Welcome, December! With all the exciting things going on at the Chef Marshall Group, November just flew by. In case you missed it, November was National Diabetes month. We would be remiss if we didn’t address this important health condition that affects the lives of so many. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 29 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and 86 million are pre-diabetic, meaning their blood sugars put them at great risk for developing the disease. We know that many factors, including genetics, increase one’s risk for developing diabetes. Our genetics have not changed much in the past 50 years, yet the rate of diabetes has skyrocketed. We must ask some important questions. What factors have changed over the past several decades to cause this huge increase? Is there a cure for those who already have the disease? And finally, what can we do to prevent diabetes in those at risk of developing the disease?
Probably the biggest change contributing to the diabetes epidemic is the declining quality of the standard American diet. Simply put, we have strayed from eating real foods (the way they are found in nature) and now opt for more meals that come from a bag, box or drive-through. Processed foods are convenient, but they are also high in carbohydrates and simple sugars. While the disease process is complex, diabetes is essentially caused by eating too many high-sugar, high-carbohydrate foods over a prolonged period of time. The average American consumes an alarming 100 pounds of sugar each year, with nearly half coming from soda and fruit drinks, so a great step towards lowering your risk for developing diabetes is to reduce (or even eliminate) all of the sugar-sweetened beverages from your life. This includes soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, coffee drinks and energy drinks.
Those who already have type 2 diabetes know that managing the disease can be a struggle. Depending on disease severity, a daily routine for a diabetic might include several injections of insulin as well as multiple doses of oral medication. Unfortunately, although scientists are making huge strides in diabetes treatment, as of today there is no cure. The good news is that many people with type 2 diabetes have been able to completely reverse their disease and live a long, healthy life by improving their diets and increasing their physical activity.
Traditional dietary advice for those with diabetes is to eat a low fat diet and to take enough insulin to balance out the carbohydrates consumed. We believe this type of thinking can lead many people with diabetes down a bad path of relying too heavily on medication and not enough on nutrition. For example, a typical breakfast for someone with diabetes might include a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and a glass of low fat milk. While on the surface it might seem like a nutritionally sound choice, for those with diabetes this is simply not a healthy meal. This breakfast contains approximately 60 grams of carbohydrates, which breaks down into 15 teaspoons of sugar! A better breakfast might include two to three eggs cooked in 1 teaspoon of butter or olive oil, with a side of spinach and a small amount of fruit. But wait! Aren’t diabetics supposed to eat only low-fat foods? This is actually outdated advice. We now know that healthy fats like olive oil, avocados and even a small amount of butter are beneficial, and can actually help diabetics balance their blood sugar.
Balancing blood sugar is a key step in both preventing and managing diabetes. This means that whether you have the disease or not, you should eat in a way that ensures your blood sugar never gets too high or too low. The best way to accomplish this is to focus on balanced meals. Each time you eat, aim to consume a portion of high-quality protein (lean meats, fish, lentils), a moderate amount of high-fiber carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, quinoa, wild rice), and a small amount of healthy fat (avocado, butter, olive oil, nuts and seeds). In addition, avoid highly processed foods—chips, cookies, soda, crackers, and pastries. It is also important to add more vegetables, herbs and spices to your meals, because these foods inherently have blood-sugar lowering properties. Do not forget to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day; exercise is important for increasing our cells’ sensitivity to insulin, which helps to keep blood sugars under control.
Young or old, with diabetes or not, we can all benefit from eating in a way that keeps our blood sugars under control. The future projections for diabetes are alarming, but this disease does not have to be a part of your or your children’s future. Let’s turn this epidemic around—one meal at a time.