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Diabetes: the Best Defense is a Good Offense

Cases of diabetes are on the rise. It’s estimated that 285 million people worldwide have diabetes and that number is expected to grow to 438 million by 2030.

Author: Doug Cook, RD MHSc CDE

Here in Canada, approximately 9 million people are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, also known as insulin resistance. One of the biggest jumps in new cases is in men. 

What’s more worrisome is that about 2-3% of the population who have diabetes are unaware that they do. Why does this matter? Because although we’ve come a long way in managing diabetes with better medications and other treatments, diabetes continues to be a serious disease.

This is because if left untreated, or improperly managed, diabetes can result in many different complications, including:

  • Heart disease

  • Kidney disease

  • Eye disease

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Nerve damage

About ninety percent of those with diabetes have type 2, a form that is largely preventable through lifestyle changes (or choices) by including a healthy diet and physical activity. It’s important to note though, that diabetes doesn’t just ‘happen’; it’s preceded by a state of insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes, where the body increasingly becomes unable to use insulin properly and blood sugar slowly rises over several years. This slow increase in blood sugar can be monitored as part of a yearly checkup, which is why those appointments are so important to keep! 

Prevention, or delaying the progress of pre-diabetes, starts with knowing the risk factors. These include being a member of a high-risk group including:

  • Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South East Asian, African, Caribbean, or Pacific Islander

  • Being overweight (especially if most of that weight is around your waistline)

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Family history (parent, brother or sister with diabetes)

  • High blood pressure and/or other elevated blood fats like cholesterol or triglycerides (since these tend to cluster together)

  • A diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fat, low in fibre, magnesium, chromium and possibly vitamin D

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Prevention, not surprisingly, is about addressing any of the risk factors that are under your control. If you’re overweight, then modest weight loss is one of the best things you can do, and it doesn’t take a lot to get a benefit. Just losing 5 to 10% of your initial weight can result in many measurable health benefits including lower blood sugar levels and lower blood pressure. 

A healthy diet based on minimally-processed, whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, pulses like chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans, whole grains and proteins like eggs, lean chicken, beef or pork, and fish will go a long way to ensuring you’re getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy; including nutrients that appear to be protective against diabetes such as magnesium and chromium. 

Here are a few high-fibre recipes that are a good source of magnesium:

A diet that includes foods like these will be low in sugar and trans fats, while high in fibre, which also helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure and balance blood fats like cholesterol at the same time. 

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