An estimated 4.5 million people are living with diabetes in the UK today. Some 700 are newly diagnosed each day — it’s a modern plague and a horribly common cause of early death.
But in many cases, diabetes can be eased, and even reversed, through changes in diet. In fact, by switching to a healthy diet, you can start improving your health within a matter of hours.
There are two types of diabetes, both of which are characterised by chronically elevated levels of sugar in your blood. Type 1 occurs if your pancreas stops producing insulin (the hormone that keeps your blood sugar in check), and Type 2 if your body becomes resistant to insulin’s effects.
Type 2, the most common form of diabetes, is primarily caused by a fatty build-up around our muscle and liver cells, and 90 per cent of people who get it are overweight.
Although both forms of diabetes can be controlled through drugs, it is still regarded as a life-shortening condition because of the widespread damage caused by the build-up of sugar in the blood over time. This can ultimately lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, and stroke.
UK statistics show that people with diabetes are 37.5 per cent more likely to die early than their peers, which means more than 20,000 people with diabetes die before their time each year. But even if you already have diabetes, and all of the associated complications, there is still hope.
A plant-based diet may even reverse Type 2 diabetes. Studies show that dietary changes can enable those who have had Type 2 diabetes for decades to get off all their insulin injections in as little as two weeks.
90-minute walk slashes your risk of death
There’s now no doubt whatsoever that exercise is a great route to longer life. It can ward off, and possibly reverse, mild cognitive decline, boost your immune system, prevent and treat high blood pressure, and improve your mood and quality of sleep.
But I worry that the official line on exercise has set the bar too low. The authorities recommend levels that they think might be achievable (i.e. 20 minutes a day) but there are great health improvements on offer if you can manage more.
Following the current recommendations of moderate exercise (such as walking) for 20 minutes a day might reduce your overall mortality rate by 7 per cent compared to someone who does no exercise at all.
But boosting that to 40 minutes a day doubles your health protection, dropping overall mortality by 14 per cent. Adding another 20 minutes, and taking an hour-long walk each day, might reduce your mortality risk by 24 per cent. Wouldn’t you want to achieve that kind of risk reduction if you could? If you can do it, getting 90 minutes’ exercise is even better.
It seems the more plant-based your diet, the more likely you are to be able to maintain a healthy weight — an important factor in diabetes control.
You can essentially eat as much as you want without worrying about counting calories, skipping meals or portion control, because most plant foods are naturally nutrient dense and low in calories.
But beyond the weight loss aspect, there are clearly other protective benefits of a plant-based diet.
In studies, even participants who didn’t lose weight when put on a plant-based diet, or even those who gained weight, still appeared to improve their diabetes.
In fact, a study of tens of thousands of adults in the U.S. and Canada found people who cut out all animal products, including fish, dairy and eggs, appeared to have a 78 per cent reduced risk of diabetes. One key reason could be the fact that plant fats are so much better for the body than animal fats.
Saturated fats can wreak all sorts of havoc in muscle cells and may result in the accumulation of toxic compounds from being broken down.
But the unsaturated fats found mostly in nuts, olives, and avocados may protect against the detrimental effects of saturated fat.
The plant variety is important. The addition of just two different types of fruit and vegetables a week, for instance, has been associated with an 8 per cent reduction in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.
There is an important medical warning: if you take drugs to control blood sugar or blood pressure, you should talk to your GP before adopting a plant-based diet so they can monitor the drugs as you get better naturally.
And if you take the blood- thinning drug warfarin, you should talk to your doctor before significantly increasing your greens intake. The drug works by crippling the enzyme that recycles vitamin K, which is involved in clotting your blood.
So, if your system gets an influx of fresh vitamin K, which is concentrated in greens, you can undermine the effectiveness of the drug. You should still be able to eat greens, but your doctor may have to adjust the dose of the drug to match your dietary intake.
The more pulses, beans and legumes you eat, the healthier you may be. Many studies have shown that people who pack their diet with split peas, chickpeas, and lentils tend to weigh less, have slimmer waists and lower blood pressure compared with people who don’t eat many legumes.
One study asked people to eat 1 kg of pulses a week without making any other changes to their diet. A second group was asked to cut 500 calories a day from their diet. Even though the pulses group was eating far more food, these people lost the most weight.
Smoothies: Your Daily Dozen in a glass
My smoothie strategy is to combine super-tasty foods with those that don’t taste as good (mango with raw kale, for instance) so they balance each other out.
Smoothies let you consume foods you might not otherwise pack into your daily diet and they are convenient. For me, this means I can be at my treadmill desk, exercising, working and getting some of my Daily Dozen through a straw, all at the same time.
A good blender will break down fruit and vegetable cell walls better than your teeth, and this helps release more nutrition than we would otherwise get.
You have to build up to green smoothies. Try adding a handful of baby spinach to a fruit smoothie — you’ll hardly taste it.
Next, try two green vegetables. Slowly, your taste buds can adapt to more greens.
Always sip smoothies slowly so your mind and body have time to register the intake and send appropriate fullness signals, to stop you feeling hungry afterwards.
It seems that eating chickpeas and other beans are just as effective at slimming waistlines and improving blood sugar as cutting calories. It also improves cholesterol and insulin regulation.
A condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has quietly become one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease. Obese people are particularly at risk of developing the condition.
It begins with the build-up of fat on the liver and can lead to inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis).
Just one can of a fizzy drink per day appears to raise the odds of fatty liver disease by 45 per cent.
But eating oats has the power to significantly improve liver function among overweight men and women — and help them lose weight as well.
Walnuts are so healthy
It is healthiest to eat nuts raw. When high-fat and high-protein foods are overheated, damaging molecules are created which can accelerate the ageing process.
The highest levels of these molecules are found in grilled, roasted, fried and barbecued meat, but they can also occur when plant foods high in fat and protein, such as soya foods or nuts, are grilled or toasted.
By eating nuts five days a week, you could make your lifespan longer by up to two years. Walnuts are probably the healthiest nuts, containing the most omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Swap other nuts for walnuts in recipes to maximise a meal’s nutritional punch.
Source: Daily Mail