Type 2 diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body's inability to properly utilize insulin. It affects millions of people worldwide and can lead to serious complications if not managed effectively. While medication and insulin therapy are commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, lifestyle modifications, particularly dietary changes, play a pivotal role in its management.
November is Type 2 Diabetes awareness month.
Understanding Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is the most prevalent form of diabetes. It typically occurs in adults, but increasingly affects younger individuals due to rising rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyles. In type 2 diabetes, the body either becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels.
Causes and Risk Factors
Obesity: Excess body fat, especially around the abdomen, is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Adipose tissue, particularly visceral fat, contributes to insulin resistance.
Genetics: A family history of diabetes can increase your risk.
Poor Diet: A diet high in refined sugars, processed foods, and trans fats can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain.
Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of physical activity can lead to obesity and insulin resistance.
Age: The risk of type 2 diabetes increases with age, particularly after the age of 45.
Gestational Diabetes: Women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is associated with insulin resistance and a higher risk of diabetes.
Impact Of Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes has a slow degenerative effect on the body, taking years before it ultimately leads to death. The chronically high insulin levels that ultimately cause diabetes, are a precursor to nearly all age-related diseases Diabetes is debilitating and dangerous, having serious side effects and increased risks, which include:
- Nerve damage
- Kidney damage
- Heart attack
- Sexual dysfunction
- Alzheimer’s disease
Lifestyle and dietary changes can dramatically reduce and even reverse many of the long-term problems associated with diabetes. Research has shown that lifestyle changes including a low-glycemic and nutrient dense diet can reverse many diabetic indicators within a very short period of time: the pancreas’ beta cells (insulin producers) reactivate, fat deposits disappear, and blood sugars normalize.
The Role Of A Real Food Diet In Managing Type 2 Diabetes
When it comes to Type 2 diabetes, the goal of a well-structured nutrition plan centered around real food is to address all the factors that contribute to insulin resistance
When eating real food, the focus is nutrient-dense foods, avoiding processed ingredients, sugars, and man-made fats, and is often, by default, lower in carbohydrate content than a traditional Western diet. Research suggests that minimizing the number of carbohydrates, while consuming more foods that are lower on the glycemic index, such as non-starchy vegetables, may help more effectively manage blood glucose levels.
Discover more benefits of eating real food here
Several studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of eating real, unprocessed foods on type 2 diabetes management, demonstrating the potential health benefits of eating this way. Real food has been shown to be effective in lowering body weight and important blood markers in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Although low-carbohydrate diets can be particularly effective for people with insulin resistance, “low-carb” in these studies can be up to 40% carbs by calories.
Although some people might do very well on a very low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, others might feel better with more carbohydrates, especially in the context of other anti-diabetic lifestyle factors.
Fats eaten together with a refined carbohydrate can also be problematic and poor-quality fats are legitimately dangerous: trans fats are inflammatory and do contribute to metabolic problems. However, studies have shown that a Mediterranean-type diet with lots of olive oil was actually better than a lower-fat diet for preventing Type 2 Diabetes and that in humans, saturated fat has no affect insulin sensitivity.
A lower-carbohydrate (40% or lower, not necessarily super-low), higher-fat diet may be helpful for most people. Some people might feel best on a very low-carb diet, but not everyone needs to go there.
This still does not imply that carbohydrate consumption causes diabetes. It does mean that for people who are already metabolically sick, reducing carbohydrates can be a therapeutic option to treat the existing problem.
Benefits Of A Real Food Diet In Diabetes Management
- Blood Sugar Control: Whole, unprocessed foods have a lower glycemic index and lead to slower, more stable rises in blood sugar levels. This helps prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar, making it easier to manage diabetes.
- Weight Management: A real food diet can promote weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight, which is essential for diabetes management.
- Improved Insulin Sensitivity: The nutrient-rich components of a real food diet, such as fiber and antioxidants, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of insulin resistance.
- Heart Health: A real food diet is heart-healthy, as it reduces the risk of cardiovascular complications often associated with diabetes.
- Enhanced Nutrient Intake: A real food diet provides essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary for overall health and diabetes management.
Eating real food is even more helpful for diabetes because it reduces or eliminates other foods that contribute to inflammation, including
- Soybean oil, canola oil, “vegetable oil,” and other industrial seed oils
- Trans fats
- Refined sugar
- Additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients
- Gut irritants (in dairy, grains and legumes)
Furthermore, it emphasizes foods that help with healing from inflammation, healing the gut, and restoring insulin sensitivity, including
- Probiotic and fermented foods
- Bone broth
- Vegetables (vegetables contain important nutrients for insulin metabolism and fiber to effectively feed the gut microbiome)
- Well-sourced protein and healthy fats
Although no modifications may be necessary, a few changes can make a real food nutrition plan even more powerfully therapeutic for managing type 2 diabetes. Those changes include:
- Limiting or avoiding higher-glycemic and tropical fruits, including dried fruit (dates, raisins, dried figs, dried apricots and the like), watermelon, pineapple, and mango.
- Avoiding natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, sucanat, Muscovado/Barbados sugar, and molasses (or using them very sparingly).
- Consuming foods high in naturally occurring sugar or starch with an acidic ingredient (vinegars, lemon or lime) or with higher-fiber foods (above-the-ground vegetables), which lowers the glycemic response.
- Emphasizing fiber-rich foods, protein, and Paleo, nutrient dense sources of fat to help prevent blood sugar and insulin spikes and keep blood sugar levels at an even keel throughout the day
- Swapping out freshly-cooked potatoes for potatoes that have been cooked and then cooled down (re-heating them afterwards is fine); the cooling process increases their resistant starch content and lowers their glycemic index.
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Incorporating exercise and movement into the daily routine is vital. Any movement is important. Sessions do not have to be lengthy and, if possible, even short duration HIIT-style workouts have a beneficial impact on blood sugar control. Taking a walk after meals has been shown to be an effective strategy to lower the glycemic response of the meal.
It is possible to manage diabetes with diet and lifestyle interventions Eating a real-food diet is a proven and effective strategy for improving blood sugar, insulin dysfunction, and outcomes in those with diabetes. Dietary interventions are not a magical diabetes cure-all. The latest research into diet and diabetes does support a low to moderate-carbohydrate, nutrient-rich, fiber-rich diet over the standard recommendations when combined with lifestyle modifications including movement, sleep and stress reduction.
Note: If you’re on insulin and/or other medications for type 2 diabetes, and you are looking to change your nutrition plan, it is important to work with your health care practitioner to customize your treatment protocol to your specific needs.