Type 2 diabetes is a condition affecting more than 35 percent of the U.S. population — or 23.4 million people. Even more alarming is the numbers for those in the pre-diabetes range are now hitting 33 percent. This means more than 65 percent of Americans have a problem with blood-sugar regulation.
When people with diabetes consume high-sugar food and drinks on a regular basis, they may experience higher blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels. High blood glucose levels over time increase the chance of developing complications from diabetes. This can affect the multi-body systems such as the kidneys (nephropathy), nerves (neuropathy), eyes (retinopathy) and heart (cardiovascular disease).
It is no wonder with the added sugars in the standard American diet that so many have this condition. Sugar-sweetened beverages seem to be linked to blood sugar dysregulation in people with Type 2 diabetes. A recent study from Harvard University said that soft drinks, drink pouches, and even 100 percent fruit juice can increase the risk. The study showed that by replacing just one 4-ounce serving of fruit juice or other sugar-sweetened beverage with water can reduce risk by 2-10 percent.
Most of my clients are not aware that a serving of fruit juice is just 4 ounces or a half-cup. Most packaged juices or drinks are at least 8 ounces. More often than not, these drinks are 16-20 ounces (4-5 servings) and total 21-40 grams of sugar. While there is no recommendation for sugar in the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine’s Recommended Daily Allowance, a guideline to not exceed added sugar is 6 teaspoons (24 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men.
With the holiday season upon us, it is filled with sugary treats and drinks. Our consumption can sneak up on us, especially when we are looking for foods that give us comfort and remind us of traditions … like my Grandmother’s Red Velvet Cake! Sugar lurks in other foods, too, like barbeque and spaghetti sauce, crackers and even breakfast sausage. Get in the habit of reading your labels, especially the “added sugars” line.
There are ways you can be wise about your choices even when those cravings pop up.
– Don’t let yourself get too hungry by skipping meals. Start the morning with a good green smoothie full of alkalinizing green foods such as celery, cucumber, leafy greens and avocado. The fiber will also help you manage blood sugar.
– Drink plenty of water. We are 60–70 percent, by weight, made of water. It is central to many functions of the body. When we feel thirsty, the body may have already lost 1-2 percent of your body’s water stores. Keep that beautiful canteen handy and filled with filtered water. Hydrogen (remember H2O?) is required for the immune system, energy production and detoxification to name a few important functions, so drink up.
– Get adequate rest. When sleep is interrupted, the hormones that signal satiety are suppressed. It tells the brain we need to eat, and not just any food but glucose-rich foods. Our circadian rhythm is important for so many levels of health, and blood-sugar regulation is one of them.
– Eat plenty of protein. In an earlier article this year, I shared about good sources of protein in the diet: grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and pork, lamb and bison, wild-caught fish as well as legumes, nuts and seeds. Calculating 0.6-1.0 grams protein per kilogram of body weight is an easy guide to follow. Take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2 to calculate your weight in kilograms).
– Limit alcohol. This can increase our desire for sugar and cause spikes in blood glucose and insulin. Equally as harmful, if a diabetic drinks alcohol without food they may experience low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. Be sure to enjoy your cocktails with food rich in proteins and healthy fats. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Be aware of the added sugars in the mixers and syrups, too!
– Pause to ask if you are really hungry. If you are, find the right nourishing food. If not, maybe you just need some fresh air or a power nap. The mind-body connection in mindless eating has a role to play in blood-sugar regulation. The more we tap into our needs for comfort and stress reduction and satisfy it with meditation, deep breathing and yoga or a mindfulness practice, we strengthen those positive associations in the brain.
With practice and intentionality, passing on the sweetened beverages will become the new normal. Reading labels and menus for less sugar will go a long way to reduce your risk for blood sugar-related conditions. The staggering number of those with Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with diet and lifestyle modification. By putting your focus on good healthy fruits and vegetables, pastured meat and wild-caught fish, legumes and nuts and seeds, the new year will be full of vitality and energy.