The term “Diabetes” encompasses at least two different diseases that manifest the same symptom of insulin shortage and many of the same complications, but have vastly different causes that suggest different strategies for prevention.
Two Diseases, Two Causes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that ultimately shuts down the body’s insulin production, and the underlying causes are not well understood yet. While research into preventative measures is ongoing, diet does not affect the development of Type 1 diabetes. Though diet is an important tool in managing type 1 diabetes, research does not support any particular type of diet for type 1 diabetes prevention.
Type 2 diabetes, sometimes called non-insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes, is a metabolic disorder characterized by insulin resistance. The pancreas produces insulin properly, but the body fails to use insulin for digesting carbohydrates. The exact mechanism that causes Type 2 diabetes is not known, but diet does help prevent it. Even as late in the disease process as a diagnosis of pre-diabetes, diet can help borderline diabetes cases.
Any Diet is a Diabetes Prevention Diet
Obesity dramatically increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Losing a modest amount of weight, as little as 5-7% of body weight, was shown to be effective in delaying and preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes. For a person weighing 200 pounds, that is a weight loss of just 10 pounds. As long as the loss is maintained, the dietary method used to lose weight does not matter.
The prevention effect of diet on diabetes is particularly pronounced when the dietary changes and weight loss were accompanied by an increase in exercise, even if the exercise was not vigorous.
Diet Strategies for Diabetes Prevention
One of the known mechanisms for developing insulin resistance, the precursor to type 2 diabetes, is repeated exposure to insulin. Every time a cell is exposed to insulin, it becomes just a little more insulin resistant, until the receptor no longer works.
A diabetes prevention diet emphasizes foods that do not spike blood sugar, so as to minimize the risks of developing insulin resistance. Refined grains and simple sugars including high fructose corn syrup and table sugar are discouraged, as they tend to hit the blood hard and fast. Instead, diabetes prevention diets emphasize vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains. The fiber in these foods, removed in their refined or juiced counterparts, slows the digestion of the carbohydrates, causing a slower, more steady release of glucose to the bloodstream and insulin to deal with the glucose.
How the food is served plays just as big a part in a diabetes prevention diet as the food itself. Eating large amounts of infrequently leads to fluctuating blood sugar and insulin levels. Smaller, more frequent meals help keep the blood sugar more stable.
The most important diet strategy for preventing diabetes is to stick with the changes made. Diabetes is a chronic condition with no known cure, and preventing it requires a lifelong commitment.