One alarming study shows that around half of adult type 2 diabetics aren’t even aware they’re suffering from the condition – that’s around 232 million people living unknowingly with a life-threatening disease. We’ll be unpacking how this is possible, plus what you can do to reduce your risk of developing the condition.
Diabetes is one of the major global health epidemics sweeping every corner of the earth – from Australia to the United States of America to India, where the study was produced, we’re seeing soaring rates of this condition, affecting a whopping 436 million people. But a more concerning trend is the growing number of people who are completely oblivious to their affliction with the disease – and considering over 4 million deaths were attributed to type 2 diabetes in 2019 alone, it’s more than a little concerning that masses may not be managing their condition. While more conservative studies place the undiagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes closer to 45% and around 30% in the USA, the general consensus is that there are too many people unaware of their illness.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition that affects the way in which our bodies process glucose, with the main dysfunction being that the body either produces too little insulin, or it resists is altogether – this then means that your blood sugar levels will be elevated at a dangerously high level. The consequences range from increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke, to nerve damage.
How can people have type 2 diabetes without knowing?
You’re probably wondering how it’s possible that up to 50% of type 2 diabetes sufferers are unaware of their condition – but the reason for this is all to do with the symptoms, or the lack thereof. Some people may be insulin resistant and have no symptoms that accompany this, while others may experience symptoms that are easily ignored. These could include:
- Increased thirst
- Urinating more frequently
- Losing weight unintentionally
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing cuts
While these symptoms may be concerning, they might not cause us enough pain to seek medical assistance. Many people presume there are other factors at play like stress or inadequate sleep.
There are a few factors that increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes:
- You’re aged over 40
- You have a relative with diabetes
- You’re overweight or obese
If these symptoms and risk factors are resonating with you, it’s worth hitting up your doctor for a check-up. Without proper care, type 2 diabetes can lead to eye problems, foot problems – which can require amputation – along with heart attacks and kidney failure.
How to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes
Cut out processed foods and added sugar: Excess sugar consumption has been directly linked to insulin resistance, not to mention it can cause one of the major risk factors for diabetes – obesity. With rates of obesity having tripled since 1975 and studies finding sugar to be one of the driving causes, it becomes all the more concerning that, on average, Aussies consume around 15 teaspoons of added sugar each day – this is more than double the 6-teaspoon recommendation for women.
Processed foods are known for their added-sugar content, along with being stripped of fibre, which we need to balance our hormones, blood sugars and digestive health. This is because fibre slows our absorption of sugar, which then improves digestion and lowers blood sugar levels. This nutrient is essential for preventing the development of type 2 diabetes, along with reducing the symptoms for those already living with it. When you eat heavily-processed foods like some breads, juice, chips, fast food and refined oils, you lose that essential fibre, and the results are not good. You end up with a product that spikes your blood sugars – in the short term this can leave you with uncomfortable symptoms like:
- Increased thirst
- Tingling hands
- Mood swings
Sounds fun, right? But we haven’t even gotten into the long-term consequences yet – regular consumption of these foods can not only lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, but a whole host of other conditions like heart disease, liver disease and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Eat whole foods: It’s important to replace those ultra-processed foods with real, whole foods that are minimally processed. These foods are not only more nutritious, they’re also more satiating, which reduces your sugar cravings and those midnight snack attacks. You’ll want to increase your intake of potassium-rich foods like bananas and quinoa – the latter packs 15% of our daily needs. For comparison, a more processed grain like white rice only provides 2% of our daily potassium needs. When we don’t have enough potassium, our body makes less insulin, which then leads to high blood sugars. Studies have found that higher potassium intakes decrease the risk for diabetes, along with drastically improving the severity of existing conditions. Magnesium is another important nutrient which helps regulate blood sugar levels, and increased intake has been found to slash the risk for diabetes by 22%. Go for dark chocolate, avocado and nuts to get your fix of magnesium.
Whole grains like quinoa are also loaded with fibre, which we know is essential for stabilising our blood sugar levels and reducing the chance of developing insulin resistance – and therefore reducing our risk for type 2 diabetes. But here’s where we have a problem – only 5% of us are getting enough fibre, and the uptick in ultra-processed foods is partly to blame, and it’s also why we’re seeing these sky-high rates of diabetes. We only need around 19 to 38 grams per day, and just one cup of quinoa packs 5 grams of the stuff. If you add some whole fruits and veggies, seeds, nuts and legumes to your plate, you’ll soar past the daily recommended intake. So, throw those highly-processed grains off your plate and ditch the fruit juice – whole foods are your ticket to reducing your risk for diabetes. Here are a few other foods to prioritise:
- Fermented foods like yoghurt and sauerkraut
- Healthy fats like avocado, extra virgin olive oil and nuts
- Protein-rich foods like tofu, eggs, seeds and nuts
- Iron-rich foods like legumes, pumpkin and eggs
Get your exercise: Gently exercising for just 5 minutes after eating can reduce blood sugars by 9.5%, so it’s not a bad idea to incorporate a light walk or stretching after a meal to help stabilise your blood sugar levels. Plus, it also provides mental health benefits – the American Psychological Association revealed that that just 5 minutes of exercise can boost our mood significantly. So, get those runners on! Try some of the following low-impact exercises if you’re struggling with getting started:
- Tai chi
Team sports, hiking and mountain biking are a few more rigorous activities that will be beneficial for lowering blood sugars, promoting circulation and even improving digestion. Keep in mind that the official recommendation is between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate exercise, and between 1.5 and 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise. Sticking to this guide will keep you well within the required physical activity levels to ward off type 2 diabetes.
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- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
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