Diabetes awareness week runs from June 12 to 18 2017. However not a week goes by without some reference to diabetes in the news in the UK. This week our nutritionist Melanie Jones is sharing with us her approach to healthy eating.
In November 2016, 3.6 million people in the UK had been diagnosed with diabetes.(1) it is thought that there remains a further 1 million people who are living with Type II diabetes but have not yet been diagnosed. More worryingly diabetes prevalence is predicted to rise to 5 million by 2025. Whereas Type I diabetes (formerly known as Juvenile onset diabetes) is an autoimmune disease in which the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas fail, Type II diabetes is a largely preventable disease with both nutrition and lifestyle factors playing a role in its development. In Type II diabetes (formerly known as late onset diabetes as it was rarely seen in anyone under 40), the pancreas is still capable of producing insulin but the insulin receptors on the cells become less responsive meaning that less glucose (from our food) is transported into the cells leaving high levels in the bloodstream (hyperglycaemia).This can ultimately lead to diabetic complications such as neuropathy, nephropathy and blindness.
As a nutritional therapist specialising in functional medicine (I am one of less than 20 UK certified practitioners with the Institute for Functional Medicine) I adopt a whole person approach when it comes to advising clients on optimising their health. There is no ‘one diet fits all’ route for clients to follow as the reasons for them having their own particular health challenges can vary. Someone may have the genes that predisposes them to developing a particular disease but their diet and lifestyle may prevent that outcome, whereas someone else may have a low genetic risk of developing that same disease but external influences such as poor diet, low exercise, high stress, low self-esteem and poor support networks make that person more likely to succumb.
There have been studies in areas of the world known as Blue Zones(2) in which it is common for people to live longer than 80 or 90 years old with vibrant health. Although in different geographical locations, there are a number of common life habits that link these groups of people together, such as a sense of purpose, activity as part of everyday living, community networks and a plant-based diet including some form of legume/pulse. A recent study has shown that a higher intake of lentils is associated with a lower incidence of Type II Diabetes(3)
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet has been found in numerous studies to both prevent and reverse the effects of Type II diabetes (4)and can be seen to be largely reflective of the above dietary principles. Although not a specific diet, but rather a collection of dietary habits traditionally followed by the populations of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea(5), it can be described as a dietary pattern characterized by the high consumption of plant-based foods, olive oil as the main source of fat, low-to-moderate consumption of fish, dairy products and poultry, low consumption of red and processed meat, and low-to-moderate consumption of wine with meals. A common misconception is that a Mediterranean diet is based on pasta and pizza style dishes.
The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) Food4Health graphic is representative of the Mediterranean-style diet
As you can see, it is suggested that there be a large contribution from rainbow coloured plant foods, mainly vegetables with a smaller contribution coming from fruit. The other carbohydrate constituents of the diet are from low-glycaemic wholegrains and pulses, with no place for added sugars or refined carbohydrates which are known to contribute to insulin resistance, a precursor to type II diabetes.
This is quite a shift in dietary patterns for many people as it has now become the norm for us to rely on food (or food like products) from packets as our main source of nutrition. It is difficult to make drastic changes but if small steps can be taken on a weekly basis to move further towards a more plant-based whole foods diet, then health outcomes should improve as a result (8). As an example, try adding an extra couple of vegetable servings to your main meal of the day, replace your usual lunchtime sandwich with a big leafy salad topped with some oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, or replace your morning chocolate biscuit with an apple and a few nuts. Above all, added sugars should be kept to an absolute minimum.This is not to say that they should be replaced with artificial sweeteners though as a recent study has found that aspartame, a commonly used low calorie sweetener may affect the body in such a way that it promotes insulin resistance (9)
For too long people have been the victim of food manufacturers who label their products as healthy, low fat, low sugar etc and are drawn in by their expensive advertising campaigns. When one takes time to actually read the ingredients of their food stuffs it can often be found to be of low nutritional value. The message is really that real food does not have a label nor a list of ingredients, but is as close to its natural state as possible.
We must also take responsibility for educating our children and grandchildren in how to nourish themselves with real foods. I was alarmed to hear a radio phone in recently in which a late-teen/twenty something male was asked what he would choose to be his ‘last supper’ to which he responded a ‘Do….s’ (insert pizza brand) and a ‘H…..D..z ‘ (insert ice cream brand). Yet the people that choose to eat unprocessed foods are seen as freaks or ‘health nuts’.
If you would like to learn more about using real foods and holistic approaches to live well into old age with good health then please look at my page for how to book in for a one to one consultation. I will also be working with therapist Nicola Wagstaff in offering ‘Holistic Health and Nutrition Days’ on a seasonal basis starting in November 2017. The interactive day will involve a gentle yoga class, mindfulness meditation, a whole food healthy lunch with the recipes for all the dishes and a nutrition talk on the foods and health supporting tips for the season with a question and answer session to follow. Please use our contact form to be sent booking details so you don’t miss out!
- Diabetes Prevalence 2016 (November2016) Accessed 5.6.2017
- Sociodemographic and Lifestyle Statistics of Oldest Old People (>80yrs) Living on Ikaria Island. The Ikaria Study Accessed 5.6.2017
- Legume consumption is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes in adults Accessed 5.6.2017
- Protective Effects of the Mediterranean Diet on Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome Accessed 5.6.2017
- The Mediterranean diet revisited: evidence of its effectiveness grows Accessed 5.6.2017
- Mediterranean diet for type 2 diabetes: cardiometabolic benefits Accessed 5.6.2017
- ANH Food4Health plate: the starting point for metabolic flexibility. Accessed 5.6.2017
- Improving diet, activity and wellness in adults at risk of diabetes: randomised controlled trial Accessed 5.6.17
- Aspartame: should individuals with Type II Diabetes be taking it? Accessed 5.6.17