Type 2 diabetes is pretty common these days. According to the American Diabetes Association, almost 10 percent of our population has it. I’d be willing to bet that you or someone you love is managing this disease or prediabetes, which can be a precursor to type 2. So, I wasn’t surprised when many of the people who participated in my 21-Day Total Wellness Program, Crazy Sexy You, were in the diabetes boat. And since November is Diabetes Awareness Month, I wanted to spend some time covering this topic with you.
Typically, type 2 diabetes happens as you get older or if you’re carrying around extra weight. In order to understand diabetes, you need to understand a little about your pancreas and insulin. Your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which enables your cells to use the glucose in your chow to produce energy. If you have type 2 diabetes, you experience insulin resistance. Essentially, this means that your pancreas still makes insulin, but your body isn’t using it to process glucose from your food properly. As a result, glucose builds up in your body and your blood sugar levels rise. No bueno. When you have high blood sugar for a prolonged period of time, it can impact your heart, kidneys, eyes, cause nerve damage and lead to other not-so-great health conditions.
Type 2 diabetes is obviously something to be taken seriously, which is why many people in our community are trying to reverse or manage it better. In fact, one of the most prevalent dietary questions during Crazy Sexy You (CSY) came from people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. They wondered if it would be safe to eat the carbs included in the meal plan. A low-carb, high-protein diet is often pushed on folks with diabetes as a way to manage blood sugar levels. And although it can work to an extent, it’s not necessarily the most effective or healthy approach. So, you can imagine the shock when the type 2 CSY folks ate a diet full of carbs (albeit healthy carbs, like whole grains, legumes and fruit) and saw improvements, including lower blood sugars, better energy and weight loss.
I wanted to understand why this was happening and some other ways people with type 2 diabetes could feel better each day. So, I consulted our Crazy Sexy Dietitian, Jen Reilly. She created this list of helpful tips for managing (and even possibly reversing) diabetes through diet and lifestyle. It addresses the carbs conundrum and much more. It’s certainly not everything we’d recommend, but it’s a great (and doable) start!
3 Ways to Manage Type 2 Diabetes With Food
1. Make sure all your carbs have fiber and eat them every day. Carbs can range from candy corn and white bread to lentils and blueberries. Rather than grouping them into simple or complex, or high glycemic and low glycemic, you can use the fiber content to guide you on best choices. If the food has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, it’s likely to be a “smart carb”. High-fiber breads or tortillas, whole grain pastas or grains like quinoa, millet, oats or bran would fit into this category. A smart carb is less likely to spike your blood sugar and more likely to positively affect your Hemoglobin A1C. Hemoglobin A1C measures your average blood sugar level over a 2-3 month period and it’s higher for people who have diabetes.
Super-helpful tip: Beans and lentils are unique carbs because they’re extra rich in fiber and loaded with protein (7 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving), which can further prevent blood sugar spikes and keep blood sugars steady for hours after a meal. Reach for at least a 1/2 cup of beans or lentils every day to take advantage of this benefit.
2. Eat more “resistant starch”. Resistant starch can help improve insulin sensitivity (study) and is found in whole grains, legumes and potatoes. Insulin sensitivity describes how sensitive your body is to the effects of insulin. Improved insulin sensitivity means less insulin is needed to lower blood sugars. Cooking or heating destroys most resistant starches but cooling after cooking can recapture them. So, cooked and then cooled salads made from beans, whole wheat pasta, whole grains or potatoes are tasty ways to get resistant starches into your day.
3. Eat more broccoli. Broccoli is by far the best dietary source of chromium. Chromium helps to strengthen insulin signals, which will help get sugar into your cells more quickly after a meal. This means less sugar floating around in your bloodstream and a lower A1C. Enjoy cold broccoli salads, roasted broccoli, steamed and stir-fried broccoli and broccoli leek soup to keep things interesting. The next best sources of chromium include barley, oats, green beans, tomatoes and Romaine lettuce.