohydrates especially in the absence of exercise leads to elevated blood glucose, which leads to elevated insulin, desensitisation of tissues to insulin, which leads to further insulin release and over time you’re on your way to full systemic insulin resistance.
What about Fats for diabetics?
Fat has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades and it is still thought by most people that saturated fat to be the cause of cardiovascular disease. Thankfully better research is being done recently and we are beginning to understand not only that this is not the case, but we are starting to better understand how vital fats are in creating a healthy thriving human.
Saturated fat like that found in meat and coconut oil is not as bad as it is made out to be, yes it does increase our total levels of cholesterol, but it is being found now that cholesterol alone may not necessarily be what’s causing heart disease. It’s not just the overall level of cholesterol or even the type of cholesterol that matters, but it seems that heart disease is more closely linked to inflammation and a high LDL cholesterol mixed with a high level of inflammation from an overconsumption of carbohydrates. This is a bad mix because it causes the LDL particles to shrink in size which is the type of LDL that creates plaque in our arteries. Simply put if you’re going to eat lots of saturated fats you should avoid pairing that with high carbohydrates as this is where the issues will arise.
Every clinical study that has been performed showed that carbohydrate-controlled diet (low carb) diets provide more weight loss and better cardiovascular disease prevention than high carb low fat alternatives. This improved weight loss on a lower carbohydrate diet can put people at lower risk of developing diabetes.
Increased intake of monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil and avocado has been found to actually be quite healthy for your heart. And Increasing your intake of Omega 3’s by eating more seafood and wild grass fed meats can help to lessen the inflammatory burden we experience due to the saturation of omega 6 fatty acids in our diet.
The modern diet is far too rich in omega 6 fats, in the forms of canola, sunflower and other industrial vegetable oils, this is causing a large amount of chronic inflammation and as we know chronic inflammation is causing a lot of chronic disease. It can even be useful to supplement with an omega 3 supplement to balance out the sheer amount of omega 6 found in western diets.
The good thing about Fats in the absence of carbohydrates is that they are used for fuel by the body, they are converted into molecules called ketone bodies and can be used for fuel in the absence of glucose in many tissues. The plus side for Diabetics of eating more fats and less carbs is that they become better at using fat as energy, which means they use less glucose out of the blood to produce energy which in turn will help with regulation of blood sugar levels, and will help to keep tissues sensitive to insulin.
Stress, Cortisol and Quality Sleep, The Missing piece of the Puzzle
One of the most important things to maintain good health and prevent your risk of becoming type 2 diabetic is decent quality sleep. All the Diet and lifestyle changes can be undone by lack of or poor-quality sleep.
Cortisol is known as a stress hormone due to it being released in times of stress and anxiety, but it has lots of useful effects in the body too like being an anti-inflammatory. The problem with cortisol is when its production is overstimulated when you are stressed, whether its stress you can feel like pressure at work or whether its stress in your body from exercise or lack thereof, keeping your cortisol in balance is very important in preventing chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes.
The problem when you don’t get enough sleep is your body’s ability to deal with stress gets weakened and you end up with higher levels of cortisol, if your cortisol levels get too high and don’t come down before bed you can experience feeling “tired but wired” and it can be hard for you to have restful good quality sleep. This then affects your ability to deal with stress the next day due to lack of sleep and in turn jacks up your cortisol even more making it hard for you to sleep the next night, it’s a vicious downward spiral from there. This is often the cause of what people consider to be burning out.
Cortisol promotes the breakdown of your muscle tissue to create glucose for energy in times of stress, this is all done to maintain your blood glucose. If cortisol is overstimulated due to stress and lack of sleep your body will breakdown too much muscle and increase your blood glucose too much which will result in it having to produce insulin to take the glucose out of the blood. Prolonged stress leads to prolonged insulin release and blood sugar spikes. The fact that your muscles are being wasted away means that your not only increasing the glucose in the blood chronically but your also wasting away the tissue the body uses to get rid of sugar which is to store it in muscle tissue. Remember if we want to prevent type 2 diabetes we want to reduce these spikes in insulin and blood sugar.
It can be seen through this mechanism how being stressed from lack of sleep can feed into insulin resistance. 1 night of sleep deprivation has been shown to give you similar insulin resistance to a Type 2 diabetic, which will leave you reaching for foods that are high in carbohydrate which will feed further into this negative loop of stress and over consumption, and send you down the path of insulin resistance.
For some more assistance with a diabetic friendly diet, we’ve highlighted our favourite products for your next shop here
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