Nicole Duelli, CCH, RSHom (NA),
Nutrition is the keyStaggering statistics show that more than two million Canadians have diabetes and another 11 million or more unknowingly suffer from it.
Staggering statistics show that more than two million Canadians have diabetes and another 11 million or more unknowingly suffer from it. It's now a leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure and death by disease. But don't let this scare you. Rest assured that a genetic predisposition does not cause diabetes. It is preventable. Diabetes is a disease of our civilized culture: it was virtually unknown in aboriginal societies until our eating and lifestyle habits were adopted. The cause lies primarily in the empty calories and processed, refined foods we choose to eat and in the stressful, sedentary lifestyle we seem to enjoy. However, if we return to a more natural way of eating and living, consuming predominantly whole, raw and natural foods, we can conquer this disease.
Our pancreas normally supplies adequate amounts of insulin, a vital hormone, which allows cells access to the energy in foods. But in type I diabetes, virtually no insulin is produced, hence the term "insulin-dependent" diabetes. Type II diabetes, a slower, insidious form, affects 90 per cent of sufferers. The body grows accustomed to the gradual increase in blood sugar, so the signs are subtle and may go unnoticed for months, even years. These high levels of sugar in the blood cause havoc and destruction, attacking cells everywhere, markedly speeding the aging process and damaging vital organs including the heart, kidneys and eyes.
The common type II diabetes affects more people over the age of 40, although it now strikes an alarming number of adolescents and children as well, as denatured foods and poor lifestyle choices become further entrenched. While type II diabetes is easier to treat naturally, type I diabetics will also reap the benefits of eating well and exercising.
The pancreas suffers most from foods that destabilize blood sugar levels, especially processed, packaged products containing sugar and refined grains such as white rice, flour and bread. These foods increase blood sugar levels too quickly and the pancreas responds by secreting large amounts of insulin. Not only is this severe insulin response hard on the pancreas, but it also leaves blood sugar levels lower than before the meal.
The overly high blood sugar levels in a sweet snack produce the well known "sugar high." The rebound effect of low blood sugar levels causes the crash that tired, hungry feeling after a brief burst of energy. The more balanced your blood sugar, the longer your mental and physical energy lasts. Continually stable blood sugar levels also ensure healthy weight and prevent sugar cravings, food binges and mood swings.
To keep blood sugar balanced, you must significantly reduce, or better yet eliminate, refined sugar in your diet. Buy unprocessed, whole foods instead of packaged goods that contain sugar along with a host of other additives. Read labels on packages for sugar content. Also be aware of the sugar contained in commercial beverages, especially juices, alcoholic drinks (beer and wine) and pop. In fact, pop is one of the worst offenders when it comes to developing diabetes. Drink water instead, adding a hint of lemon, lime, orange or mint to improve the taste if you desire. As a general rule, the more processed the food, the higher it sends blood sugar levels.
Help from Whole Foods
Whole foods include unrefined grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. These are the most natural foods you can eat and contain an abundance of fibre and essential nutrients without any additives. Substituting whole, brown grains for all white, refined grains in baked products, breads, pastas and rice dishes also means your body is getting more vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Naturally high in fibre, whole grains are complex carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels gently and avoid a severe insulin response.
If eating this way is new to you, take the time to experiment with unfamiliar foods and recipes, but always enjoy what you eat. A healthy attitude about your food is important in maintaining good eating habits. Today there is a wide variety of tasty gourmet whole-grain pastas, rice and breads available. For example, try recipes with quinoa or kamut pasta, brown basmati rice and bulgur wheat instead of the usual plain white rice and noodle dishes. Always start your day with a nutritious breakfast instead of the sugary cereals or sweet baked goods most North Americans eat. Muesli made from raw oats with nuts and apples is an excellent breakfast cereal since it is highly nourishing and rich in natural fibre. If you like to eat lightly in the morning, make breakfast a simple glass of freshly pressed juice or serving of fruit.
Like whole grains, legumes, such as green beans, peas and kidney, black and lima beans, are rich in nutrients, high in fibre and keep blood sugar levels stable. When introducing them into your diet, start with small portions and cook thoroughly to prevent possible bowel discomfort. As your body grows accustomed to digesting them, you can increase the amounts.
Feasting on Fresh Food
Eat as much live food as possible. Raw fresh vegetables contain more vital nutrients than cooked foods since the heat of cooking destroys many vitamins and enzymes. The health benefits and digestibility of raw foods are well documented.
Besides eating more raw vegetables, remember to include fruit in your daily diet. Just because fruit tastes sweet does not mean that it should be avoided. Apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries and grapefruit are particularly beneficial and do not cause an overly strong insulin response.
Historically, diabetes was non-existent when people ate natural unprocessed fats, such as butter, nuts and seeds. The problem started with the refining of vegetable oils into shortening and margarine. Hydrogenated oils are highly refined and extremely toxic to the body. Instead, use unrefined, cold-pressed vegetable oils, which provide essential fatty acids and other nutrients. The omega-3 essential fatty acids in flax seed oil and fish are especially helpful in enhancing the insulin response, improving circulation and protecting cells from damage.
If you regularly battle sugar cravings, try eating small meals more often and include butter, nuts, seeds, fruit and whole-grain snacks to replace refined baked goods and sweets. If you must indulge, small amounts of stevia and fructose are the best sugar substitutes. Artificial sugar substitutes, such as aspartame and saccharine, are the worst. They're dangerous to your health and actually promote weight gain and increased sugar cravings.
Stevia is a very sweet herb derived from a plant source. Since it is 30 times sweeter than regular sugar and released gently into the bloodstream, it is an ideal sugar alternative.
Besides eating well, exercise plays a vital role for people with diabetes. Regular exercise stabilizes blood sugar levels and reduces the body's need for insulin. The best way to start an exercise regimen is slowly but regularly. Even a short quick walk offers enormous benefit. Regular exercise, like regular healthy meals, improves overall health, increases energy and ensures a long life. Taking charge of your health and changing your attitude will have far reaching benefits, not just for the diabetic, but for everyone.
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