Shock figures last month revealed diabetes diagnoses have more than doubled in 20 years. But what should we do to prevent or even reverse the disease? We sought expert advice
It seems like almost every day there is another news story about the extent of diabetes in the UK – it almost feels like we’re experiencing an epidemic. But it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored. A very recent study found that adults who develop type 2 diabetes before the age of 40 are two-and-a-half times more likely to die prematurely before the age of 75. So what should we be doing? All is not lost, as nutritionist Jeraldine Curran explains: “It is not only possible to reverse the condition but also, if you commit to the dietary changes, you can make sure that it doesn’t return.
“This is not just about weight loss, it’s about changing the way your body responds to insulin, a hormone that transports glucose from the bloodstream into the tissues,” she says. “We already know that diets high in carbohydrates stimulate our genes to initiate something known as metabolic inflammation – this is when our skin becomes redder, our temperature is slightly raised, water retention occurs and mentally there is a feeling of foggy brain. The secreting of insulin is a defence mechanism in response to too much glucose in the blood. When it comes to reversing type 2 diabetes, we need to minimise the body’s need to secrete insulin and that can only be done by changing the food we eat. Sources of glucose within the diet can come from sugar or starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, rice and pasta) and to our bodies it’s all the same.”
“A few months ago, Jenny, 59, attended our clinic for nutritional assessment and recommendations,” says Jeraldine. “She was overweight at 12st 7lb, had type 2 diabetes, was on seven different medications and was already showing signs of a fatty liver. Other symptoms included headaches, hot flushes, anxiety and depression.
“I received a copy of blood tests from her doctor and it showed her HbA1c level to be in the pre-diabetic stage at 45. We set about changing her diet by removing all refined sugar. This meant avoiding processed foods and starchy carbohydrates – bread, pasta, rice and oats and replacing them with mainly non-starchy vegetables along with some starchy vegetables. Alcohol was also to be avoided as it is particularly high in sugar. Other foods to cut out were genetically modified ones which include corn, soy and rapeseed oil along with hydrogenated oils which include sunflower, safflower and mixed vegetable oils.
“We introduced high-fibre foods to help regulate blood sugar. The aim was to eat eight portions of vegetables and no more than two or three portions of fruit per day. Examples included cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, berries, nuts and seeds, especially chia seeds and flaxseeds. Healthy fats were to be used as a fuel source instead of glucose – these also help to balance blood sugar levels mainly in the form of medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil, olive oil and grassfed butter. Finally, protein, which along with fatty acids helps to slow down the absorption of glucose and has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels, was included in the form of wild-caught fish – which contains omega fatty acids to reduce inflammation, grass-fed beef, organic chicken, lamb, lentils, eggs, feta cheese and bone broth.
“Jenny was encouraged to eat low glycaemic index (GI) foods – this is a measure of the blood glucose raising potential of the carbohydrates we consume. Therefore, non-starchy vegetables which include cauliflower, cabbage and leeks along with low GI fruits, for example berries, were included in the diet.
“Exercise is also an important aspect when it comes to reversing type 2 diabetes. Glucose is changed to glycogen and stored in the muscles, as exercise helps to maintain and build muscle while reducing body fat, exercise can help to control blood glucose levels.”
And the results of the plan speak for themselves, as Jeraldine explains. “After we worked together for 12 weeks, Jenny’s weight had dropped to 10st 8lbs, her HBa1C level was 36, her liver function test showed normal levels and she only needed to take two types of medication.
“Her energy levels were boosted, she had no more headaches, had reduced stress, her digestion improved and she was sleeping well. She told me she hadn’t felt this good in years, and although she’d still like to lose another 8lb, she felt like a new person and said I’d ‘given her her life back’”.
Jeraldine Curran is founder of The Food Nutritionist. Visit Wthefoodnutritionist.co.uk
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