What to Eat to Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
Health care spending on diabetes is expected to double over the next 25 years. And so does the number of people living with diabetes. The shocking revelation is that 80 percent of the health care spending on diabetes is used to treat the complications of the disease. The actual absurdity of this whole situation is that most cases of diabetes type 2 (which is much more common and less serious than type 1) could be prevented in the first place, thus significantly cutting these enormous costs to the health care system.
Do not be misled into thinking that preventing type 2 diabetes requires any miracle medical interventions either. It does not. We know very well what ought to be done. Even though each of us may have different predispositions to develop diabetes (e.g. due to our genetic set-up or our nutritional exposures in utero), our risk at the end of the day largely depends on our diet and lifestyle. It means that the simple choices we make every day considerably influence whether we develop diabetes in the future.
So what can be done? There is definitely no doubt that diabetes and obesity are two partners in crime, with diabetes following closely in the footsteps of obesity. It cannot be pure coincidence that three quarters of patients with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Indeed, when it comes to type 2 diabetes, weight loss of at least 5 to 7% is known to be very effective in preventing this disease. That makes achieving and sustaining a healthy weight the undisputed leader of all preventive measures. And you can forget fancy diets for that, it is a long-term and sustainable commitment to a truly healthful diet and reasonable amounts of exercise / physical activity that will bring results in the long run.
But it does not end there. The fundamentals of our diet really matter and it is not only how much we eat but what we eat that matters. Preferring monounsaturated fats (found in rapeseed oil, olive oil, nuts etc.) over saturated fats (found in butter, high fat dairy products, processed and fatty meats and many processed foods) can improve insulin sensitivity. The type of carbohydrate we eat is also very important. High Glycemic Load (GL), low-fibre diets are associated with an increased risk of diabetes in both sexes. This means you should better ditch the white and refined versions of grains in favour of their whole grain counterparts which should provide significant protection. And for those who can appreciate a glass of good wine, modest amounts of alcohol (one or two drinks a day), along with coffee drinking, both offer protection.
What would be an ideal diet then? The traditional Mediterranean diet cannot be far off the target as it is rich in olive oil, fibre-rich plant foods and moderate amounts of wine, a tasty candidate for a diabetes-protective dietary model. In fact, research has shown that adherence to a traditional Mediterranean diet is associated with considerable protection against diabetes. It is hard to estimate how difficult it will be to make all of the necessary changes at the level of society. We badly need proactive and forward-thinking policies that make prevention a priority. But as individuals, we can take control of our own future and by making the right decisions today we can substantially lower our likelihood of ending up as just another number added to the ever-growing statistics.