Feature Articles

Preventing and Reversing Pre-Diabetes (and Type II Diabetes Too!)

In my last article, I warned you of the dangers of pre-diabetes and discussed its risk factors, as well as tests you can have your Health Coach perform to determine if you have or are at risk for developing pre-diabetes. This week, I'm sharing self-care measures you can take to prevent and often reverse pre-diabetes. In many cases, these self-care tips will also benefit people suffering from type II diabetes.

There three major factors that can help you prevent and reverse pre- and type II diabetes: proper diet and appropriate nutritional and herbal supplementation, exercise, and weight management.

Proper diet is critical for both preventing and treating pre-and type II diabetes. One of the most important dietary precautions you can take is to eliminate all refined sugars and sugar products from your diet. Such products include corn syrup and sweeteners, cornstarch, dextrose, dextrin, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, lactose, malt, maltodextrin, maltose, mannitol, sorbitol, sorghum, sucrose, and xylitol. Also reduce or eliminate your intake of alcohol and caffeine; avoid fast, processed "junk" foods and soda, altogether; and eat protein snacks between meals.

To help your body better regulate blood glucose levels, also take care to control your overall carbohydrate intake, replacing simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrate foods such as whole grains, beans, legumes, and other fiber-rich vegetables. Eating five to six small meals a day, instead of the traditional three larger meals, can also help balance blood sugar levels and prevent excessively high insulin spikes after eating. In addition, a vegetarian diet high in organic vegetables and complex whole grains, along with small intakes of fruits (as opposed to fruit juices), has also been found to be helpful for many people suffering from Type II diabetes, and will therefore also benefit pre-diabetics. Jerusalem artichoke is another food that can help pre- and type II diabetics control blood sugar levels.

For most people, a diet that consists of 55 to 60 percent complex carbohydrates, 15 to 20 percent protein (with a minimum of 45 grams of protein per day), and 20 to 25 percent healthy fats will prove to be most helpful. In addition, you should to increase your fiber intake to a daily level of 40 to 50 grams of fiber, with 10 to 15 grams of soluble fiber. High-fiber foods like beans and whole grains can be added slowly, perhaps at a rate of one per week, along with an increase in your intake of pure, filtered water.

Eating According to the Glycemic Index
Another important dietary tip is eat meals that contains an abundance of low-glycemic (low-sugar) foods. By doing so you can significantly improve your body's ability to maintain low insulin and blood sugar levels.

Low-glycemic foods include raw, organic leafy green vegetables, fruits that contain pits, sweet potatoes, yams, organic whole-grain breads and cereals, most legumes and nuts, skim and buttermilk, poultry, white fish, shellfish, and lean cuts of beef and veal.

Foods with a high-glycemic rating include white breads, bagels, English muffins, commercially packaged cereals, cookies, pastries, and most other desserts, raisins and dried fruits, whole milk and cheeses (both of which are high in lactose, a type of sugar), peanuts, peanut butter, hot dogs, and luncheon meats. Such foods are best avoided altogether.

In addition to the above dietary guidelines, be sure to never skip breakfast, which, as we discussed last week, is your most important meal of the day.

Nutritional and Herbal Supplements
In addition to a healthy diet, many people at risk for or who already have pre- or type II diabetes will also benefit from various nutritional and herbal supplements.

Among the most beneficial nutritional supplements are biotin (vitamin B7) and vitamin D, along with the minerals chromium, an magnesium. The antioxidants alpha lipoic acid and pycnogenol can also help. Before beginning a nutritional supplement program, however, it is wise to seek the assistance of physician trained in their use or to work with a certified clinical nutritionists.

Useful herbs for preventing and reversing pre- and type II diabetes include the Ayurvedic herb gymnesyl (Gymnema sylvestre), fenugreek seeds, huereque (derived from the root of a Mexican cactus), bilberry, bitter melon, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, mulberry leaves, olive leaves, and ginseng. Heart and vascular tonics made from hawthorn berry and ginkgo biloba can also be useful.

Note: When taking herbs that lower blood sugar levels, it is important to monitor blood sugar and urine closely. As with nutritional supplements, before using herbal remedies it is wise to first consult a skilled practitioner who can guide you in the use of herbs as part of a comprehensive pre- and type II diabetes management plan.

Regular exercise should be part of every diabetic's daily routine. Exercise in combination with a weight loss program has been proven by the National Institutes of Health to reduce the odds of developing diabetes by 58 percent among people who are at risk for the disease. That is nearly double the rate of risk reduction achieved by people who take oral medications for their diabetes symptoms.

Exercise is extremely helpful for pre- and type II diabetes because of how it mimics the proper function of insulin to open the muscle cells for glucose to enter. Light exercise-which may include walking, swimming, bicycling, or any other of your favorite daily activities that result in a temporary increase in heart rate, as well as sweating-not only helps to control weight, but also helps to oxygenate tissues as well as lowering and stabilizing blood sugar levels.

The overall goal of your exercise program should be to build up muscle while reducing your body fat content. By doing so, you will be bringing your body mass index (BMI) down to a level that supports optimal health. For men, an ideal BMI is between 14 to 17 percent, while for women a healthy BMI range is between 21 to 24 percent. The easiest way to achieve this two-fold goal of burning fat and building muscle is to engaging in 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week, and to spend 30 minutes two or three times a week performing strength training exercices.

Caution for Diabetics
If you require insulin injections to manage your diabetes, be aware that exercising too strenuously can cause blood glucose to quickly drop to dangerously low levels, resulting in hypoglycemia. To prevent or counteract such a reaction, eat a fast-absorbing carbohydrate snack or drink a glass of orange juice.

Weight Management
As we also discussed last month, being overweight is perhaps the most serious risk factor for pre- and type II diabetes, as well as many other serious chronic disease conditions, including heart disease and cancer. Therefore, if you are overweight, one of your main goals needs to be slimming down to your ideal healthy weight.

When it comes to weight loss, you want to be a tortoise, not a hare. That's because the "slow but surely" consistent loss of one to two pounds each week has been shown in numerous studies to be a far more effective way to lose weight and keep it off compared to rapid weight loss strategies that invariably result in all lost weight being regained over time, and often with additional pounds to boot. The above dietary and exercise recommendations can go a long way to helping you achieve and maintain your weight loss goals. However, for best results, try to work with a Health Coach experienced in successful weight loss techniques. In addition to helping you create a weight-loss plan that is specific to your individual needs, he or she can also assist you with your exercise goals. And, of course, they can also monitor your progress during your journey back to optimal health by performing follow-up tests that can indicate if additional health measures are necessary.

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