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Dr Douglas Street: Fighting Diabetes with diet and lifestyle

Published:Tuesday | December 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Diabetes is quite prevalent in almost all societies and causes significant impact financially and otherwise. Type 2 diabetes is essentially a lifestyle disease and can probably be prevented if the correct steps are taken. It tends to run in families, so most of those who develop it knew they were at risk.

Studies have shown that diabetes develops partly as a result of high inflammation, so taking measures to control inflammation can go a far way in its prevention and treatment.

Drinking adequate water is very important. A diabetic should probably be drinking about 10 to 12 glasses of water daily to cut risk of complications. Getting enough rest is very important. Inadequate and improper rest increases the risk of diabetes and worsens diabetes control. Rest should be seven to nine hours starting no later than 10 p.m., and at least one day should be taken off each week.

Exercise is also important for a diabetic as it reduces inflammation and directly reduces blood sugar. It improves the composition of the microbiome (normal flora of the large intestines), which is another important factor in the development and treatment of diabetes. As discussed before, exercise should be done for about 30 minutes about four to five days weekly. (Excessive exercise can be harmful.)

Exercise also gives the opportunity to get fresh air and some healthy sunshine. Healthy sunshine can be obtained from sunrise to about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to sunset. This exposure can help in the production of vitamin D, which has been shown to reduce inflammation. Because melanin absorbs UV light, those of us with black skin tend not to be so efficient at producing vitamin D. Of note, diabetes is more common and worse in blacks.

The diet of a diabetic should be aimed at reducing inflammation and the slow absorption of nutrients into the body. Calories should be obtained mainly from unprocessed plant-based sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and ground provisions. Animal-based foods, especially when processed, should be restricted or avoided. Alcohol and cigarettes should be avoided. Eating heavily after 4 p.m. should be avoided and probably should be restricted to fruits or vegetables.

Vegetables should be consumed in preference to fruits. Sugars, processed foods, and foods containing them should be avoided. Artificial sweeteners should be avoided as they can worsen glucose control. Avoiding fried foods, dairy (except fermented ones like yoghurt), and foods with flour can improve sugar control as well.