Based on a comprehensive review of randomized clinical trials and observational studies of diabetes and nutrition, investigators at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard School of Public Health have determined that an unhealthy diet is a major contributing factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. And, according to Osama Hamdy, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Director of Joslin’s Obesity Clinical Program and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Nutrition can be used as medicine to prevent and control diabetes in a very effective way.” The researchers found that certain foods and dietary patterns could help prevent type 2 diabetes, even without weight loss.
In recent decades, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the U.S and worldwide. Diabetes is associated with increased mortality, largely due to the vascular complications of the disease. While genetics, obesity, inflammation, family history, lack of physical activity and lifestyle factors, such as excess alcohol consumption and smoking, are all contributing factors, a nutrient dense diet appears to have a huge impact on prevention. While most people associate the word “diet” with fads or deprivation, your diet is actually everything that you consume on a daily basis, whether it’s nutrient dense foods or high calorie foods that contain no nutrient value.
Headlines can be confusing and often times dietary recommendations are contradictory. This much is known–genetics account for approximately 25% of your risk of early death and the remaining 75% can be attributed to your diet, even more so than exercise. While we can’t change our genes, we can control our diet and change our attitudes towards amending our unhealthy habits. According to the National Alliance for Nutrition & Activity, the combination of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity is responsible for 1 of 3 premature deaths. The good news is that, contrary to what many people think, our diets don’t need to be ridiculously restrictive to be healthy.
Simply adopting a more nutritious eating plan, which doesn’t require deprivation or result in rumbling tummies, can lead to a longer, healthier life, free of diabetes and other chronic diseases. Statistics show that those who choose to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean style diet, have a lower risk of developing diabetes. Other eating plans, such as the low-carb/low glycemic index diet or a diet that includes quality plant-based proteins, can improve glycemic control and disease risk factors. Dietary foods that are associated with a higher risk of diabetes include red and processed meats, sugary drinks, refined grains and excessive alcohol.
According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, a diet that includes healthy fats, such as olive, avocado and nut oils, high protein foods such as fish, poultry, dairy, beans and legumes, and high fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is associated with lower risks of developing diabetes and chronic diseases. With this type of eating plan, the quality and type of dietary fats and carbohydrates are more important than the quantity. In other words, when you eat healthy foods, you don’t have to go hungry nor do you need to count calories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only 10% of Americans eat a healthy diet. The Standard American Diet is too high in refined sugars, salt, refined oils and unhealthy fats, and too low in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber. Additionally, 50% of Americans are not physically active, even though regular physical activity helps to prevent diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and some types of cancer. Sadly, 7 of 10 Americans who die each year die of a largely preventable chronic disease.
Nutrient dense foods provide your body with the necessary tools to repair itself, build strength and provide energy. Though we may hear it over and over again, adopting a largely plant based diet with lots of raw vegetables, fresh fruits, legumes and nuts gives your body the fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants it needs for good health and longevity. Some say the health benefit of adopting a plant based diet is the equivalent of quitting smoking. And to keep things in perspective, if you eat healthy, whole foods the majority of the time, you can enjoy those occasional grilled steaks and sweet treats without harming your health.
Cardiologist Dr. Ken Williams, President of the American College of Cardiology puts it all in perspective by stating, “I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want it to be my fault.” Perhaps that’s something to consider before your next trip to the grocery store. Health conscious nutrition may take a little more planning, time and effort, but the health benefits far outweigh what some might consider inconveniences. Convenience, however, can come at a heavy price. Like anything you wish to accomplish in life, you need to put in some effort. If we continue to take good health for granted, we may wake up one day only to discover we no longer possess it.
Research Evidence Affirms that Good Nutrition Can Help Prevent and Control Type 2 Diabetes. http://www.joslin.org/news/Research-affirms-good-nutrition-can-help-prevent-and-control-type2-diabetes.html
Diet, nutrition and the prevention of type 2 diabetes. http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/public_health_nut4.pdf
Healthy Eating. http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/healthy-eating.html
Preventing Diabetes. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/diabetes-prevention/
Reducing Obesity, Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, and Other Diet-and Inactivity-Related Diseases, Costs, and Disabilities. http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/cdc_briefing_book_fy10.pdf