by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee
Whether you have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or or you’ve been told you’re at risk, read on for 11 ways to start reversing the effects immediately.
Type 2 diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions. There are 3.9 million people living with diabetes – 90 per cent those of being affected by type 2 diabetes. Here’s another shocking statistic: 1 in 3 UK adults has prediabetes, the condition that precedes diabetes.
As you’ll soon see on BBC One’s Doctor in the House, it is entirely possible to both prevent as well as reverse type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, a lot of the advice that is given for the condition is, in my opinion, unhelpful and misguided. Most people think of it as a blood sugar problem but this is the ultimate effect rather than the cause.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition that is characterised by chronically elevated blood sugar levels. However, the main cause as well as the driver for this condition is something called Insulin Resistance. When you eat certain foods, particularly refined carbohydrates, that food is converted to sugar inside your body. Your body’s way of dealing with this sugar is to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin moves the sugar inside your cells so that it can be used for energy. Sounds great, right?
Well, yes and no. When working efficiently, this is a fantastic system that helps your body to function well. But when you have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes or significant abdominal obesity, that system does not work so well.
Eating too many refined carbohydrates elevates your insulin levels for long periods of time and your cells start to become resistant to the effects of insulin. Think of this a bit like alcohol. When you start to drink, a single glass of wine can make you feel drunk. Once your body becomes accustomed to drinking, you need more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect. This is what happens in diabetes. You need more and more insulin to do the same thing. The problem is that too much insulin is toxic to the body.
What are the effects of raised insulin levels?
- It causes water and salt retention, which causes raised blood pressure
- You become at risk of atherosclerosis (“furring of arteries”), which can lead to heart attacks
- Raised insulin levels increases VLDL (very low density lipoprotein), a type of blood fat and one of the “bad” forms of cholesterol
- Can drive the growth of certain cancer cells
- In women, it can cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone, which is associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Significantly increases your risk of getting type 2 diabetes
The only way to effectively reverse type 2 diabetes (or even pre-diabetes) is to deal with the underlying cause – Insulin Resistance. Trying to address the blood sugar levels (with medication) without addressing the insulin levels is treating the symptoms, not treating the root cause. It is similar to using a bucket to remove water from an overflowing sink rather than actually turning off the tap!
The most important thing to do is to stop adding fuel to the fire. If Insulin Resistance is driving the condition, you need to firstly stop consuming foods that increase insulin production. Secondly, you need to make some lifestyle changes so that you can become sensitive to insulin once again
So, what foods increase insulin production
All carbohydrates – to some degree at least – will raise your blood insulin levels. That is why I consider type 2 diabetes a form of “carbohydrate intolerance”. Protein can also raise levels but to a much lesser degree. The only macronutrient that keeps your insulin levels and, therefore, your blood sugar stable is FAT! Therefore, if you are trying to reduce insulin levels, you need to reduce your amount of certain carbohydrates and replace them instead with healthy, natural fats.
What does that mean in terms of actual FOOD CHOICES though?
When I say healthy, natural fat – think nuts and seeds, avocados, omega 3 fats (found in almonds, flax seed and cold water fish, like wild salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna), extra virgin olive oil and whole eggs.
And when I talk about reducing certain carbohydrates, I mainly mean reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and bread. Non starchy vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower) are fine and can be eaten in abundance. Many fruits are packed with carbohydrates, so if you’re trying to reduce your carb intake, try and limit your intake to low-carb fruit, such as rhubarb, watermelon, berries, peaches and blackberries.
It is really important to say that I do not believe that there is one perfect diet for everyone. Different people respond to different diets.
However, if you have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or if you have been told you are at high risk or if you have significant abdominal obesity, here are 11 ways to start reversing the effects immediately:
- Avoid ALL refined carbohydrates. That means no pasta, rice or bread (even wholegrain bread will spike your insulin)
- Avoid ALL added sugar. If your body is already in a state where you cannot process carbohydrates and sugars properly, you are going to have to take steps to fully eliminate all sugars, at least in the short term.
- Avoid ALL sweet drinks. It is best to stick to water, tea, coffee.
- Do not be scared of good quality, healthy, natural fat – avocados, olives, almonds etc. Don’t worry about this causing you to put on weight. A study published in 2003 showed that people who supplemented their diet with almonds lost more weight than those who supplemented with so-called “healthy, complex carbs”
- Do not waste your energy counting calories. Concentrate on the quality of the food that you are eating and the calorie control will take care of itself.
- FEED YOUR GUT BUGS, not just yourself. There are trillions of bugs that live in your gut – their health is critical in determining your health. Many studies show links between the state of your gut bugs (your microbiota) and type 2 diabetes. Start improving the health of your gut immediately by eating five servings of different coloured vegetables each day. The non digestible fibre in vegetables is the preferred food for your gut bacteria and when your gut bugs are happy, you will be happy. The wider the variety of colours, the more phytonutrients you will be getting.
- Do my 5 minute kitchen workout once a day. This could be before breakfast, lunch or dinner – whatever works for you.
- If you like to snack, keep some high fat healthy snacks with you, such as olives, nuts or hummus. When you snack on refined carbohydrates such as biscuits, you go on a blood sugar rollercoaster that results in you feeling hungry shortly after. Fats, on the other hand, will keep you fuller for longer.
- Include high quality protein and fat with EVERY single meal. This helps to stabilise your blood sugars and promotes satiety and fullness, making it less likely that you will want to reach for dessert after your meal.
- Eat your meals sitting down at a table. Eating on the sofa while watching TV encourages a mindless form of eating – this can lead you to eat higher quantities than you otherwise would. If you sit at a table and concentrate on what you’re eating, you are more likely to enjoy your food, feel satisfied at the end of your meal and eat less.
- Consider a form of regular fasting (more to come in a later blog), such as intermittent fasting or time-restricted feeding (TRF). TRF means eating your calories during a specific window of the day, and choosing not to eat food for the rest. It’s a great way to reduce insulin levels in your body and help undo the effects of chronically elevated levels.
— Dr Chatterjee