Nutrition, Diabetes and Fitness

There are three types of Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease where the pancreas produces very little insulin or no insulin at all. Type 2 diabetes is, largely a lifestyle disease, found mainly in adults as they get older. Gestation diabetes is developed by pregnant women and it usually goes away after birth. 

This suggests that type 2 diabetes can be both prevented and reversed. So what are the steps that can make sure we never suffer from it, or if we do, we manage to get out of its grip? In truth they are basic, but that’s what also makes them difficult, and they are just three: 

  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Nutrition

While this is the usual formula of “exercise more and eat less” the reality is a lot more involved and a number of very recent studies have given us a lot of what we need to successfully unpack it. Diabetes type 2 can be controlled with drugs but these sometimes have unpleasant side-effects and the quality of life of the sufferer drops, anyway so it is worth exploring the alternatives. 

Exercise for diabetics

A 15-year long study that looked at two control groups, one using diet and exercise and the other medication found that the diet and exercise group fared by far the best, reducing the incidence of diabetes by almost a third, as opposed to just 18% in the group using medication. 

Research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found, for example, that one single session of moderate exercise can improve the way your body regulates glucose and reduces the spikes in blood sugar that occur after a meal. Others studies have shown that anything between 3.5 and 6 hours of exercise a week can help reverse diabetes type 2. 

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association have issued guidelines stating that moderate aerobic exercise corresponding to about 60% of VO2 Max, practiced three times a week with no more than 2 consecutive days between bouts of activity, and with a total duration of about 150 minutes per week would be sufficient to begin to show results. 

Beginners could start with brisk walks and vigorous swimming and then, as their physical conditioning improves, move on to slightly more demanding aerobic activity. 

Resistance exercise should be undertaken at least twice weekly on nonconsecutive days involving either moderate or vigorous workouts. The study however found that combined aerobic and resistance training three times a week in individuals with type 2 diabetes may be of greater benefit to BG control than either aerobic or resistance exercise alone. 

Diet for Diabetics

Diet can no more be divorced from effective diabetes type 2 prevention than it can from any other aspect of fitness and exercise. But that doesn’t mean restrictions. As a matter of fact restrictions, quite naturally, lead to over-indulging in other foods and also breaking the restrictions from time to time which means that overall health and weight goals are compromised. 

Studies have shown that high-fat diets affect insulin production in the body and increase the likelihood of type 2 diabetes. So a reduction in fat intake is the first step. In addition to this, the latest studies have indicated that when diabetics eat vegetables and protein first and carbohydrates afterwards in their meal, glucose levels in the blood drop. While more work needs to be done in this area, the suggestion is that the way foods are combined and the order in which they are consumed affects the chemical processes of the body in ways that can help those with diabetes type 2. 

When it comes to protein a recent study found that people who ate diets high in red meat, especially processed red meat, had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who rarely ate red or processed meat, so protein quality does matter. 

As a matter of fact in what is definitely good news for those who suffer from diabetes and exercise, researchers discovered that whey protein, which is used by athletes and weightlifters to improve fitness, stimulates the production of a gut hormone, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which boosts insulin.

From a dietary point of view then diabetes sufferers should: 

  • Reduce fat in their diets
  • Generally have diets that in the long term are low in fat and carbs
  • Eat vegetables and protein first in their meals and carbohydrates last
  • Make sure there is high quality protein in their diet and use whey as a means of boosting their protein intake

For diabetes type 2, in particular, there is the suggestion that a diet that is high in protein can reverse the disease and when combined with exercise it can potentially cure it. 

Nutrition for Diabetics

One of the problems with diabetes of all types is the fact that it damages nerve endings leading to reduced feedback, slowed responses and an impaired control over our body. The medical term for this is peripheral neuropathy and it can seriously affect the quality of life of diabetes sufferers. 

There is good news here too with studies showing that nerve damage can be reversed provided nutrition is improved to include: Alpha lipoic acid (which protects nerve cells from further damage and assists in the repair of damaged nerve cells), L-arginine, (to improve blood flow), Omega-3s and omega-6s (which also aid in nerve repair) and B vitamins (there is some evidence that taking a balanced B complex, helps with peripheral neuropathy). 

Having some extra virgin olive oil in the diet can help reverse a lot of the nerve damage and may also help combat type 2 diabetes directly. 

Summing up

Type 2 diabetes does not have to be a permanent condition but we do need to take active control of our lifestyle by making the right choices in terms of staying fit, losing some weight and eating foods that help our body stay healthier. The quality of protein we consume is also important particularly when it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes or reducing its impact, when it is already present. 

The body is a complex chemical factory. When things go awry we can still work to improve its chances of rebalancing and recovering through our own actions. 

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