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In Part 1 and Part 2 of our 3-part series, we found out what the 3 basic types of diabetes are and some precursor conditions to watch out for. We also laid out some clear-cut, evidence-based correlations between diabetes and certain kinds of cancer (if you are unclear about the connection, be sure to check that article out). In this final report, we dive into how lifestyle and diet contribute to this condition, which leads to more American deaths than breast cancer and AIDS combined.
The statistics that we presented in the first two articles are scary. But if you have diabetes or are afraid you may get it, there are MANY actions you can take to prevent this potentially life-changing condition and to slow down its progression if you have it. Even if you have Type 1 or gestational diabetes, there are actions you can take NOW to achieve balance and regain a healthy life.
Give It to Me Straight: Can I Reverse My Type 2 Diabetes?
Since 95% of the diagnosed cases of diabetes in the U.S. are Type 2, we would like to address this form first. Here is a question that goes through most everyone’s mind after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes: Can it be reversed?
First of all, let’s be clear. If you want to reverse diabetes (or at least manage it), you are going to have to make some major changes in your lifestyle and diet.
According to Dr. Ann Albright, Ph.D., RD, Director of the Center for Diabetes Translation at the United States Centers for Disease Control, “The term ‘reversal’ is used when people can go off medication but still must engage in a lifestyle program in order to stay off.”
With this in mind, the answer to the question of whether diabetes can be turned around is a resounding yes – with the caveat that it all depends on how severe your condition is, how long you have had the condition, certain genetic parameters and other factors such as your age, race, and even sex. Most of all, as Dr. Albright says, your success relies on how committed you are to changing certain diet and lifestyle habits that may have contributed to diabetes in the first place.
Knowledge is power! So, let’s get started with perhaps the most important topic for Type 2 Diabetics: diet.
The good news is that these diet tips are GREAT for preventing Type 2 and gestational diabetes too.
What to Eat (and What Not to Eat) for Type 2 Diabetes
There was a time when experts and the general population alike believed in a specific “diabetes diet.” Now we know that a healthy diet for diabetes is basically a low-carb, organic, non-toxic, non-processed, whole foods diet, with just a few tweaks. Here are three simple tips regarding what to eat and what to avoid.
1 | Avoid foods high in simple carbohydrates
These foods turn into sugar quickly in the bloodstream. Remember that diabetes is a disease where the mechanisms which produce insulin are either non-existent, slow to produce or do not function properly. These kinds of foods will overload your system and cause a spike in your blood sugar. They will also increase inflammation and lead to complications with your diabetes. Some foods to avoid include honey, candy, juice, dried fruit, most citrus and tropical fruits (except lemon), pastries, breads and pasta, as well as sugary drinks of all kinds.
A side note here: Chemical sugar substitutes should be avoided as well. Studies such as one conducted at Washington University School of Medicine have shown that sugar substitutes such as saccharin can stimulate endocrinological responses, including insulin production in the pancreas. Natural substitutes such as stevia and monk fruit appear to not have this effect.
2 | Eat to reduce inflammation
So what can you eat? A lot!
The first and perhaps most important kind of foods to incorporate into your diet are anti-inflammatory foods. Research suggests that chronic inflammation plays a key part in diabetes. In fact, a 2003 study of over 10,000 participants conducted in part by the University of North Carolina and published in the journal Diabetes (put out by the American Diabetes Association) suggests that low-grade inflammation may actually precede and predict diabetes. There is already a consensus that inflammation is connected to heart disease, obesity, and cancer.
Here are some of the foods that are especially helpful for lowering inflammation. Many of them have anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in them. Others contain heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to add these to your list the next time you go to the grocery store:
- Green leafy vegetables (like kale and spinach)
- Bok Choy
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
- Nuts, especially almonds and walnuts
- Whole fruits which are relatively low sugar such as granny smith apples, blueberries, and lemons
- Seeds such as chia and flax
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Organic meats such as hormone-free, free-range chicken, turkey, and beef
- Anti-inflammatory herbs such as curcumin (found in turmeric), cinnamon, ginger, green tea, and garlic.
3 | Eat for gut health
The final recommendation is to eat for the health of your gut microflora.
You may ask what your gut microflora could possibly have to do with diabetes. Recent research has discovered that the makeup of your gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in the development of diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
There are many ways the two are connected. For instance, a certain beneficial microbiota can produce a substance called butyrate (a short chain fatty acid). Low levels of butyrate are linked to gut-induced inflammation which can contribute to diabetes.
Some foods that are absolutely amazing for your gut health include those that have either probiotics in them or that contain special fiber known as “prebiotics” (i.e. food for beneficial bacteria). Some probiotic foods include:
- Cultured vegetables
- Raw kimchi
- Raw sauerkraut
- Organic fermented yogurt and kefir
Some foods that contain prebiotic fibers include:
- Raw or cooked onions
- Raw artichoke
- Raw dandelion greens
- Raw leeks
- Raw garlic
- Raw, slightly green bananas
What If I Have Type 1 or Gestational Diabetes?
If you have Type 1 or gestational diabetes and follow the above guidelines, you will be well on your way towards an upgraded body on all levels. Type 1 diabetes is defined as the lack of insulin production because of genetic mutation. While Type 1 diabetes cannot be reversed in most cases, it can be managed by keeping simple carb foods low and eating to support your body overall, including your immune system.
Gestational diabetes in pregnant women usually disappears after the baby is born. While you are carrying, however, the guidelines listed above can greatly help your blood sugar levels remain balanced. Women who maintain balanced blood sugar levels have the best chance for a healthy birth and a healthy newborn. Some experts recommend that pregnant women with gestational diabetes spread out their eating pattern, with three moderately sized meals and two to three snacks per day.
The Importance of Exercise for All Diabetes Types
Finally, there is exercise. Hands down, some form of exercise, done every day if possible or at least four times a week, is absolutely vital for those with any type of diabetes. You may not see the connection between moving your body and insulin production, but the link is solid.
Any exercise, even light walking, is better than staying sedentary. However, research has shown that the best form of exercise for reversing some of the main mechanisms of diabetes is “burst training.” This is also called “high-intensity interval training (HIIT).” It consists of short “bursts” of very high aerobic activity (say, 30 seconds) with periods of relaxation (2 minutes, for example). HIIT utilizes sugar stored in the liver and in the muscles. It also increases the secretion of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH has been found to help heal the pancreas and restore insulin receptors in cells.
Finally, regular exercise, in general, can have profound beneficial effects on sleep as well as stress levels. Exercise produces endorphins, which have been shown to help lower stress-related conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Resistance exercise, alone or in combination with aerobic exercise was shown to improve all aspects of sleep, with the greatest benefit for sleep quality. The researchers in a 2018 joint Canada-Australia meta-analysis found that, “these benefits of isolated resistance exercise are attenuated when resistance exercise is combined with aerobic exercise…”
You CAN Manage Diabetes Naturally
If you have Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes, it is not a death sentence! Nor does having the condition mean you cannot enjoy life to the fullest.
Part I is full of scary statistics about diabetes, but we would like to add one more. Diabetes is common in our country – with 29.1 million Americans (about 10% of the population) diagnosed with the condition and another 86 million with insulin-resistant pre-diabetes.
And in most cases, it can be reversed naturally, by making healthy changes to improve your diet and live a healthier lifestyle overall.
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