It’s Halloween and the Reese’s peanut butter cups are flowing! Kids are trick-or-treating in their finest unicorn and Ninja costumes, you’ve undoubtedly had to endure 2 neighborhood costume parties, a classroom holiday bash, and “trunk-or-treat” at the local mall. Now your house is full to the brim with Tootsie Rolls, KitKats, Mike and Ikes and Laughy Taffy. And a few of those terrible packs of Necco Wafers, who gives those out!?! Who hurt you as a child, and why do you hate us?! Anyway, by November 1st you’ve eaten your weight in refined sugar and can hear your grandmas voice in the back of your head telling you, “You’re going to get diabetes!” Well she’s not completely correct, you don’t get diabetes from eating candy, but she’s not wrong to tell you to avoid eating too much sugar.
So, let’s talk diabetes, “the sugars” as your great uncle from Alabama would call it. More specifically, let’s talk Preventing diabetes. We are, after all, in a series about preventative medicine. Here’s the really simple, down and dirty, college 101 about Diabetes. It is a condition where the body doesn’t process carbohydrates very well. Typically, when you eat a Snickers bar, tortilla chips, or PB and J, carbohydrates in the food break down in the gut, and your blood sugar rises. Your body gets to work, cranks out some insulin to help turn it into energy, the liver stores a little of that sugar for later, and your blood sugar goes back down to a healthy range. When you have diabetes, the body’s usual mechanisms for lowering blood sugar don’t work so great. And having high blood sugar all the time comes with a host of health problems. Increased risk of heart attack, blindness, kidney failure, stroke and nerve damage.
For clarity sake, there are two commonly recognized types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, previously called Juvenile diabetes, is an auto-immune condition that attacks the pancreas, (an organ in the belly responsible for producing insulin) and there’s not much you can do to prevent it. Its just rotten luck. Kids and adults with Type 1 diabetes have to manage the carbohydrates they eat by injecting insulin, and it stinks. But they can generally eat anything they want and live normal, healthy lives.
We will be talking about Type 2 Diabetes, known by many as adult onset diabetes. This type of diabetes is much more preventable, more often managed with diet modifications and is the target of your Grandma’s candy rants. (Unfortunately, with obesity rates soaring, and childhood obesity on the rise, Type 2 Diabetes is actually being diagnosed younger and younger, so “adult onset” doesn’t always fit any more. But I digress…)
So how do we prevent this plight of Type 2 Diabetes. Grandma would say, “Eat a salad”. Eating a healthy diet can help you avoid getting diabetes. But eating “healthy” is complicated, and you get lots of opinions about what is healthy these days. Spoiler alert, Snickers did not make the list and neither did Lean Cuisine. Here’s the quick highlight real.
Eat real food! Stuff that looks the same way it did coming out of the earth. And lots of vegetables. They really are good for you. (fyi Candy Corn is NOT a vegetable) Find some protein you enjoy and eat a little of that every day. And avoid eating a lot of processed grains and refined sugars. This is all the white fluffy stuff. Bread, pasta, tortillas, white rice and potatoes. And of course, avoid added sugar. Sugar sneaks its way into a lot of things, mostly processed and packaged foods. Manufacturers add sugar to things you’d never expect to make it taste better so you’ll eat more of it. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into nutrition next month!
Next up, everyone favorite, Diet Soda. Its diet, Zero sugar and a healthier alternative right? WRONG!! Artificial sweeteners are just as bad for you, probably worse than actual sugar. They raise insulin levels and can put you on a path for obesity and diabetes. I know, I know, I love me some Diet Dr Pepper as much as the next guy. But I sure as heck don’t want diabetes, so I gave it up a few years ago, and you can too. Stop eating “diet” food in general. It’s all full of artificial sweeteners and additives. If something says it is “sugar free” but tastes sweet, it really is too good to be true. It has an artificial sweetener in it and should be a no-go. Instead, drink more water!
Exercise is also really important. When you exert yourself, your cells require less insulin to process blood sugars and your body is better able to stay in a normal blood sugar range. Studies show a brisk 20-30 minute walk every day, above and beyond your usual routine, can help lower blood pressure and blood sugars, and prevent diabetes. Find some sort of exercise you enjoy doing and do it often! https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/prevent-diabetes
I can’t even believe I have to type this one out….Quit Smoking…. For goodness sake, quit smoking!!! I’m not even going to waste time citing sources or copying and pasting pretty pictures on this one. You already know, so I’m just going to say it one more time for extra oomph, just in case you thought I’d let you get away with it, QUIT SMOKING!
Be sure to get adequate Vitamin D. Studies have shown that people who had very low vitamin D levels had higher rates of diabetes, and those with higher levels of vitamin D had a 43% lower chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Vitamin D can be hard to come by this time of year when we see less sunshine and more snow. And, No Becky, that does not mean you should head on down to the local tanning bed, melanoma kills people! You can get Vitamin D in fatty fish and Cod Liver Oil, but That Sounds Terrible! Instead, find a Vitamin D supplement in the local grocery store and ingest somewhere around 1000-2000 international units per day, or better yet just take 25,000 units per week. Ask your friend family doctor for more info about vitamin D supplementation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21731035
Some of us are just cursed with bad genetics and everyone since great, great grandma Jolene has had type 2 diabetes. And it’s true, sometimes you can’t beat your genes. But you can put up a good fight! So, put down the Milky Way Bar, throw away the Captain Crunch and Crystal Light and jump on that treadmill. That one collecting dust in the basement (yes, you’ll have to fold all the clothes draped over it first, I know, I’ve been there). Then pick up a big ol’ cup of water and make yourself a delicious salad. Take your vitamin D tonight and rest easy knowing you are doing your best to prevent diabetes!
The views expressed in this blog are solely that of its author. Do not use these posts as medical advice, instead go see your own family doctor. I do not own the rights to these pictures, I cut and pasted them off Google just like everyone else does.