Updated: Oct 24
Diabetes is a prevalent and potentially life-altering condition that affects millions of people worldwide. But what if you could take control of your health and reduce the risk of diabetes through simple changes in your diet and lifestyle? This article aims to understand what exactly is diabetes, how it is diagnosed and the risk factors for pre-diabetes and how these can be managed for a positive outcome.
Are you worried about diabetes?
1 in 10 people around the world are living with diabetes with that figure expected to rise massively over the next few years. There are no official figures for diabetes levels in Ireland, surprisingly, but it is thought to be around 6% of the population with many more lurking in the grey area or the slippery slope which can lead to a future diagnosis of diabetes – pre-diabetes.
Diabetes is a condition in which levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood are higher than normal.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for over 90% of all people with diabetes
There are two main kinds of diabetes type 1 and 2. Both types involve insulin, a hormone responsible for controlling the level of glucose in the blood. Type 1 diabetic patients do not produce sufficient insulin and therefore need to inject it. This type of diabetes is the rarer kind, and often develops at a young age.
Type 2 diabetic patients produce insulin, but the cells become insensitive to it and so it fails to do its job properly. Type 2 diabetes accounts for over 90% of all people with diabetes, and the condition usually develops later in life. This type of diabetes is far more strongly associated with diet and lifestyle factors.
Type 2 diabetes can lead to a range of serious health problems including:
Visual disturbances and other eye problems like cataracts and glaucoma
Higher risk of bacterial, fungal and yeast infections
High blood pressure
Damaged nerves and blood vessels
Fatigue and lack of energy.
Managing this condition through healthy habits and medical care is crucial in preventing these complications.
Diagnosing Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes
Diabetes is diagnosed by testing your blood sugar level. If your fasting plasma glucose level (FBG) is too high (above 7 mmol/l) or your oral glucose tolerance (OGTT) is above 11.1mmol/l, your HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar levels) is above 6.4%, this represents a diagnosis of diabetes.
For pre-diabetes, a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal and that often leads to type 2 diabetes, your FBG might read between 5.5 and 7 mmol/l, your OGTT might be between 7.8 and 11.1 mmol/l, and your HbA1c might be between 5.7% to 6.4%. You may also find that your triglycerides and cholesterol are raised too.
A single abnormal reading is not enough for a diagnosis as blood sugar levels can be thrown out by all kinds of things not least your stress levels, illness or even sleep deprivation. After two or more unfavourable readings, it’s definitely time to seek help.
It’s easy to dismiss the risk, but the shift into pre-diabetes can happen almost without your noticing it. You may experience niggling symptoms, like low energy, persistent weight gain or even frequent urination.
Common risk factors for pre-diabetes are as follows:
You are overweight
You have a close relative – parent or sibling – who has a diabetes diagnosis
You have high blood pressure or low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol
You’re over 40
You’ve given birth to a baby over 9 pounds
You’ve had gestational diabetes
You’re a woman with PCOS.
What to do if you think this applies to you
Your GP will be able to organise blood tests for you. You can also get tested privately. I offer a range of biochemical tests and can work with you to make manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle to get your health back on track.
Managing & preventing Pre-diabetes with nutrition and lifestyle interventions
I have been a nutritional therapist for more than 10 years and in that time I have seen so many diabetic and pre-diabetic clients receive unhelpful and incorrect advice about what to eat and how to manage their condition.
It’s one of my favourite areas to work in and typically, when I teach you how to master your blood sugar, you'll experience an increase in energy levels and a reduction in weight. It can often be a bit of a shock to be told that you are borderline diabetic but the great news is that there is so much that can be done and it IS entirely possible to reverse this situation and no longer be in the danger zone. I have seen it myself many times.
You may have been told that you could fix this just by losing a little weight and doing some exercise, but if only it were that simple. Often, it can be difficult to shift that weight and just starving yourself into losing a handful of pounds is not going to fix the underlying problem. It won’t miraculously change the numbers that came up in your test results as the problem isn’t being addressed at the root.
The good news is that nutrition and lifestyle medicine are recognised as the most effective way to lower your risk of developing diabetes, and also of managing the condition and improving outcomes alongside any pharmaceutical treatment.
This approach can really help to support your overall health and to stop that downward slide. We work with our clients to guide them to make better food choices that help lower their blood sugar levels. The strategy we create is tailored to you and no one else. What you like to eat, avoiding what you don’t like to eat, making changes at a speed that feels right for you to achieve your goals. We also look at these results in a bigger context of other annoying symptoms you might be experiencing and try to mop those up as we go along, too. You would be surprised at the impact you can make on your health and how you experience life.
Breaking the habit
For many individuals who find themselves trapped in a cycle of junk food, highly processed food, and sugary treats and snacks, breaking the habit can feel impossible. However, when you understand that reversing the risk is possible leaving you to free to take charge of your health and well-being, the journey becomes one of confidence and empowerment.
If you feel you might be at risk of pre-diabetes, here are 5 very simple steps you can take to make a positive change:
Become aware of your sugar intake including hidden sugars and work on replacing them with better alternatives, download our Get Sugar Smart eBook for more info on this
Increase your protein foods and be sure to have them with each meal - this includes fish and seafood, meats, beans and lentils, plain yogurt, eggs, seeds, tofu and nuts
Greatly increase your fibre in particular from over-the-ground vegetables, seeds, beans and pulses
Replace all refined carbohydrates or high GL with the low GL versions of them so that means oatcakes instead of rice cakes, rye or wholewheat bread instead of white bread, oats instead of cornflakes/weetabix and brown rice instead of white rice
Get proper advice from someone qualified on evidence based supplementation that will help you.
So, don't be disheartened if you find yourself in the pre-diabetes category; there's much that can be done, and the path to a healthier you is entirely within reach. Your health is worth the effort, and the journey promises to be a rewarding one.
Embracing a low GL, low-carb diet and breaking free from the sweet trap isn't just about preventing diabetes; it's a journey to overall well-being, improved energy levels, weight management and improved long term health. We understand the best path to lasting changes is a personalised plan built around you, your food likes and dislikes and manageable changes delivered at a pace that feels right for you.
Your health is worth the effort, and the changes you make can have a profound impact on how you experience life. Your journey towards better health starts with a conscious choice to break free from the sweet life!
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