Article by Fleur Brown
According to Diabetes UK, nearly 3.6 million people are living with Diabetes Type 2 in the UK. Diabetes is the fastest growing health threat of our times and an urgent public health issue. Since 1996, the number of people living with diabetes has more than doubled. If nothing changes, it is estimated that more than five million people in the UK will have diabetes within the next five years.
Diabetes Type 2 is primarily a disease of insulin “resistance” when the cells become insensitive to the effects of insulin. Insulin is needed to facilitate the uptake of glucose into the cells but if your cells are resistant to insulin, they will not be able to take glucose from your blood into them, thus causing an increase of glucose in the blood – diabetes.
A two-pronged strategy is required – one is to reduce blood glucose levels and the other, to reduce insulin resistance. This can be achieved by eating the right diet and doing moderate regular exercise to help make the cells more “sensitive” to insulin, thereby reducing the amount of glucose circulating in the blood.
Taking these steps can help lessen the risk of developing Diabetes Type 2 especially if you are pre-diabetic (get your HbA1C level checked by your GP to ascertain this), lessen the progression of diabetes or even in some cases, reverse Diabetes Type 2.
Nine Steps to Improving Insulin Sensitivity
- Eat a low carbohydrate diet as carbs ultimately turn into glucose in the blood. Limit your daily intake to one slice of rye bread or two sugar-free oatcakes with breakfast OR lunch. Cut out breakfast cereals, and have one serving of grains such as a cup of brown rice/wholegrain pasta/quinoa with dinner. Only eat starchy veggies such as potatoes a couple of times per week. You could try mashed or roasted cauliflower instead of mashed or roast potatoes, courgette spirals instead of pasta, and sliced aubergines as an alternative pizza base.
- Eat good fats. Half an avocado and a handful of unsalted nuts daily, drizzle a good amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on salads and veggies and enjoy oily fish four times per week. This can include tinned sardines/mackerel in olive oil, smoked mackerel, wild salmon (smoked or fresh), and fresh herrings, trout, sardines and mackerel. Eat small amounts of good quality dairy such as full fat natural organic Greek yoghurt, cheeses and grass-fed butter
- Cook with the right fats. Use coconut oil, duck and goose fat, lard, grass-fed butter and extra virgin olive oil (the latter two should never be heated to smoking or burning point).
- Avoid or greatly reduce any foods with sugar (and artificial sweeteners to “wean” yourself off the taste of sweet foods). Reducing sugar reduces the amount of glucose in the blood.
- Have lots of vegetables. At least five, ideally seven, portions of vegetables and salad vegetables are recommended daily. You can include vegetables at breakfast remember such as an omelette or scrambled eggs cooked in butter with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and baby leaf spinach – that’s three! Go for a salad-based meal for lunch and two or three servings of veggies – roasted, steamed or stir-fried for your evening meal.
- Limit fruit (high in sugar). It’s sensible to avoid the very sweet ones such as mangoes, pineapple, grapes, melon and papaya. Have one or a maximum of two portions of fruit daily – and focus on low sugar fruit such as berries.
- Optimise your Vitamin D. Having a good level of Vitamin D (between 100 nmol/L to 200 nmol/L) can help improve insulin sensitivity. Get the level checked by your GP and if low, supplement with some Vitamin D and retest after three months to ensure you have reached a good level – ideally around 150 nmol/L.
- Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise done on a regular basis can also help improve the cells’ sensitivity to insulin and thus help lower blood glucose. Twenty minutes of brisk walking four or five times weekly, swimming, aerobic classes, rebounding, dancing – are all perfect for this. A mixture is always good and more fun to do – walking outdoors twice a week, going to a dance class once a week, rebounding at home twice per week – and there you are, doing regular moderate exercise five times per week.
- Avoid (or greatly reduce) “fast” food. This includes processed meals and takeaways. Many are laden with salt and more importantly for diabetics or pre-diabetics – sugar in some form or another. Read labels carefully when buying a pre-prepared meal and avoid any with high carbs/starches such as mashed potato or baked potato and sugar.
Please note: if you are taking insulin to control your diabetes, you should check yourself regularly when making nutritional or other changes and adjust your daily intake accordingly with help of your GP or diabetes nurse.
Fleur Brown is a functional nutritionist with more than 25 years’ experience. She runs a busy clinic in Tunbridge Wells, Kent and specialises in working with people diagnosed with chronic diseases including Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Depression, Infertility, Diabetes (Type 2) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.