How Food impacts risk of developing Diabetes?

India is at the top in the list of diabetic population crossing 72 million. If you want to know the report of WHO read out the given facts by Prashant Wadhwan

Diabetes is the most rapidly growing chronic disease in today’s world. According to International Diabetic Foundation and current stats, India has topped the list in diabetic population crossing 72 million mark.

According to WHO the reasons for this epidemic are:

Rapid urbanization, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diets & tobacco use. Obesity and overweight are the two major risk factor for developing Diabetes. Obesity and overweight are positively correlated with inactivity

and higher calorie consumption than required. Both combined together will increases the risk of developing diabetes from very young age.

Diabetes is generally divided into 2 categories:

  • Type 1: Where there is lack of insulin production
  • Type 2: Where there is problem of ineffective use of insulin or excess sugar due to dietary issues or physical inactivity

Type 2 diabetes is most impacted by our lifestyle and dietary patterns. And yes the type of Foods we consume on daily basis do have an impact on risk of developing Diabetes type 2.

Insulin is a hormone produced by pancreas to metabolize sugar or we can say it signals the cell to take in sugar, burn it to produce energy or signals the body to store it in form of fat when sugar levels are in excess in relative to the amount required.

All carbohydrates are converted into sugar and insulin is released in response to sugar levels in blood. If we eat excess of carbohydrates in relative to the amount required as per our body weight and physical activity, body release excess insulin in order to process the carbohydrates. And when insulin levels are elevated chronically this condition is known as Hyperinsulinemia and this excess of insulin over prolonged time make cells less sensitive to insulin leading to a condition known as Insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means cells stop responding to or low response to signal of insulin which leads to excess of sugar floating in blood.

Eventually our Triglyceride levels rises in blood which indicates the presence of Insulin resistance. This higher than normal amount of sugar and insulin incites the inflammatory cascade. Over prolonged time the pancreas releasing more insulin all the time eventually get fatigued and decrease the production of insulin as there is negative feedback loop system in our body for hormonal functioning.

Now at this stage when there is low insulin, you have excess of sugar floating in blood which is then labelled as Diabetes type 2. You got to doctor and he puts you on drugs for lowering elevated sugar levels artificially.

It is not necessary that everyone has to go through Insulin resistance stage to reach Diabetes type 2, few people skip this phase and get directly into Diabetes type 2 by having lower than normal insulin levels and higher blood sugar levels due to high inflammation where pancreas function is affected or in autoimmune disorder where there is damage to pancreas by antibodies.

So now that we know the diabetes is all about sugar and insulin game and how effectively your body can handle sugar from different sources. Due to increased carbohydrate consumption in form of simple sugars, processed foods and foods containing hidden sugar or other saturated fats we are at risk of developing the

Diabetes type 2: Foods are usually divided into 3 main categories: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats.

Carbohydrates are converted into sugars, protein into amino acids and fats into fatty acids. Carbohydrates have higher insulin response, proteins the moderate and fats have no insulin response. Proteins when processed like whey proteins and certain amino acids have same insulin response as sugar so don’t be fooled by high protein diet with help of protein supplements to prevent diabetes.

Sugar derived from carbohydrates are classified into 3 categories:

  • Monosaccharides (one sugar molecule) like fructose (fruit sugar), glucose (blood sugar) and galactose (milk sugar)
  • Disaccharides (two sugar molecules) like sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and maltose (starch)
  • Polysaccharides (more than two sugar molecules) like starches and fibre in plants, glycogen in animals. Now you can see that most of processed foods and carbohydrates contain are either mono or disaccharides and illicit higher insulin response as compared to plant proteins, fibre or starches because of lack of fibre and other nutritive value.
  • Carbohydrate response to insulin is also defined by Glycemic Index and Glycemic load. Glycemic index doesn’t take into account the serving size of any food and when eaten in combination with other foods. Glycemic index is based on how much 50 g of any food can raise a blood sugar as compared to pure sugar or white bread while Glycemic Load takes into account the typical serving of food eaten and its response to raise blood sugar levels.
  • Glycemic Index can easily misleads us in interpreting the true effect of food on insulin and sugar levels. For example milk, macaroni or pasta have low GI but high Glycemic Load while carrots are typically opposite with high GI have typically lower Glycemic Load.

More frequent meals with mainly carbohydrates also pre disposes body into releasing excess insulin or even meals low in fibre and fat also make pancreas releases more insulin than the normal as the meals containing mainly carbohydrates is digested very fast and stimulate the pancreas to release insulin in order to dispose of that excess sugar surge in the blood. Adding fibre, fat or both delays the gastric emptying and the blood sugar raises slowly and required less insulin and thus controlling and stabilizing blood sugar levels for a longer time. Its best to 3 main well balanced meals in a day to prevent excess dips and high in blood sugar levels. I must say that if you are feeling hungry earlier than 4-5 hours after having meals then you need to watch the food or combination of food in the meals.

So we see how food especially carbohydrates impact insulin release and how excess insulin and sugar increase the risk of developing diabetes. Another risk as mentioned above of excess insulin and sugar levels that they can increase inflammation in the body by increasing the production of free radicals. This inflammation when becomes chronic can lead to other disease such as heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer and even cancer. 

Current studies also support that high protein diet (especially meat) is pro inflammatory and can lead to serious chronic diseases and also increase the risk of developing diabetes due to higher free radical production. If you are meat eater choose meat that is free of any harmful antibiotics, hormones or heavy metals (grass fed meat can be eaten in moderation).  High amount of meat in diet also disturb the normal human intestinal flora which can lead to various health issues. That’s we need to add more fibrous vegetables and food high in soluble fibre along with meat diet to prevent this intestinal flora imbalance and decrease the risk of inflammation. 

Having anti diabetic medication is not the solution to cure or treat Diabetes rather following simple things can prevent the risk of developing diabetes or even reverse it too.

Foods or Factors that increases the risk of Diabetes:

  • Processed Foods (hidden sugars and no fibre), processing in itself damages the protein structures and also render food without any nutritive values
  • Trans fatty acids (hydrogenated vegetable oils) and excess saturated fat consumption
  • Additives, colors or artificial flavors (can increase free radical production)
  • High sugar intake in form of drinks, breads or other baked goods
  • High Meat intake or processed meats (increases inflammation)
  • Excess starchy foods (high blood sugar levels)
  • Lack of sleep (decrease insulin sensitivity and increase inflammation)
  • Stress (increases free radical production and can interfere with digestion)
  • Lack of exercise (sugar not metabolized effectively, body becomes less insulin sensitive)
  • Nutrient deficiencies (vitamin D, chromium, omega 3 and magnesium affect insulin sensitivity)
  • Obesity (Increases inflammation and decreases insulin sensitivity)

Tips to decrease risk or reverse Type 2 Diabetes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods in their most natural form
  • Eat enough fibre minimum of 25-35 g per day in form of vegetables, salads, beans, legumes and lentils
  • Add healthy fats to every meal like nuts, seeds, fish oil, avocado and use cold pressed oils for cooking like coconut oil and avocado oil or desi ghee. It will help you to keep full for longer time and prevent craving by stabilizing your blood sugar levels
  • Eat 3 main nutritionally balanced meals rather 4-5 frequent meals
  • Use complex carbs like unpolished brown or red rice, basmati rice, millets, lentils, beans and legumes but limit your carbohydrate intake when you have a sedentary lifestyle. It is fine to have all these if you are physically active. Easy to moderate physical activity for 30-40 minutes 3-4 days week allows you to add more carbohydrates to your meals.

  • Lentils and beans are good source of protein and slow digesting carbs and contain fair amount of soluble fibre which helps to stabilise sugar levels and good for intestinal health
  • Eat meats occasionally and choose the grass fed varieties and combine it with lots of vegetables and salads
  • Drink enough water
  • Eat slowly and chew food
  • Eat mindfully and not just for the sake of filling your stomach
  • Eat rainbow color of foods, variety throughout the day
  • Eat fruits in moderation, as a feast and eat according to seasons and demographics
  • Drink lemon water & herbal teas instead of juices
  • Use spices and herbs in every meal
  • Your meal should consist of more alkaline foods
  • Take care of inflammation or avoid pro inflammatory foods
  • Be physical active and include some kind of physical training 30-45 minutes 4-5 days a week
  • Keep your sleep and wake cycle consistent
  • Take care of sleep
  • Keep saturated fat intake in moderation as it can increase free radical production if in excess

About The Author

Dr. Parshant Wadhawan

He is a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer and Functional Medicine Practitioner. 15+ years of experience in training and nutrition, 4+ years in functional medicine. Dr. Prashant Wadhawan .... Read More..

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