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Need help with modern lifestyle diseases? A healthy diet can help!

healthy eating tips for diabetes, lifestyle diseases and chronic illness

With the recent holiday season and new year's celebrations around, it's easy to get caught up in all the festive treats and goodies that seem to be everywhere. While there's nothing wrong with indulging in a sweet treat every now and then, it's important to remember the impact added sugars can have on our health, particularly for those living with diabetes.

Diabetes is a serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide. One in 11 adults - or an estimated 9% of the global population - is struggling with diabetes. The number is increasing at an alarming rate.

To manage diabetes effectively or to avoid it altogether, you will need to be aware of your diet and exercise habits; So, this holiday season, let's try to comprehend 'sugar' a bit better.

The true scale of the problem

Diabetes is a global health problem and affects people of all ages worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 422 million people living with diabetes worldwide as of 2021. This number has nearly quadrupled since 1980. Also, an estimated 4.9 million deaths occur each year due to the condition, making diabetes a significant global health issue.

India is one of the countries most affected by the disease, with an estimated 77 million people suffering from diabetes. This makes India the second most populous country with diabetes after China.

The symptoms of diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic and progressive disease affecting millions of people worldwide.  It occurs when our bodies are unable to produce or use insulin properly. This results in an increase in blood sugar levels, which can lead to a range of complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and blindness. It's important to understand the severity of diabetes and the importance of managing it properly in order to prevent serious complications from occurring.  

The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. However, type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, cannot be prevented. Both types of diabetes require ongoing management through medication and blood sugar monitoring.

The main symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination

  • Increased hunger

  • Unexpected weight loss

  • Blurred vision, shaking hands or feet, or other nerve problems like tingling hands and feet

How can we manage or prevent diabetes?

Diet:  

A healthy diet plays a significant role in managing diabetes. Eating a balanced diet (low in fat, salt, and sugar) is vital to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. It is also important to control portions and avoid processed and fried foods

In addition to causing blood sugar spikes, a diet high in processed foods can also contribute to weight gain and an increased risk of other health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer.

People with diabetes need to pay attention to their food choices and avoid processed foods as much as possible. Instead, they should aim to eat a diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. A vegan diet may be beneficial as well. This can help support healthy blood sugar levels and overall health.

Here are some practical tips to reduce risk or control diabetes:

Avoid processed foods: Processed foods are foods that have been modified in some way, such as through canning, freezing, or adding preservatives. These foods are often high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium, which can contribute to high blood sugar levels and negative health outcomes in people with diabetes.

When people with diabetes eat foods that are high in added sugars or unhealthy fats, their blood sugar levels may spike, leading to a temporary increase in energy followed by a crash. This can be especially problematic for people taking insulin or other medications to manage their blood sugar levels, as it can interfere with the effectiveness of the medication.

Eating a wholesome diet: A wholesome diet can include many choices and can be tailored to personal preferences. Overall, try to follow some ground rules, such as: 

  • Eating a variety of nutritious foods: This includes plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins (Beans, nuts, chickpeas, rajma, all kinds of lentils, eggs, fish, lean cuts of chicken etc.). Eat fruits in moderation. Try to include all vegetables of all colours (shades of greens, oranges, and purples) in your diet. Maintaining variety in your diet is the best way to maintain excellent health and break the monotony.

  • Swapping processed grains with whole grains: Try to swap white rice with brown rice, quinoa, and various kinds of millets and other options with a lower glycemic index whenever you can.

  • Improving fibre and regular water intake: Fiber intake plays a significant role in digestion, gut health, satiety, and immunity. Adequate hydration and fibre intake can do wonders for our overall health and significantly help manage diabetes.

Low glycemic foods are foods that are less likely to cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. This is important for people with diabetes because high blood sugar levels can lead to serious health complications if not properly managed.

The National Health Services in the UK defines ‘Glycemic index (GI) as a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels’. Foods with a high GI are absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream and can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar. Low GI foods, on the other hand, are absorbed more slowly and can help keep blood sugar levels stable.

Eating low-glycemic foods can benefit people with diabetes because it can help prevent blood sugar spikes and improve overall blood sugar control. In addition to helping manage blood sugar levels, a diet that includes low glycemic foods may also help with weight management and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

Examples of low-glycemic foods include whole grains, nuts, beans, and most vegetables. People with diabetes need to take the required curative and preventive healthcare measures. Work with a healthcare team to determine the best dietary plan for your individual needs.

Exercise:

WHO attributes the global trend of decreased physical activity in humans as the biggest contributor to the diabetes pandemic. Most of us do a job where we sit all day, and new hobbies like binge-watching OTT and TV have made us sedentary in our leisure time as well. Add daily work travel (or working from home) to that, and we barely move throughout the day. This is typically not the way human bodies work. Movement is vital for the regular functioning and upkeep of our bones, muscles, nerves, and circulation systems. 

Move as much as you can. Get regular exercise. Engaging in regular physical activity, such as cycling, walking, running, or participating in sports, can help improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels and hence reduce the risk of diabetes. 

It is important to check with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program.

Along with managing diabetes, exercise has many other benefits in terms of mental health and happiness, quality of life, and longevity.  

Other important tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing diabetes. Losing excess weight through diet and exercise can help prevent the disease.

  • Don't smoke: Smoking increases the risk of developing diabetes and can worsen the complications of the disease.

  • Limit alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing diabetes. Limiting alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men can help reduce the risk.

  • Monitor blood sugar levels regularly: Regular blood sugar monitoring can help individuals with diabetes understand how different foods, medications, and activities affect their blood sugar levels. This can help them make adjustments to their diabetes management plan as needed.

  • Take medications as prescribed: It is important for individuals with diabetes to take their medications as prescribed by their healthcare provider. This can help them achieve and maintain reasonable blood sugar control and reduce the risk of complications.

  • Get regular medical check-ups: Regular medical check-ups can help individuals with diabetes identify and address potential problems early on. This can include check-ups for eye health, foot health, and other possible complications of diabetes.

  • Educate yourself: Learning about diabetes and how to manage the disease can help individuals make informed decisions about their health. This may include learning about medications, blood sugar monitoring, and lifestyle modifications.

In closing

Managing or avoiding diabetes requires a multi-faceted approach that includes diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle modifications. Work closely with a healthcare team, develop a plan that works best for you and stick to good habits. 

  • Eat in moderation, and do not skip meals. Eat a more balanced diet. Choose foods with a low glycemic index.

  • Exercise regularly, rest well, and avoid smoking and drinking.

With the right lifestyle changes, it is possible to manage and even prevent diabetes!