By Francesca Liparoti, Corporate Nutritionist
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar and insulin resistance, and accounts for up to 95% of all diabetes cases1. It’s also known as ‘adult onset’ diabetes because it usually appears in people over the age of 40, but alarmingly it’s now becoming more common in children, adolescents and young people.
T2D can be prevented, and may be reversed, by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle2. I’d like to explain ‘blood sugar’ and which foods should be avoided for healthy blood sugar balance and those that we should include more of. Balancing your blood sugar levels is vital for overall health and also weight management!
What is ‘blood sugar’?
When people talk about ‘blood sugar’, they mean ‘blood glucose’, and the two terms mean the same thing: the concentration of glucose in the blood at any one time.
It is usually measured as “fasting blood sugar” by a test where your blood is analysed after having not eaten for 8-12 hours3. After we eat, our blood glucose levels rise, and this signals your pancreas to release a hormone called insulin to regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. Insulin moves the sugar from the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used for fuel.
Why does it matter?
Our body wants to keep blood sugar in a very narrow range for good health. This is because constantly high blood glucose levels can eventually damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels, and cause a condition known as insulin resistance, which is when chronically high levels of blood sugar and insulin have caused our cells to become resistant to the effects of insulin and no longer respond to it, which leaves sugar circulating in the blood stream.
At any one time, a normal body has only ONE teaspoon of sugar circulating in the blood. When you drink a can of fizzy drink, or eat a plate of pasta, you are dumping an extra 12 to 15 teaspoons of sugar into your bloodstream in a very short time. Over time, all this extra sugar can do a lot of damage, to both your health and metabolism and weight, because the excess sugar is stored in our fat cells – think belly fat, hips, buttocks and thighs!
When we eat less of the wrong types of carbohydrates, our body is far more able to keep the levels of sugar in the blood within the normal range. This is because carbohydrate foods turn into sugar once eaten, some instantly and some more slowly.
So which carbohydrate foods are best?
Carbohydrate refers to a large range of foods, all affecting blood sugar in some way. Regular table sugar quickly raises blood sugar levels high, as does white bread. Porridge oats or rye bread however would break down into sugar more slowly, drip-feeding sugar into the blood stream and preventing fast spikes. Then vegetables like say broccoli, courgettes, leeks, and spinach break down very slowly into sugar and in a very low amount, almost having no effect on our blood sugar.
So, we want to avoid the carbs that break down quickly into sugar (simple carbs) and instead choose carbs that break down slowly (complex carbs), this will help to keep our blood sugar level to the ideal one-teaspoon.
Which carbs are slow-releasing (ones to go for)?
- Oats, oatcakes
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown pasta (in moderation)
- Rye bread
Which carbs are fast-releasing (avoid)?
- White rice
- White potatoes (although baby new with skin are far better)
- White bread
- White pasta
- Regular crackers
- Regular cereals
- Table sugar, cakes, pastries, biscuits, sweets, donuts, fizzy drinks etc.
Unless you are doing a lot of endurance activity like very long runs or bike rides, in which case your body would need and be able to handle some ‘simple’ sugars as well for example some white rice or white potato.
Whilst the type of carbohydrate we choose is very important, we also need to be eating protein with every meal and snack, as well as some healthy fats. Protein slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream so you get a more steady release, plus protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer and supports your metabolism. Good protein sources are meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, and tempeh (a fermented and less processed version of tofu). Healthy fats leave us feeling satiated and can reduce cravings for sugar and carbs later on so include things like avocado, nut butter, hummus, extra virgin olive oil, olives, oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines (which double up as a great protein source too!), nuts and seeds, and coconut oil in your daily diet to increase levels of beneficial fats.
Try these low sugar balanced snack ideas:
- Oatcakes with nut butter (almond or cashew ideally)
- Hummus with carrot sticks and a small handful of olives
- Small handful of almonds and walnuts with an apple
- Boiled egg and avocado mashed with black pepper, pinch of sea salt and fresh lemon juice.
What about lifestyle?
It’s not just about what you eat, lifestyle is also important. Sitting less, getting enough exercise, sleeping 7–8 hours a night, and managing your stress are also important steps you can take to prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes:
- The more breaks you take from sitting, the lower your waist circumference, body mass index, and triglycerides, and the more stable your blood sugar4.
- A single night of partial sleep deprivation causes insulin resistance even in healthy people with no preexisting metabolic disease5.
Workplace Nutrition Programmes
There is a lot we can do through diet and lifestyle to prevent and improve the management of type 2 diabetes. We hope this article has been helpful and given you some good insight and ideas.
If you would like to run a nutrition seminar or arrange some body composition testing sessions then get in touch today!
We’d be delighted to provide details of our new ‘Sugar Freedom Plan’ seminar and workshop as well as the other corporate wellbeing services we offer. Get in touch today!
Francesca Liparoti, Associate and Registered Nutritional Therapist
Francesca runs a busy practice in Canary Wharf, where she specialises in helping her clients make healthier lifestyle choices one step at a time. She provides guidance and advice to busy professionals on how to enjoy great nutritious food without deprivation, helping them to gain control of their weight and health, as well as optimise their mental performance. She believes in making positive changes step by step in order to form life-long healthy habits.
Francesca is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT), which is the regulatory body for Nutritional Therapists and she is on the register of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).
- Diabetes UK (2016) Facts & Figures https://www.diabetes.org.uk/About_us/What-we-say/Statistics/ (accessed: 09/06/16)
- Diabetes UK (2016) What is Type 2 Diabetes? https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/What-is-diabetes/What-is-Type-2-Diabetes/ (accessed: 09/06/16)
- American Diabetes Association (2015) Standards of medical care in diabetes. Diabetes Care. 38:S1-S76.
- Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW (2010) Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exercise & Sport Science Review, 38(3):105-13.
- Donga E1, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, Biermasz NR, Lammers GJ, van Kralingen KW, Corssmit EP, Romijn JA (2010) A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 95(6):2963-8