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Fighting Diabetes with a Knife and Fork

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  January 23, 2012 03:29 PM

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While genetics play a role in diabetes, the amount and types of foods that you eat are major players in fighting the disease.  According to the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) latest position statement, your diet is key in not only managing diabetes and reducing the complications associated with it, such as kidney failure, heart disease, and blindness, but more importantly, in preventing diabetes.

Individuals develop diabetes because they aren’t producing enough of the hormone insulin and/or have developed a resistance to insulin, such that their cells do not respond to the hormone when it arrives.  Obesity increases the cell’s resistance to insulin.   In fact, according to the ADA, the current epidemic of diabetes among Americans has been climbing because our weight has also been climbing.

Insulin’s job in the body is to direct glucose, the most abundant sugar in foods, into the cells to be used as immediate energy or stored in another form for later use.  With diabetes, insulin may be available in the blood but the cells’ decreased sensitivity to it interferes with its ability to work properly in the body.   The bloodstream ends up becoming flooded with glucose that can’t enter the cells for its use.   Because of this, many individuals have to take medication to help the insulin work properly and/or inject themselves with insulin to manage their blood glucose levels.

Over 25 million American adults—about 8 percent of the population—have diabetes.   Type 2 diabetes, which is the type both celebrity chef Paula Deen and American Idol judge Randy Jackson have, accounts for 90 to 95% of diabetes among adults.  Even more serious, it is estimated that 35 percent of Americans adults have prediabetes.  Those with prediabetes do not have blood glucose levels high enough to be classified as full-fledged diabetes but are on the road to developing it in the future.

According to the ADA, studies show that those with prediabetes who lose weight and increase their physical activity can either prevent diabetes by having their blood glucose levels return to normal, or at least, delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.  The ADA also recommends meeting with a registered dietitian for dietary guidance in both managing and preventing diabetes.  Click here to find a dietitian in your area.

Since diet and lifestyle are so important, here are 5 key recommendations from the ADA to fight diabetes and prediabetes with a knife and fork:

1.    Lose Some Excess Weight.  Research suggests that even a modest weight loss (approximately 5- 7% of your body weight) can reduce the cell’s resistance to insulin so that glucose will be taken up by the cells, and thus, improve blood glucose levels.

2.    Move at Least 2½ Hours Weekly.  Physical activity has been shown to improve the cells sensitivity to insulin and lower blood glucose levels.

3.   Choose Your Carbohydrates Wisely.  A well-balanced diet that contains carbohydrate-rich foods including fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes and low fat dairy, along with some lean protein and healthy oils, is the diet of choice in the fight against diabetes, as well as heart disease and stroke.  Cut back on the calories from the less nutritious, carbohydrate-rich sweets and treats to lose weight.

4.   Beef Up the Fiber In Your Diet.  According to research, dietary fiber, as well as whole grains, has been associated with improved insulin sensitivity, or the use of insulin by the cells.  While the current recommendation is to consume about 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily, Americans, on average, are consuming about 15 grams daily.  Choose whole grains (whole wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn) over refined grains and beef up the whole fruits and vegetables in your diet.

5.   Watch the Alcohol.  While some studies suggest that moderate enjoyment of alcohol, one to three drinks daily, is associated with a decreased risk of diabetes, more than three drinks daily will increase the risk.

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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