Diabetes is a dangerous medical condition that nearly 10% of Americans and many people worldwide suffer from. It's not curable, but it can be managed with various forms of intervention, from dietary changes to insulin treatments. To best learn how to manage diabetes, though, you need to know more about it.
The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2
The first thing to know is that there are actually two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Not very imaginative names, sure, but that's medical science for you.
Diabetes in general is a disorder with the way the body is able to handle sugar. Your body needs sugar in order to function. Your cells need sugar to use as energy, but in order for that sugar to enter your cells, insulin needs to let it in. You can think of insulin as the password sugar needs to get past the gates.
Type 1 diabetes is typically a genetic autoimmune disease, although the specific causes aren't yet known. With type 1 diabetes, your body's immune system decides that insulin is a foreign agent and attacks it. This means your body cannot produce the insulin required to let sugar into your cells. This type of diabetes isn't what we're focused on today, though.
Type 2 diabetes typically a disorder caused by excessive weight, though the specific causes and mechanisms aren't entirely known. This type of diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance. Over time, your body grows more and more resistant to insulin, and your cells make it harder and harder to absorb sugar. Your pancreas, the organ responsible for producing insulin, ends up working overtime to produce more and more of it because your cells are crying out for fuel. Eventually, this causes decreased pancreatic function, which leads to reduced insulin production and further issues with sugar absorption.
Among the primary symptoms of type 2 diabetes are thirst issues. Your urinate a lot, you feel very thirsty and drink a lot, you end up feeling hungry more often. You may also experience fatigue, blurry vision, and numbness in your hands or feet. Advanced cases of diabetes lead to reduced healing ability; sores and cuts don't heal as fast or have trouble healing at all.
In case you feel like the prevalence of diabetes and the availability of methods for managing it means it's not a dangerous disease, we recommend you read this blog post. It's a basic but visceral accounting of what happens in the body during diabetes, and it might show you how serious the condition is.
Controlling Diabetes with Diet
Diabetes is not curable, at all. Current modern medicine does not know of a way to cure insulin resistance. What we do know is that excess weight, particularly excess fat in the body, contributes highly to insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes and the various diabetes-caused problems, like nerve damage, kidney failure, and death.
Thus, one of the most important ways of controlling type 2 diabetes is keeping your weight down. A healthy weight range can vary from person to person, based on gender, height, build, and activity levels, but suffice it to say that a huge proportion of Americans, and also people around the world, are overweight. Remember that the human body evolved to be an endurance monster, constantly expending energy traveling or hunting, a far cry from what our modern lifestyles entail.
While one half of the healthy weight equation is exercise, we're not going to focus on that today. Rather, today's emphasis will be on the dietary side of things. Here are 25 ways in which changing your diet can help reduce the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
1. Test Your Blood Sugar Regularly
If you're type 2 diabetic or if you're prediabetic, or if you're simply concerned you may be in the future, you should get into the habit of testing your blood sugar regularly. If you're not prediabetic, you can simply see a doctor once a year for a physical and blood test. If you're prediabetic or diabetic, your doctor might encourage you to test daily, or even multiple times a day, to keep a careful eye on your blood sugar levels as you make changes. You will have a target blood glucose level you want to reach to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
2. Stop Eating Candy
Candy is one of the largest contributors to diabetes in the world. There are thousands of different kinds of sugary snacks available in every location you can buy anything.
All that excess sugar uses up your body's insulin, and it adds to body fat, which in turn wreaks havoc with your endocrine system and insulin production. In particular, abdominal fat is extremely dangerous and much more likely to lead to diabetes than fat carried on the thighs or elsewhere. Cutting back on the candy, or cutting it out entirely, is a great first step.
3. Stop Drinking Soda
In addition to candy, soda is arguably the number one cause of diabetes in the world. These sugary, carbonated beverages are frequently laced with caffeine, which makes them addictive, and makes it much harder to cut them out.
Trust us when we say; once you cut out sodas and get past the withdrawals, you'll feel a lot better.
4. Cut Out the Processed Juices
Now, we don't mean to say you can't drink juice. Fresh-squeezed juice you make at home is still a great addition to a meal or a small snack on its own. However, processed juices you buy at a grocery store are very likely going to be packed with additional sugars beyond what the fruit itself provides. Always opt for fresh-squeezed whenever you can, or simply drink water.
5. Drop Processed Sugars
Processed sugar is very difficult to avoid these days, because it seemed to be added to just about everything. Just take a look at the nutritional facts of anything you're buying; chances are it will have sugar listed as one of the top few ingredients, meaning it's one of the most physically present ingredients.
Now, your body does NEED sugar on some level, so you shouldn't cut out all sugars entirely. Just cut back a lot; chances are you're getting way more than you need.
6. Remember the Alternative Names for Sugars
Sugar is often hidden in nutrient facts to make an item look healthier than it actually is. When you're considering cutting back on sugar, you need to make sure to cut back on anything that uses sugar as a main ingredient. Look for ingredients like fructose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (or HFCS), dextrose, galactose, lactose, sucrose, agave nectar, carob syrup, honey, and on and on. There are over 50 different names sugar can take, and you can bet that any time a corporation wants to hide sugar, they'll come up with another name for it.
7. Avoid Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are a type of fat found in food, and they raise the cholesterol level in your blood, which has an impact on insulin resistance. While these fats on their own do not interact with insulin, they do lead to weight gain, which then leads to insulin resistance. Try to cut back on these fats as much as you can. Instead, look for unsaturated fats.
8. Avoid Trans Fats
Trans fats, also known as trans-unsaturated fats, are a particularly dangerous kind of fat that are rarer to find these days.
Trans fats should be avoided as much as possible, because of the additional risk of heart disease, but the cholesterol impact is also important. Simply avoid these as much as you can, which is probably the easiest dietary shift on this list simply because they're so rare today.
9. Keep Sodium Low
Sodium isn't actually a contributing factor for diabetes. It is, however, a contributing factor to several of the adjacent diseases that can be caused in part by diabetes. Diabetics, for example, tend to have higher blood pressure, and sodium further increases blood pressure. Keeping your sodium low will also help with water retention and thirst issues.
10. Keep Cholesterol Low
Cholesterol is similar to sodium in that your body needs some of it, but a high cholesterol level means dangerous diseases like heart disease, and diabetes makes it harder to manage cholesterol levels. Keeping to lower levels of fats and sugars will help with this.
11. Eat More Fruits
So what can you eat when you're cutting out processed foods, sugars, and fats? For the most part, you're going to be looking at a healthy diet.
Eating more fruit is a good way to get more healthy nutrients, some healthy sugars in moderation, and more liquid in your diet. Yes, fruits are sugary, but they're still much less sugar than a piece of candy.
12. Eat More Vegetables
Vegetables provide your body with a ton of nutrients without the risk of added fats, sugars, or other negative nutrients. Eating more healthy vegetables, like leafy greens, broccoli, beans, and other such vegetables will be a great staple to a new diet plan. Vegetables also help fill you up and keep you full longer, to reduce further hunger pangs and over-eating.
13. Eat Whole Grains
Much like vegetables – because grains are plants – whole grains are great for fiber intake, for filling meals, and for a healthy level of sugar and carbohydrates in your body. Remember to aim for whole grains, not processed grains like you might find in white breads. Those kinds of grain products tend to be packed with additional sugars as well.
14. Eat Legumes
Legumes can fall under the heading of vegetables, but they are worth calling out specifically as a great option for a low calorie, filling, and nutritious option.
Lentils, peas, and other legumes are a great choice for a staple part of your new diet.
15. Stick to Low-Fat Dairy
In addition to fat being an issue as we have discussed above, high or full-fat dairy products tend to have a bunch of added sugar in them as well. Low-fat dairy is typically healthier for you, though you may find yourself needing to take a supplemental calcium pill as well.
16. Eat More Fiber
Fiber is one of the best things you can eat and is a core ingredient in a lot of the beneficial foods listed above. It's filling and it makes your body process food more slowly, so it can be more regulated with its sugar intake. Fiber also keeps you regular in other ways.
17. Eat Healthy Fish
Healthy fish is a great protein option to fill up your caloric intake while also allowing you to consume healthy unsaturated fats without risk of saturated fats.
The omega-3s you get can also be pretty beneficial in the right circumstances.
18. Try Good Fats like Nuts
Other good fats are necessary for your body, and you can often find such fats in foods like nuts and nut butters. Remember, a diabetic diet doesn't have to be a diet without flavor or treats, you just have to be more careful about what you eat and how much of it you eat at a time.
19. Consider Just Eating Less
On a more broad, diet level, one of the best things you can do is simply eat less. Reducing your caloric intake to the lower end of a healthy level will force your body to start burning stored fat for energy. This helps you lose weight and correspondingly reduce your risk of or effects of diabetes. Try to reduce your caloric intake slowly to avoid rebounding when you can't handle it.
20. Consider a Low-Carb Diet
Carbohydrates are sugars, or rather, sugars are a type of carbohydrate. A low-carb diet tends to be one of the better options for an informal kind of diet; it trains you to watch what you're eating and make changes without restricting you to something extremely limited or disheartening.
21. Consider a Ketogenic Diet
"Keto" is a new diet trend that is seeing wider adoption today, and it comes from ketosis, the process of your body converting fat into energy.
The goal of a ketogenic diet is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs without the carbs that will eventually turn into fat. It's a more strict version of a low-carb diet, but it's quite effective.
22. Consider a Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a different style of diet based around what people eat in the Mediterranean area. This diet tends to be high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and seafood, with lower levels of red meat, poultry, dairy, and processed sugars. If that sounds like it's ideal for diabetes, you might be right.
23. Consider the Abrupt, Low-Calorie Diet
There has been some evidence to suggest that diabetes can be temporarily reverted by entering in a harsh, temporary starvation diet. A low calorie diet ranging from 600-800 calories a day for 2-5 months, followed by maintenance diets, can be effective for an abrupt weight loss and a shock to the endocrine system that can have a beneficial impact on diabetes. However, don't do this on your own! You need supervision from a nutritionist to make sure you're getting all of your critical nutrients and not just starving yourself.
24. Work Out More
We mentioned it up above, but the other half of the equation in addition to eating less and eating healthier is getting more exercise.
You can lose weight more effectively and bolster your body's natural processes by getting more physical activity. Just take care to build into it slowly so you don't injure yourself and set back your progress.
25. Work With a Doctor or Diabetic Nutritionist
At the end of the day, the main thing you need to do is work with a professional who knows what's going on with diabetes and your body specifically. A doctor or a diabetic nutritionist can help you adjust your diet in a way that will stick and give you the best results.