There are currently over 1.7 million people living with diabetes in Australia and for every four people diagnosed another doesn’t even know they have it. Diabetes is a growing epidemic in Australia and worldwide it is increasing at a faster rate than any other chronic disease. There is an extensive amount of misinformation around diabetes management and prevention, which leaves people feeling confused and frustrated about what they should be doing.
So here are 10 useful steps to help you stay healthy for longer.
- Forget dieting – eat for life! Adopt a way of eating that allows you to enjoy food, whilst still adequately nourishing your body with real, whole foods. Fad diets, as their name implies, are short-term fixes that set many of us up for failure and disappointment. The key is to develop life long healthy eating habits that bring joy and happiness to your life.
- Enjoy a variety of foods. Each food group contains it’s own unique array of vitamins and minerals that contribute to your overall health and wellbeing. In order for your body to receive all the nutrients it needs to live a long and healthy life, it’s important to eat a variety of different foods from all five-food groups (grains and cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy, lean meats and alternatives) each day.
- Eat regular meals and snacks. Eating regularly throughout the day helps ensure your body has a sustained supply of energy and assists in keeping your blood sugar levels within an optimal range. Eating smaller, more regular meals also helps to control your appetite, meaning you are less likely to feel ravenous and overeat at other meal times.
- Choose low GI foods. The glycemic index (GI) looks at how foods containing carbohydrates affect our blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI (e.g. white bread, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits) are quickly broken down and absorbed by the body, causing a rapid spike in our blood sugar levels, leaving us feeling hungry and unsatisfied. Foods with a low GI (e.g. fruit, milk, grainy bread, porridge and lentils) are broken down and absorbed more slowly, causing a steady rise in blood sugar and insulin levels over time, and leaving us feeling fuller for longer.
- Choose heart healthy foods. Diabetes can increase our risk of developing heart complications later in life, which is why it’s important to maintain optimal cholesterol levels and blood pressure to avoid these. Remember to include a small amount of healthy unsaturated fats (e.g. nuts, avocado, oily fish, olive oil) and limit foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and salt (e.g. processed foods, deep-fried foods, bakery goods, fatty cuts of meat).
- Watch the sugar. Whilst sugar can form part of a healthy, balanced diet – the key is to focus on where your sugar is coming from and how much you consume. ’Natural’ sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products. These sugars come with a range of beneficial nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals, which are good for our health. ’Added’ sugars are those added to foods and beverages by food companies (e.g. soft drinks, lollies, chocolates) or by us (e.g. honey, table sugar). High intakes of added sugars may lead to weight gain, tooth decay and increased blood sugar levels, which is why it’s best to limit intake of these sugars.
- Stay hydrated. Adequate hydration is crucial to allow our body’s to function at their best. On average, we require approximately 2L (8 glasses) of water each day (depending on age, gender and activity level). Choose plain water most of the time, you can add fruit pieces for flavour if desired.
- Reduce alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit your intake. Current guidelines recommend no more than two standard drinks a day, with at least two alcohol free days per week.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is a proven way to reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes and also to reduce the risk of developing complications associated with diabetes. Loosing just 10% of body weight if you are overweight is enough to make significant improvements to your blood sugar control and overall health.
- Stay active. Enjoying regular physical activity should be part of your diabetes management or prevention plan, as exercise helps to keep your body fit and healthy. Try going for walk with a friend, walking your dog, or swimming.
Anna Debenham is one of the leading dietitians at Hit 100, Australia’s only meal delivery service catering specifically for people living with diabetes (Type 2, Type 1 and Gestational) and pre-diabetes.