Diabetes is a disease that is diagnosed when the sugar in our blood, called blood glucose, is too high. Pre-diabetes occurs when these blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. One in three people with pre-diabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. When blood glucose levels remain high, over time they can cause health problems, such as heart disease, kidney and eye problems and nerve damage in the hands and feet.
There are several known risk factors for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, they include:
Having a greater waist circumference (more than 80cm for women and 94cm for men)
Not doing enough activity
Having high triglycerides and low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol
Having high blood pressure
Having a family history of type 2 diabetes and/ or heart disease
As you can see, aside from your genetics or ethnicity, all other risk factors for diabetes can be within our control and managed with diet and lifestyle changes.
The sugar in our blood rises after we eat any foods with carbohydrates or sugar in them – that can be anything from porridge to a chocolate bar. Therefore, the overall goal to manage diabetes and pre-diabetes is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates consumed so the blood sugar levels don’t soar too high, and to choose good quality carbs as they’re digested slower and delivered into the blood stream over a longer time.
Being more physically active helps to burn, or use up the sugars in the blood faster. Exercise also helps insulin, the hormone that manages the sugar in our blood, to be more sensitive to our cells so it can do its job more efficiently.
My top diet and lifestyle tips for managing diabetes and pre-diabetes are:
Create an energy deficit
If your waist circumference is over the recommended measurement, being in an energy or calorie deficit will result in fat loss. This can be done in a number of ways, by eating smaller portions, by cutting out snacks and extra foods, by doing some intermittent fasting and by moving more. This can be quite complex so it’s a good idea to see an accredited dietitian for specific advice.
Don’t cut the carbs, but choose them wisely
Portion and quality are the key when choosing carbohydrates. A general guide is that the carbohydrate should take up around a quarter to a third of your meal. Aim for wholemeal or whole grains like brown rice, rolled oats, barley, wholegrain bread and crackers, products that display the ‘low GI’ logo, as well as starchy vegetables like sweet potato, most fruits, and pulses like lentils or chickpeas.
Avoid foods high in ‘bad fats’
These include fried take away foods, high fat dairy foods like butter, processed meats like frankfurters, fatty cuts of meat, as well as ultra-processed foods like biscuits, cakes and pastries.
Be more physically active
The recommendation is a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity, like walking or swimming, on most days of the week. Building up to more vigorous exercise as well as strength based training will have additional benefits.
By making diet and lifestyle changes, it’s possible for pre-diabetes to never develop into diabetes, and for those with diabetes to manage healthy blood glucose levels.
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