Diabetes, as it relates to blood sugar, has always captured my interest because of its direct effect on one’s body composition. Diabetes is the result of problems with the pancreatic hormone, insulin. Insulin controls the amount of glucose, otherwise known as sugar, in the blood and the rate at which glucose is absorbed into the cells. The cells need glucose to produce energy. In people with diabetes, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of being taken into and used by the cells, leading to abnormally high levels of glucose in the blood. Eventually, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), leads to damaged blood vessels, which in turn may cause eye disease, heart disease, nerve damage in the limbs and internal organs, and kidney disease.
There are two major types of diabetes. Type-1, or insulin dependent diabetes, and Type-2, non-insulin dependent diabetes. Type-1 affects 5 to 10% of people with diabetes and usually starts at an early age. It is an auto immune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Experts believe this may result from an immune response after a viral infection.
Type-2, by far the most common form of diabetes, affects 90 to 95% of diabetes sufferers. The pancreas does produce insulin in small quantities, but not enough to fuel the cells. Many people have Type-2 diabetes and are completely unaware of it. This type of diabetes usually begins later in life, although unfortunately, it is now becoming more common in young people. According to figures published by the American Diabetes Association, 15.7 million people in America have diabetes. This disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the primary cause of blindness in people between 20 and 70.
People with diabetes are subject to episodes of both high and low blood sugar. The symptoms of hyperglycemia (too much glucose in the blood), often includes fatigue, constant need to urinate, extreme thirst, constantly feeling hungry, loss of weight, and problems with eye sight. Episodes of hypoglycemia (less than normal amounts of glucose in the blood), which can strike suddenly, can be caused by a missed meal, too much exercise, or a reaction to too much insulin. The initial signs of hypoglycemia are hunger, dizziness, sweating, confusion, and numbness and tingling of the lips. The major danger with diabetes, however, is not the disease itself, but the complications that can arise if insulin levels are not maintained at a constant level.
Diabetes is becoming much more prevalent these days, especially in younger age groups. One of the major reasons, if not the reason, is foods that we eat, or primarily the way in which foods we eat are processed. Since around the beginning of the 1900 our nation’s diet has drastically changed; we have stopped growing our own foods and started buying processed foods in our grocery stores. But especially within the last twenty years our refined sugar intake has quadrupled, everything from the breads we eat (primarily white bread), to all the packaged goodies, like donuts, muffins, most cereals, and the thousands of different brands of candy. With the inception of technology our food now lasts forever, but interestingly enough, we do not.
Children these days are developing Type-2 diabetes at an alarming rate, and at very young ages. Type-2 diabetes used to be reserved for the older, obese, and out of shape people. The reason being, when one eats a diet so high in refined sugar all of his or her life, or even during the beginning of one’s life you stand the risk of becoming insulin resistant. When you eat sugar, insulin is released into your blood stream to direct the sugar into the cells. With a diet high in sugar you have insulin being released at all times. Over time your insulin receptors become a little resistant to insulin. So your body must produce more insulin to produce the same desired result; just as people living near the freeway don’t hear the constant hum of the cars after a few weeks of conditioning. As more sugar is digested and more time passes, your insulin receptors become almost numb to insulin. Therefore your body is unable to deliver glucose into your cells, and your blood sugar rises to dangerous levels. The end result is hyperglycemia and diabetes.
However, there are ways to control and even completely halt diabetes in its tracks. Carbohydrates, otherwise known as sugars, are the only foods that elicit an insulin response, or in other words, raise your blood sugar levels. Proteins and fats do not. There are many doctors with many different theories on how to control diabetes. This is just one view, the view that I happen to agree with. I believe, as well as many experts, in a diet very loosely based on the Atkin’s Diet, with modifications. Protein consumption is pretty much the only thing the two have in common. I believe in a diet rich in protein, fats, and certain types of fruits and vegetables is the way to go. Just as important, if not more, are lots of water, natural fiber through diet, supplemental fiber (e.g. Metamucil), and vitamins. Now that’s not to say you can not have any carbohydrates. You just want to keep the number of grams of carbohydrates relatively low. What you do eat in carbohydrates should be of whole grains, and not processed.
An interesting side note: once digested and broken down by the body, all carbohydrates, be it pasta or a snickers bar, are turned into the same exact thing – glucose, otherwise known as sugar. The only difference being that complex carbohydrates (e.g. pasta and potatoes) supply more energy per molecule than simple sugars (e.g. candy and soda pop). Also important to note; complex carbohydrates usually contain much more fiber than simple sugars.
Fiber is very important to a diabetic, or at least should be, and of course should be for the rest of us as well. Fiber slows down the rate of digestion of any food, be it carbohydrates, protein, or fat. So the digested sugars slowly trickle into the blood stream, rather than dumping in all at once and rapidly elevating your blood sugar. By glucose entering your blood stream slowly you get a slow, steady rise in blood sugar, and by doing so one does not have such a need for large amounts of insulin, therefore never becoming insulin resistant. Your goal should be to maintain a steady blood sugar level, and to completely remove any spikes or lows in the amount of sugar in your blood. By doing so, you will help to eliminate your bodies dependency on insulin to maintain your blood sugar levels, therefore, putting the control and power back into your hands where it should have been all along.
I know you’re thinking, “Our bodies need glucose for energy, for our brains, for everything in our bodies, and you can only get glucose from carbohydrates.” You would be half right. Our bodies do need glucose to sustain life, but our bodies are amazing. They can change a protein into a glucose like substance, which provides the same energy as glucose.
Of course you want to limit your intake of saturated fats. In regards to fruits and vegetables, berries are what you want to concentrate on; like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc. They are respectively low in carbohydrates and high in fiber and antioxidants. You want to limit your starchy fruits, such as bananas and exotic fruits; they are packed with a lot of sugar, and therefore will elicit a spike in your blood sugar. Most vegetables are pretty low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. As a general rule of thumb, when it comes to vegetables, the darker in color the better they are for you. Basically, the darker they are, the more antioxidants and vitamins they contain.
Staying active is just as important as your diet in regards to diabetes and overall health. Even if you don’t have diabetes or never will, finding an exercise routine right for you is invaluable. I find enjoyment in weight training and the occasional run. But everyone is different and should do whatever works for them and their time schedule. Most of all make it fun, or at least as fun as possible. If something, and in this case working out and staying in shape, does not bring you some kind of pleasure, it is doubtful that you will continue it for any length of time. Second, set goals for yourself and make them attainable; specifically short and long term goals. If not you are very likely to give up and go home, or at least in spirit you will; which brings me to a very important point. I strongly believe that your brain has a very strong impact on your body. If you believe over the next few months, that you’re going to become a lean, mean muscle machine, then you will. Not to say that you can possess the powers of genie, but along with a strict diet and a work out regimen you can very easily be on the path to the physique and healthy body you have always wanted.
Diabetes is a devastating disease, yes, but with education and a well executed plan of attack, diabetes will hopefully never show its ugly face. Or for those who are already dealing with the disease, with knowledge and an educated approach, the disease can be quite manageable without medication.