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Diabetes Awareness Week 2021: Does nutrition affect your risk of getting type-2 diabetes?

Put simply, the answer is yes. But we’re going to delve a little deeper to see how many cases of type-2 diabetes could have been prevented as well as why your nutrition choices increase your risk.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the body does not produce enough insulin (type 1) or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces (type 2). Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar, or glucose. We all need insulin to live as it does an essential job in allowing the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies.

Type 1 Diabetes

When you have type 1 diabetes, your body still breaks down the carbohydrates from food and drink and turns it into glucose, but when the glucose enters your bloodstream, there’s no insulin to allow it into your body’s cells leading to high blood sugar levels.

Type 2 Diabetes

When you have type 2 diabetes, similarly to type 1, your body still breaks down the carbohydrates from food and drink and turns it into glucose. But here is the key difference; the pancreas releases insulin, but as your body cannot use this effectively your blood sugar levels keep rising, causing more insulin to be released. For some, this can eventually lead to the pancreas making less insulin resulting in even higher blood sugar levels.

Hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many body parts including the eyes, heart, kidneys, and feet.

The facts and figures

According to Diabetes UK, more than 4.6 million people in the UK have type 2 diabetes. This is equal to one in 14 people.  There is also an estimated 12.3 million people at increased risk of type 2 diabetes in the UK, and obesity is the leading cause in most preventable cases.

While type 1 diabetes isn’t preventable, three in 5 cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by making heathier choices.

The World Health Organisation states that adults with diabetes have a two-to three-fold increased risk of heart attacks and strokes and diabetes is the cause of 2.6% of global blindness, as well as being among the leading causes of kidney failure.

What are the risk factors?

The main factors that increase your risk of type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. Storing fat mainly in your abdomen – rather than your hips and thighs – indicates a greater risk. If you do store fat around your abdomen it’s important to remember these figures. Your risk of type 2 diabetes rises if:

  • You’re male with a waist circumference above 40 inches (101.6cm)
  • You’re female with a waist circumference above 35 inches (88.9cm)

Linking in closely with being overweight is inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk. Physical activity helps control your weight and uses up glucose as energy, making your cells more responsive to insulin.

Other risk factors include family history, race and ethnicity, high cholesterol ratio and age amongst others.

Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity

The links between obesity and type 2 diabetes are firmly established and without the intervention of a healthy diet and appropriate exercise, obesity can quickly lead to type 2 diabetes. However, by quickly understanding whether you are at risk and taking action to make some changes, you can lower your risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and types of cancer.

What about your diet?

Regularly consuming more calories than your body needs and eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol increases your risk and can also lead to obesity, the main risk factor.

According to the NHS, a 5% reduction in body weight followed up by regular moderate intensity exercise could reduce your type 2 diabetes risk by more than 50%.

Choose carbs that are high in fibre

Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice and sugary breakfast cereals are linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. But wholegrain alternatives, such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain bread and oats are linked to a reduced risk.

Not only does eating more fibre reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, but it is also associated with a lower risk of other serious conditions such as obesity, heart diseases and certain types of cancers.

Other healthy sources of carbohydrates include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils

Reduce your red and processed meat intake

Regularly eating red and processed meats such as bacon, sausages, ham, pork, beef and lamb is often associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as heart problems and certain cancers.

You should aim to get as much of your protein as possible from healthier, but just as tasty alternatives such as:

  • Lean meats, such as chicken and turkey
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Unsweetened yogurt and milk

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables

We’ve all been told from a young age that we should aim to consume a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and veg per day. But did you know that there are certain varieties that are specifically associated with a reduced diabetes risk? These include:

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Berries
  • Green leafy veg such as spinach, kale, watercress and rocket.

You can eat these fresh or frozen and should always try to find ways to fit these in to your diet – this could be by consuming them as snacks or as an extra portion of veg with your meals.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Alcohol is high in calories and consuming a lot of it can make it difficult if you are trying to lose weight. Guidelines recommend drinking no more than 14 units per week, spread evenly over 3-4 days.

Choose drinks without added sugar

It’s fairly commonly known that there is a link between having full sugar fizzy drinks and energy drinks and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

When cutting out sugary drinks, try not to replace them with fruit juices or smoothies as these still contain a high amount of sugar. Try plain water, no-added sugar cordial, sugar-free tea or coffee as replacements.

With these healthy eating tips you should be able to switch up your diet and start introducing more healthy, tasty and nutritious meals that in turn, help you to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

How else can you prevent type 2 diabetes?

As outlined earlier in the article, there are some factors that we can’t control such as our age and race, but healthy lifestyle choices can prevent type 2 diabetes, even if you have some uncontrollable risk factors.

The World Health Organisation suggests:

  • Eat healthy foods: choose foods lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber. Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Get active: aim for 150 minutes or more a week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity such as a such walk, cycling, running or swimming.
  • Lose weight if needed: losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off can delay the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. Losing 7%-10% of your body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes.
  • Avoid long periods of inactivity: sitting still for long period can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Try to get up every 30 minutes and move around for a few minutes.

Did you know, at Healthy Performance, we carry out diabetes risk assessments in all of our onsite health assessment options as well as a full diabetic profile within our option 5 health assessment.

For more information, please get in touch here:

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