When I’m out and about, I meet a lot of people who tell me how much they like my column. Then they tell me that while the advice is good, they’re on so much medication that they feels it’s simply not worth trying to change things and become more healthy; their doctors have told them that they’ll be on their medication forever anyway.
So today I wanted to talk about Caroline, a 36-year-old woman who fit that profile perfectly. She took three different medications for her diabetes, two for her blood pressure (most likely caused by the diabetes) and another for her cholesterol.
She believed she was a victim of her family history and wasn’t very happy when I told her that in the case of type 2 diabetes, the maxim ‘genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger’ very much applies.
You see, while Caroline was relatively healthy now, for years she had been a heavy drinker (something women will rarely admit to).
Drinking more than two-to-three units in any night is considered too much even though the weekly allowance for a woman is 14 units (one unit is a measure of spirits, a glass of wine or a 300ml bottle of beer).
Saving up your week’s allowance and drinking it all on one night is a massive no-no.
What’s alcohol got to do with diabetes? While moderate amounts of alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise (especially true of beer and sweet wine), too much alcohol can actually decrease your blood sugar level – and sometimes cause it to drop to dangerous levels.
Furthermore, as we all know, alcohol stimulates your appetite – and chances are, you’ll eat exactly the wrong things.
So what should Caroline do now? Let’s start with her cholesterol: By eating an apple, a carrot and a bowl of oats every day, Caroline would be consuming more soluble fibre, the kind of fibre that helps to carry cholesterol away.
It also helps to slow sugar release into the bloodstream, so it can benefit diabetics too. To help her blood pressure, she could also make sure she drinks more water – eight glasses net. What do I mean by ‘net’?
That means the number of glasses of water minus dehydrating beverages like tea, coffee, other caffeinated drinks and alcohol. Sometimes it’s simply easier to cut the latter down rather than trying to guzzle four litres of water every day.
Cinnamon and brown rice
Stress reduction is also an important part of controlling blood pressure. Learning to let go of the things you can’t change often makes a huge difference to ‘driven’ personalities.
In the words of the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
One thing that can be changed is diet, the goal being to make it low glycaemic. In other words, you should be eating carbohydates that provide a slow release of sugar (e.g. brown rice) with lean protein foods (such as chicken or lentils).
As well as aiding weight loss (important, as being overweight is strongly linked to diabetes), this diet improves the way the body responds to insulin, helping to keep blood sugar more even.
The last thing I suggested for Caroline was cinnamon. Cinnamon contains an ingredient called MCHP which mimics the action of insulin and therefore increases glucose metabolism.
Studies have shown that just half a teaspoon daily is enough to lower blood glucose.
The author is a clinical nutritionist. Find her at www.nutritionbysona.com