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A gift of diabetes this holiday season

By Dr Cory Couillard

There is no country in the world that does not bear the burden of diabetes, Trinidad and Tobago included. Reports show that there are 120,300 diagnosed cases of diabetes according to the 2012 Diabetes Atlas Update published by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

Diabetes is estimated to kill 4.8 million adults in 2012 alone—one person every seven seconds. Even more frightening is that it's estimated that only half of the diagnoses are even known to the sufferer.    

"Four out of five of the people with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries, where health systems are struggling to keep pace with the growing burden of non-communicable disease," says the IDF.

Type 2 diabetes was once thought to be a disease of the elderly and was reflectively called adult-onset diabetes. The name was forced to change due to the alarming rates of childhood-induced diabetes. 

 

Increased pants size

People get fatter during the holiday season—it's actually expected by many.  It's common to overeat, rely on comfort foods and completely forget about exercising. The holidays are a perfect recipe for developing diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that we only gain about a pound or two during the holidays but the problem is that we never lose it.  Over time the added weight accumulates and can contribute to the development of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

During the holidays it is common to be stressed, over-worked and fatigued. This is a perfect combination that affects the hormones insulin and cortisol. Cortisol is notoriously known to store fat, especially around the abdomen. Abdominal fat is a leading risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.

The cortisol link is one of the reasons that we crave carbohydrates when we're tired.  This will result in eating closer to bedtime and will effectively pack on additional weight. 

 

Junk food junkies

Holiday foods are addictive and it's tough to stop eating. This is due to the powerful effect that sugar has on raising serotonin levels in one's brain.  Serotonin is a "feel-good" hormone and contributes to addiction and the overeating of junk foods. 

It's important to eat more proteins and healthy fats instead of refined carbohydrates. However, it's important to not consume highly processed proteins and fats.  Meats that are in a can, have added preservatives, excessive salt and nitrates are damaging to the body.  The most common hazardous fats are located in cooking oils.  Some of the best oils include olive, avocado and coconut. 

Healthy fat and protein sources include eggs, nuts, cheeses, fish, lean beef and poultry. Proteins and healthy fats do not raise insulin and serotonin levels like processed carbohydrates do.  This will result in less food craving and ultimately improved blood sugar and diabetes control.

 

Alkaline foods combat inflammation

Inflammation has been found to produce insulin resistance and contribute to diabetic complications. Diabetes is known to damage blood vessels, contribute to heart disease and cause premature death. 

Lifestyle factors such as the consumption of alcohol, use of tobacco, excessive stress, deficient sleep, lack of exercise and a poor diet are all known to produce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a form of acidity within the body and the best way to combat acidity is to consume alkaline foods. 

The body's blood pH level must be slightly alkaline in order to heal, function and prevent disease.  One's pH level is ultimately a balance of acidity to alkalinity and is a direct result of the foods one chooses to eat.

Dire health consequences can occur when one chooses to eat too much acid versus alkaline-producing foods.  The body will take away vital stores of alkaline nutrients in the bones and other vital tissues when the nutrients cannot be obtained from food sources. 

Root vegetables tend to have many more minerals than other vegetables. Root vegetables include radishes, beets, carrots, turnips, horseradish and rutabaga.

A recent study found that a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables helped protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease by lowering inflammation levels. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts.

In another study, diets low in cruciferous vegetables but high in sugar, refined grains and processed meat were found to increase inflammation, thus increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard, turnip greens and kale are known to pack a powerful anti-inflammatory punch. They are also very nourishing and some of the best-known sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Other vegetables such as onions and garlic have been found to have super-food qualities as well. They are loaded with a potent antioxidant called quercetin. Quercetin is known to stimulate one's immune system and reduce inflammation levels in the body.

Cayenne peppers contain capsicum that is another outstanding alkalizing food. They are also rich in vitamin A, and therefore are beneficial in fighting off free radicals that are caused by stress to the body.

Most people think that lemons are acidic and that they produce inflammation. The opposite is true; they are highly alkaline after the digestive process. Lemons are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can provide an alkaline body and a strong immune system.

 

Water puts out the fire

The consumption of water is one of the most forgot-about recommendations regarding the management of inflammation.  The vast majority of one's body is composed of water and it can greatly suffer when it is not replenished. 

Water contributes to one of the body's natural detoxification mechanisms and helps flush toxins and other irritants out of the system.  The system breaks down when one replaces pure water with soft drinks, coffee, alcohol and other highly acidic beverages. 

Soda is known to eat away one's teeth.  Think of what else is happening inside the body when one chooses to starve the body of this vital nutrient. 

 

New Year's or now resolutions

Rarely do the holidays include any of the foods mentioned that combat lifestyle-induced inflammation. The holidays are filled with sugar, hazardous processed food items and the illusion that one will lose the weight after the holidays. It's time to be real with ourselves and take responsibility.

It's not about living in constant fear; it's about knowing that each and every choice that one makes will impact one's health—in a positive or negative way. A proactive approach is needed to achieve optimal health, avoid costly medical bills and to teach our future generations that diabetes is something to be fought, not accepted. 

A diabetic diagnosis is no longer the exception, it's sadly the norm and it's shortening lives—not just yours but also your children's. Let's not wait to have New Year's resolutions to change, let's make the change today.

 

Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organisation's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

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