This week 11-17 June it is National Diabetes Week in the UK and both weight management and blood-glucose control are important risk factors for the disease. It is reported that almost 3.7 million people were diagnosed in 2017, with 10% diagnosed with Type 1 and 90% diagnosed with Type 2* diabetes. In the US the latest statistics show that there are about 27 million people with T2 diabetes and another 86 million with pre-diabetes: their blood-glucose is not normal, but also not high enough to be considered as diabetic yet. What’s clear is that there are a vast number of people living with diabetes globally and many more at risk of developing it as obesity levels continue to rise.
What is T2 diabetes? T2 diabetes is a chronic condition where the body becomes resistant to using insulin, a hormone which is vital to converting the foods we eat into energy for the body. One of the major risk factors for T2 diabetes is excessive weight gain and obesity which metabolically-speaking can trigger the dysregulation of insulin, as well as promoting a state of inflammation in the body. Maintaining a healthy body weight or BMI (Body mass index), and eating foods which support blood glucose balance and the body’s natural insulin response, can therefore help reduce the risk of developing T2 diabetes.
What does insulin do? Insulin is a hormone which regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood, and transports glucose to cells for energy or to the liver for storage. Without insulin, blood-glucose levels can rise to life-threatening levels. In T1 diabetes insufficient insulin is produced by the pancreas. However, in T2 diabetes the body is able to produce insulin but the cells become insulin resistant and will no longer allow glucose to pass in to the cell meaning they starve, whilst the glucose remains in circulation in the blood, and the body compensates by making more insulin which has lots of knock-on effects.
How does insulin affect weight? Insulin is sometimes referred to as the ‘fat-storage hormone’ as it encourages the conversion of unused blood-sugars into fatty deposits, via the liver. Eating a diet high in refined foods and sugars may therefore promote weight gain as any sugars which are not used for immediate energy get stored as fat. Insulin also interacts with all the other hormones in the body, and can stimulate cholesterol production in the liver (mainly LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol) so the knock-on effects of excessive insulin can be harmful.
Weight management & Blood-Glucose balance. Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy body weight can help balance blood-glucose levels and insulin regulation. Whilst many of us may not consider ourselves at risk for T2 diabetes, we may have some of the more common indicators of blood-glucose imbalances; fluctuating energy, hungers pangs, cravings, sugar highs and lows, and a need to eat regularly. We trigger the release of insulin every time we eat. Most of us however have control over what we eat, and how often we eat, which are two ways we can influence insulin regulation. Making a few simple adjustments to eating habits can have a big impact.
Here are a few of the most common recommendations:
- Don’t skip breakfast. Aim to eat soon after waking to help balance blood sugar levels which will be low after sleeping.
- 3 meals a day. Ideally aim for 3 meals a day with a pause of 4-5 hours in-between to allow insulin levels to return to normal between meals.
- Avoid snacking. As above. Continual snacking and grazing causes insulin levels to remain in circulation and over time can trigger cells to become resistant to insulin.
- Reduce sugars. Limit processed foods, drinks and confectionary which typically contain a lot of added sugars. Any unused sugar may be converted into fat and promote weight gain.
- Include protein: Include a single portion of quality protein (meat, fish, egg, cheese, beans, pulses) with every meal as proteins contain no sugars, and can help balance blood-glucose levels.
- Choose wholegrain & high fibre. Include wholegrain foods (wholegrain breads, pasta,wild rice, quinoa) and fibre-rich root vegetables, rather than simple white carbohydrates. They contain more fibre which helps support blood-glucose levels from peaking to high, are digested slower and will provide you with more sustainable energy. Opt for low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates which produce smaller fluctuations in blood-glucose levels . Read here.
- Fresh Fruit & Vegetables. Include whole fruits and vegetables to provide fibre and a wide range of nutrients. Eat with the skin on to provide more fibre (wash carefully) and opt for low GI.
- Portion control. Aim to eat balanced portions and avoid over eating. A portion of protein is the size of the palm of the hand (c. 100-150g), a portion of carbohydrates is equal to a fist of pasta (c.60-80g) and a portion of fruit or vegetables is c. 80g.
Balancing blood-glucose levels is beneficial to all of us.
You can calculate your BMI here to see if you fall within a healthy range.