Diabetes - what is it and how common is it?
Diabetes is a modern day disease. More than 4.9 million people in the UK have diabetes currently, which is approximately 7% of the population. Most of these people, 90% in fact, have Type 2 diabetes, which is the condition in which the cells of the body have become ‘resistant’ to insulin, the hormone that removes glucose, and subsequently fat, from the bloodstream.
Why do our cells become resistant to insulin?
All carbohydrates are broken down in our digestive system to glucose. Glucose is removed from the blood stream by the hormone ‘insulin’. Our body operates optimally with a steady stream of glucose. Processed foods, white carbs and sugar all result in high levels of sugar in the blood, which requires the body to produce insulin often and in large amounts to remove glucose from the blood.
Over time, with a poor diet and yo-yo-ing blood sugar levels, the body starts to ‘ignore’ insulin’s signals, and gradually the cells of our body become ‘insulin resistant’. This leads to permanently high blood sugar levels, which is inflammatory in the body, causing weight gain and eventually Type 2 diabetes.
Why is diabetes on the rise?
Overall, the rise in diabetes has been significant in the last 50 years, in line with changes in our physical activity (less of it), diet (more processed), work (more stressful) and sleep patterns (due to stress).
Genetics can play a role, however, studies show its physical inactivity and dietary imbalance which ‘unmasks’ predisposing genetic traits. So even if an individual is genetically predisposed, if their lifestyle and diet are optimal, it is unlikely that diabetes will take hold.
So what can you do now?
- Maintain or achieve a healthy BMI. The leading risk factor for becoming diabetic is being overweight, or having a high BMI. Check your BMI here on the NHS app. It needs to be in the green range.
- Get moving. You don’t need to be lifting weights or running if that doesn’t suit you. Any ‘movement’ in a day is excellent: taking 7000 steps, gardening, swimming, yoga, gentle rowing, tai chi, cycling or gentle stretches. Pick whatever works for you, and try and stick to a regular pattern of movement.
Here’s what to eat
- Make plant proteins and legumes a regular part of your meals e.g. lentils, beans, chickpeas, split peas, quinoa. Studies show that people who eat significant amounts of legumes tend to lose weight.
- Choose complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars to balance blood sugar levels.
- Swap white bread for wholewheat, rye or sourdough.
- Swap white or risotto rice for brown or basmati
- Swap chips for homemade sweet potato wedges
- Swap sweets/choc biscuits/donuts for dark chocolate (>70%), a handful of nuts, hummus on rice cakes.
- Swap breakfast cereals for porridge, nuts and seeds, overnight oats or a breakfast smoothie.
- Eat a portion of protein with every meal. Protein slows down the release of sugar into the blood, avoiding a sugar spike after a meal. Protein also keeps you fuller for longer, reducing the need for snacking and cravings. For example, have 2 eggs, avocado on 1 slice of wholewheat toast for breakfast, chicken salad with vegetables for lunch and a lentil bake for dinner.
- Reduce your alcohol intake to below the recommended weekly allowance. Alcohol is liquid calories, and spikes blood sugar just as much as sweet foods given that it contains no fibre.
- Prioritise good sleep and manage stress. Although these don’t directly cause diabetes, poor sleep and poorly managed stress can contribute to weight gain. Raised cortisol can cause the body to hold on to weight while lack of sleep causes the body stress, impacting weight. Ways to reduce stress include finding the root cause of your stress and managing this, meditating, yoga, breathing work, getting out in green spaces and seeing friends.
If you struggle achieving any of the above, consider a 30 minute call with our Simba Coach for personalised advice and 1:1 coaching.