We all know that living a healthy lifestyle can be extremely influential on our general health and wellbeing. Eating well, moving more and looking after our mental health can help to prevent many chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and increase our longevity.
Next week is National Diabetes Week and I would like to tell you a little bit about the two main types of diabetes, how you could unexpectantly be at risk of type 2 diabetes and what you can do to prevent it.
Diabetes occurs when there is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Some of you may be aware that the two main types of diabetes include type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and occurs when the body does not produce any insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes has a genetic and environmental link and occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin does not work well enough.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the body in response to high blood glucose levels. Insulin allows glucose to be transported from the blood stream into the body’s cells to be used as energy.
Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, may be prevented - or its onset delayed - with a healthy lifestyle. In saying that, type 2 diabetes is much more complex than people believe and people diagnosed with the condition do not always fit the stereotype of an overweight person who may not lead the healthiest of lifestyles.
That is why National Diabetes Week is everybody’s business as you may be unexpectantly at risk.
There are many lifestyle factors that we can improve to reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes including quitting smoking, moving more and maintaining the healthiest weight we can. However, there are also many risk factors that cannot be changed, include having a family member with type 2 diabetes, coming from an Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander background or if you had gestational diabetes in a past pregnancy. To learn more about your risk complete this free online tool.
While living a healthy lifestyle and preventing excess weight gain can reduce the risk or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, the co-existence of the weight loss industry promoting every pill and fad and an obesogenic environment exhibiting convenient food options at arm’s reach, ‘living a health lifestyle’ is a concept that is often blurred.
As a dietitian I do not recommend specific ‘diets’ or restricting any nutrient or food group for weight loss. Instead, I encourage people to focus on a balanced way of eating that becomes a lifestyle of enjoying core food groups - with some indulgence just some of the time.
When we look at a lifestyle that is leading the way to help lower diabetes incidence, manage a healthy weight and reduce cardiovascular disease, there is no doubt in my opinion that the Mediterranean way is winning.
For a start, when we compare the Australian Dietary Guidelines with the Mediterranean way there are definitely similarities with the encouragement of fruit, vegetables, lean meats, legumes, dairy and whole grains. However, lets take a closer look at how our eating patterns may differ with the Mediterranean way.
An extra drizzle of olive oil please!
The Mediterranean way is not consistent with the potentially outdated approach of low fat eating as it boasts a good intake of foods rich in healthy fats such as nuts, oily fish and an extra drizzle of olive oil. These fats are protective against cardiovascular disease, a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Hold the red meat
Red meat intake is low in the Mediterranean way of eating with the predominant protein sources being legumes, fish, shellfish and white meats such as chicken and turkey. Replacing red meat with these alternatives (most days of the week) may help to lower the unhealthy, saturated fat in your diet.
Lots of legumes
Legumes are a main feature in the Mediterranean diet. Whether canned or dried, legumes such as lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas really are nature’s own ‘super food’ as these little beans are loaded with various nutrients such as protein, fibre, healthy fats and low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates. Even better, all of these nutrients are delivered at a low cost and can be served as a source of protein in replace of meat. It is recommended to enjoy these little gems at least 2-3 times a week.
Fill up on vegetables
Every healthy way of eating includes plenty of vegetables, including the Mediterranean way. Filling up on non-starchy vegetables will only provide you with the goodness of fibre, vitamins and minerals without the extra energy you may not require. Starchy carbohydrates such as potato, sweet potato and corn are also important, however if your energy requirements do not call for a large serve just allocate these vegetable to one quarter of your plate, just enough to keep you satisfied.
Nuts about nuts
The Mediterranean people are just nuts about nuts and so are we. If you followed a published ‘low fat’ diet you would automatically put the nuts back on the shelf after carefully reviewing the nutrition information panel. This is because nuts possess a large amount of fat. However, this fat is the healthy type that is responsible for reducing cholesterol levels. Furthermore, nuts are packed with nutrients such as vitamin E (an antioxidant), zinc, B vitamins and fibre just to name a few. Although they are high in fat, there is evidence to show that enjoying a small handful a day (30g to be exact) can assist with weight loss, potentially due to the ability of nuts to keep us satisfied in a small dose. Any tree nut is a healthy choice, so whether is it macadamias, pistachios, almonds or cashews, just hold the salt, and you have yourself a perfect healthy snack.
Just like every healthy way of eating it is about the whole diet - not just one food group or nutrient in particular.
So take a leaf out of the lifestyle of the Mediterranean and pay closer attention to some of the points above to help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
It will be good for you!