Here’s how a sugar rush works—you eat candy or a bar of chocolate, and your brain secretes happy hormones (serotonin and dopamine) to convince you that you’re on a high. At the same time, the body secretes insulin to break it down, absorb the excess glucose in the blood and stabilise sugar levels. This is when you feel a crash—that tired, ate-too-much, nauseous feeling. But if you are susceptible to or currently have diabetes, your blood cells are not able to use the insulin to filter out glucose from that recent candy binge. When sugar levels are too high, the pancreas can go into overdrive, secreting too much insulin for cells that do not receive it. When sugar levels are high, it is considered a pre-diabetic condition. However, if it worsens and sugar levels increase even further, you can suffer from Type 2 diabetes.
The other type of diabetes is called Type 1 (which is dependent on insulin therapy), a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces less insulin than required. For those wondering why this is important, insulin is a hormone that enables the body to take digested sugar out of the bloodstream and deliver it to cells to use for energy. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed as being pre-diabetic or diabetic, it can be confusing and scary to wade through all the information on the internet. So, we got nutritionist and food coach Anupama Menon and diabetologist Dr Pradeep Gadge to share diet and lifestyle tips to help you fight or keep diabetes at bay.
What you need to do to battle or prevent diabetes
Say no to processed food
“Anything that comes out of colourful packaging is processed food—whether it is bread, cereals, crackers or even low-fat yoghurt. While some of these products might not necessarily use refined sugar, they are still potentially harmful to those with yo-yoing insulin levels, as carbohydrates turn into sugar when they are being metabolised,” says Menon. Constant consumption of sweeteners is also known to lead to insulin resistance, despite them being marketed as zero-calorie options (like diet sodas and low-cal ice creams). Doctors suggest that you fill your plate with vegetables, whole grains and limit the consumption of overtly sweet fruits.
Embrace good fats
Trans fats have an overall impact on the cholesterol levels of your body and your heart. Considering that those with diabetes have the risk of developing heart disease, staying away from processed or modified fats (like vanaspati, low fat margarine, and refined oil) is imperative. “Choose natural good fat options like nuts and seed oils for cooking and seasoning,” suggests Menon.
Include fibre in your diet
Fibre helps combat sugar spikes in your body and keeps it to a minimum, therefore balancing the sugar levels through the day. Most doctors say that the daily food intake should include two cups (200gm each) of vegetables, either cooked or stir-fried; and two cups of salad. Cold-pressed vegetable juices of non-starchy vegetables like celery, cucumber and kale are a great way to imbibe the benefits. They do not have a big impact on blood sugar, and they are easy forms of digestible fibre.
Daily exercise for 45 minutes to an hour is necessary to control the metabolism of sugar and regulate its amounts in the bloodstream. Low intensity exercises like walking or swimming are ideal according to most doctors. “Since obesity is a major cause of Type 2 diabetes, controlling weight gain is important for reducing risk factors,” says Dr Gadge.
Add whole grains to your diet
Whole grains provide a healthy amount of complex carbohydrates, in addition to a higher dose of fibre compared to polished grains—crucial for a diabetic diet. Include grains such as millet, whole wheat, brown, black or red rice, barley and amaranth, which have always been part of different Indian cuisines. While dals and pulses are high in protein, they are also chock-full of carbs. However, due to their low glycemic index (which means that they don’t cause a massive sugar spike), they are good foods to lower the amount of sugar released in the body. Doctors also suggest that if you’re taking medication for diabetes symptoms, you should time it with your eating schedule. Too little food in proportion to medication or insulin injections may result in very low blood sugar, causing nausea, while too much food can cause extremely high blood sugar levels.
Hit the snooze button
Research shows that sleep deprived patients with even six to 12 weeks of deprivation can develop insulin resistance. If this isn’t reason enough, stress has been recognised as a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes as well. Stress causes the body to respond with a fight-or-flight response, which increases blood pressure and causes a sudden surge in blood glucose levels. Sleep, meditation and physical activity is ideal to maintain a healthy stress response.
Let go of your bad habits
Common vices like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are not recommended to the layperson, but they can be very harmful for those with diabetes. Alcohol has a high sugar and carb content, that can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. Smoking can lead to a loss of good cholesterol, a spike in blood pressure, an imbalance of blood sugar and higher chances of cardiovascular diseases.
Get regular checkups
“Those above the age of 30 should go for annual checks of lipid profile and get an ECG to catch any health problems early. Early detection can help treat and manage diabetes and its related conditions better,” says Dr Gadge.