It’s a myth that people with a sweet tooth are at higher risk of diabetes. While food has some part to play in the development of the disease, scientists have found diabetes arises due to a complicated combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Sugar is indirectly linked to diabetes because excessive sugar intake increases your calorie intake – and if you don’t burn off these excess calories, you may become overweight – a major risk factor for diabetes.
Diabetes is a condition caused by insulin resistance – when your cells cannot recognise the hormone insulin, and fails to absorb glucose and convert it to fuel. Some indications that one is prone to insulin resistance include:
If someone has any, or a combination of, these factors, there may be a higher risk of diabetes developing. However, all is not lost. Type 2 diabetes is largely a lifestyle disease – which means it can be prevented and managed with some adjustments to one’s diet and activity levels.
Addressing diabetes risk factors
As with many chronic illnesses, it’s important to understand, address and monitor the risk factors of a disease. One way to start is to screen regularly for the disease – especially if there is a family history or any other risk factors. This will give a good baseline against which to monitor changes in one’s health status.
Most importantly, early screening may help alert us to danger signs of near- or pre-diabetes. This the window period in which the blood sugar level is higher than normal, but does not yet meet the level where diabetes is diagnosed. In fact when one is pre-diabetic, there’s still time to ‘turn back the clock’ and reverse, prevent or delay the onset of diabetes.
This calls for changes in lifestyle and diet – two factors that play a key role in the prevention (and management) of diabetes. Because being overweight is a major contributing factor, one of the first and most impactful preventative steps to stave off diabetes is weight loss.
While it is best to maintain a body mass index (BMI) of below 23, every little bit of weight loss helps. It’s been found that obese people who lost as little as 5 to 10 per cent of their body weight saw reductions in blood sugar levels.
It’s not hard to get exercise into one’s routine: just 30-minutes of light activity a day can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. This is because physical activity helps muscle cells use glucose in the blood stream for energy, making the cells more sensitive to insulin.
Diet-wise, it’s crucial to include more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains into one’s meals, while reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, white rice, and processed cereals), trans fats, and alcohol consumed. Consider including bittergourd, oily fish and raw nuts several times a week into meals as these may have some effect on lowering blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity.