7 ways to start reversing type 2 diabetes today
Reviewed in the United States
Whether you have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or or you’ve been told you’re at risk, read on for 7 ways to start reversing the effects immediately.
Type 2 diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions. There are 3.9 million people living with diabetes – 90 per cent those of being affected by type 2 diabetes. Here’s another shocking statistic: 1 in 3 UK adults has prediabetes, the condition that precedes diabetes.
As you’ll soon see on BBC One’s Doctor in the House, it is entirely possible to both prevent as well as reverse type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, a lot of the advice that is given for the condition is, in my opinion, unhelpful and misguided. Most people think of it as a blood sugar problem but this is the ultimate effect rather than the cause.
WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition that is characterised by chronically elevated blood sugar levels. However, the main cause as well as the driver for this condition is something called Insulin Resistance. When you eat certain foods, particularly refined carbohydrates, that food is converted to sugar inside your body. Your body’s way of dealing with this sugar is to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin moves the sugar inside your cells so that it can be used for energy. Sounds great, right?
Well, yes and no. When working efficiently, this is a fantastic system that helps your body to function well. But when you have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes or significant abdominal obesity, that system does not work so well.
Eating too many refined carbohydrates elevates your insulin levels for long periods of time and your cells start to become resistant to the effects of insulin. Think of this a bit like alcohol. When you start to drink, a single glass of wine can make you feel drunk. Once your body becomes accustomed to drinking, you need more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect. This is what happens in diabetes. You need more and more insulin to do the same thing. The problem is that too much insulin is toxic to the body.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF RAISED INSULIN LEVELS?
- It causes water and salt retention, which causes raised blood pressure
- You become at risk of atherosclerosis (“furring of arteries”), which can lead to heart attacks
- Raised insulin levels increases VLDL (very low density lipoprotein), a type of blood fat and one of the “bad” forms of cholesterol
- Can drive the growth of certain cancer cells
- In women, it can cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone, which is associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Significantly increases your risk of getting type 2 diabetes
The only way to effectively reverse type 2 diabetes (or even pre-diabetes) is to deal with the underlying cause – Insulin Resistance. Trying to address the blood sugar levels (with medication) without addressing the insulin levels is treating the symptoms, not treating the root cause. It is similar to using a bucket to remove water from an overflowing sink rather than actually turning off the tap!
The most important thing to do is to stop adding fuel to the fire. If Insulin Resistance is driving the condition, you need to firstly stop consuming foods that increase insulin production. Secondly, you need to make some lifestyle changes so that you can become sensitive to insulin once again
SO, WHAT FOODS INCREASE INSULIN PRODUCTION
All carbohydrates – to some degree at least – will raise your blood insulin levels. That is why I consider type 2 diabetes a form of “carbohydrate intolerance”. Protein can also raise levels but to a much lesser degree. The only macronutrient that keeps your insulin levels and, therefore, your blood sugar stable is FAT! Therefore, if you are trying to reduce insulin levels, you need to reduce your amount of certain carbohydrates and replace them instead with healthy, natural fats.
What does that mean in terms of actual FOOD CHOICES though?
When I say healthy, natural fat – think nuts and seeds, avocados, omega 3 fats (found in almonds, flax seed and cold water fish, like wild salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna), extra virgin olive oil and whole eggs.
And when I talk about reducing certain carbohydrates, I mainly mean reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and bread. Non starchy vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower) are fine and can be eaten in abundance. Many fruits are packed with carbohydrates, so if you’re trying to reduce your carb intake, try and limit your intake to low-carb fruit, such as rhubarb, watermelon, berries, peaches and blackberries.
It is really important to say that I do not believe that there is one perfect diet for everyone. Different people respond to different diets.
However, if you have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or if you have been told you are at high risk or if you have significant abdominal obesity, here are 7 ways to start reversing the effects immediately:
- Avoid ALL refined carbohydrates. That means no pasta, rice or bread (even wholegrain bread will spike your insulin)
- Avoid ALL added sugar. If your body is already in a state where you cannot process carbohydrates and sugars properly, you are going to have to take steps to fully eliminate all sugars, at least in the short term.
- Avoid ALL sweet drinks. It is best to stick to water, tea, coffee.
- Do not be scared of good quality, healthy, natural fat – avocados, olives, almonds etc. Don’t worry about this causing you to put on weight. A study published in 2003 showed that people who supplemented their diet with almonds lost more weight than those who supplemented with so-called “healthy, complex carbs”
- Do not waste your energy counting calories. Concentrate on the quality of the food that you are eating and the calorie control will take care of itself.
- FEED YOUR GUT BUGS, not just yourself. There are trillions of bugs that live in your gut – their health is critical in determining your health. Many studies show links between the state of your gut bugs (your microbiota) and type 2 diabetes.
Start improving the health of your gut immediately by eating five servings of different coloured vegetables each day. The non digestible fibre in vegetables is the preferred food for your gut bacteria and when your gut bugs are happy, you will be happy. The wider the variety of colours, the more phytonutrients you will be getting.
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7- Do this 5 minute kitchen workout once a day. This could be before breakfast, lunch or dinner – whatever works for you.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to go to the gym to have an effective workout.
My 5 minute kitchen workout is an easy (and free!) way to incorporate strength training into your daily routine
Every day in my practice, my patients tell me they do not have time to exercise. Believe me, I understand this well. Modern life is busy! I too have a consuming job and young kids at home so I know how precious spare time can be.
My 5 Minute Kitchen Workout is something I actually started designing when I was a young kid. While my dinner was being warmed up, I would hit the deck and do press ups and sit ups until my food was ready!
What I’ve discovered as an adult is that the kitchen can be a very productive place to exercise. Just think how often you find yourself in the kitchen throughout the day… waiting for something to boil or for the oven timer to go off. Instead of automatically reaching for your smartphone or the TV remote, why not use the time effectively?
This is a very simple bodyweight workout that can be squeezed into five minutes:
5 – 10 bodyweight squats. Whether your goal is to get stronger, tone up or lose weight, squats are one of the fastest ways to get there. They target every muscle in your body and do wonders at increasing flexibility. You’ll want to stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips with your toes pointed slightly out, keep your back straight and squat down as far as you feel comfortable. Aim to do about 5 – 10 each time. The key is to start small and build up.
5 – 10 calf raises. This exercise targets your calf muscles but works your entire body as you are using your whole body weight. You can do this on the kitchen floor or, even better, on the edge of a step. Lift as high as you can onto your toes and then lower your heels down as much as your ankles will allow. Try and push evenly through the entire width of your foot – you can hold onto the wall if you’re having trouble balancing. As a bonus, if you have stairs in your house, you could also add in 10 step ups on each leg at the base of your stairs.
5 – 10 press ups. An incredibly effective strength building exercise, press ups (or push ups) work both your chest and arm muscles. Place your hands approximately shoulder width apart and lower your chest down between them before pushing back up again. Start against a wall then, as you get stronger, against a kitchen worktop. Eventually you will be able to do them on the floor.
5 – 10 tricep dips. A fantastic way to really target the back of your arms, tricep dips can be done against the kitchen worktop or a stable kitchen chair. Position your hands shoulder-width apart on your chair or kitchen bench and move your bottom off the bench, extending your legs in front of you. Lower your body as low as you can go and then push back up until your arms are straight (try and keep a little bend in the elbows to keep your joints happy).
5 – 10 bodyweight lunges on each leg. Another excellent bodyweight exercise that works your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and core muscles. Try and keep your back straight as you go through the movement. Hold on for support as required. As you become stronger, you can add in a side rotation or lift bottles of olive oil above your head!
Remember, the exercises above are just a guide, feel free to adapt this to suit your own needs and your own kitchen environment.
Doing strength or bodyweight training before meals has been proven to improve blood sugar control and improve muscle sensitivity to insulin – something we could all do with these days.
You may feel silly starting this but why not challenge everyone in the family to do this 5 minute kitchen workout before breakfast or dinner every day? I try and do this with my kids before each meal (and my mother does a version of this in her own kitchen!) If you engage the whole family, it is more likely to be fun and you are more likely to stick to it long term!
- If you like to snack, keep some high fat healthy snacks with you, such as olives, nuts or hummus. When you snack on refined carbohydrates such as biscuits, you go on a blood sugar rollercoaster that results in you feeling hungry shortly after. Fats, on the other hand, will keep you fuller for longer.
- Include high quality protein and fat with EVERY single meal. This helps to stabilise your blood sugars and promotes satiety and fullness, making it less likely that you will want to reach for dessert after your meal.
- Eat your meals sitting down at a table. Eating on the sofa while watching TV encourages a mindless form of eating – this can lead you to eat higher quantities than you otherwise would. If you sit at a table and concentrate on what you’re eating, you are more likely to enjoy your food, feel satisfied at the end of your meal and eat less.
- Consider a form of regular fasting (more to come in a later blog), such as intermittent fasting or time-restricted feeding (TRF). TRF means eating your calories during a specific window of the day, and choosing not to eat food for the rest. It’s a great way to reduce insulin levels in your body and help undo the effects of chronically elevated levels.
As always, I’m here to answer any questions, so please get in touch via Twitter if you’d like to chat.
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