Diabetes week is June 11th-17th and the theme is ‘Know Diabetes. Fight Diabetes’. We thought we would look at what diabetes is and explore some of the key lifestyle factors that are linked with preventing Type 2 diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is characterised by a high blood glucose level, due to the body losing it’s ability to properly use glucose. When blood glucose levels remain elevated without being regulated or treated, it can cause serious health complications to all parts of the body such as the kidneys, eyes, heart, feet and nerves.
There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2 – as well as other variations of the condition, such as gestational diabetes (during pregnancy), maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), and neonatal diabetes.
Having a glucose test through a health check is a simple and easy way to gain an indication of your blood glucose levels.
Key and Lock System
Insulin in generally described as the ‘key’ to unlocking the door on the body’s cells to allow glucose in to be used as fuel. It helps to transport glucose in your blood into your cells. When this system does not work, the result is that the glucose stays put and blood glucose levels are therefore elevated.
In Type 1 diabetes, no insulin (the key) is being produced. This is caused by the body attacking itself and destroying the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It is an auto-immune condition and is not linked to lifestyle factors.
With Type 2 diabetes, the insulin we produce is either not enough, or we have become resistant to its effects. So the ‘key’ is there but it is unable to unlock the door properly, and/or the ‘key’ is there but the lock is broken.
About 90% of diabetes cases are Type 2, and up to nearly 60% of all cases can be delayed or prevented through lifestyle choices such as healthy nutrition and physical activity habits.
Preventing Type 2 with Lifestyle Behaviours
Among our lifestyle behaviours, two of the biggest factors in preventing the development of Type 2 diabetes are our nutritional and physical activity or exercise habits.
Glucose is our main fuel source, which we get from our carbohydrate intake. If we use the fuel terminology, a good way of thinking about regulating our fuel (blood glucose levels) throughout the day is down to the quality (nutrient density) and quantity (portion sizes) of the fuel we consume.
Quality fuels include wholegrain/wholemeal versions of rice, bread, pasta, loaded with greater amounts of fibre and nutrients compared to their white, refined counterparts; lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and turkey versus sausage, mince, and bacon; as well as plenty of vegetables and fruit instead of cakes, biscuits and crisps.
The key difference between the quality fuels and the junk fuels is the greater delivery of vitamins and minerals, and the fibre content of these foods (which helps to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream, resulting in less of a spike in glucose levels). Junk fuels give us minimal nutrients, a lot of added sugars, fat and total calories (more total fuel).
When it comes to the quantity of fuel we consume (or portion control), the more total carbohydrates we consume, the more our glucose levels will rise. If our total fuel intake is too much for what our body needs (whether it’s from carbohydrates or fat), the excess will be stored as body fat tissue. Foods that are high in protein and fibre are linked to greater feelings of fullness, and less chance of overeating. Many high quality foods are a good source of either or both of these.
The other key lifestyle behaviour in regulating our blood glucose levels is exercise and physical activity. We know that exercising helps burn excess body fat, but when we move, our muscle contractions also play a role in helping glucose pass from the blood stream into the cells to use as fuel in the same way that insulin does.
It also increases our sensitivity to insulin, increasing our ability further to transport glucose out of the blood stream and into our cells in the hours and days following exercise, helping keep blood glucose levels in the ideal range.
The third key factor that healthy nutrition and exercise habits contribute to is maintaining a healthy body fat level. Too much body fat is linked to insulin resistance (think back to the start of the piece where we stated that the ‘key’ is there, but the lock is broken). Body fat surrounding our cells can block the receptors to insulin, and we can’t unlock the door to let glucose in any longer.
So to help us avoid Type 2 Diabetes, we really need to focus on ways to make our days a lot more active, and how we can make some food swaps to ensure we are taking on the right fuels in the right amounts as to not lead to significant increases in body fat mass.
If you would like more information on diabetes, and in particular Diabetes Week, please head to Diabetes UK. To gain a further insight into knowing your own diabetes risks through personal lifestyle and health assessments, please request a call back or contact us directly via firstname.lastname@example.org or 0800 170 1777.