Heart Disease is still the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, but diabetes or dangerously high blood sugar levels, the No. 6 killer, is becoming more of a national concern.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reported that 21 million people, about 7 percent of the population, have diabetes. More than 90 percent have type 2, a combination of relative insulin deficiency and insulin resistance, a condition where the body fails to properly use insulin, according to the ADA.
Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is essential for converting sugar, starches, and other food into energy that the body draws upon for daily life.
The medical community has yet to pinpoint exactly why an individual develops diabetes, but holistic nutritionist, Luanne Pennesi said that pre-diabetes occurs when a person's blood glucose or sugar levels are higher than normal, which over time taxes the body, particularly the pancreas, and if not treated through diet and exercise can lead to multiple chronic diseases.
Overweight conditions, she said, can also contribute to the onset of diabetes, but can often be controlled with a low-fat, low carbohydrate diet and daily exercise.
"In time," said Pennesi, "high glucose or sugar levels can literally cut your life short and is the primary cause of new cases of blindness, renal disease, increased risk in heart disease, painful peripheral nerve damage and amputations."
Change of Life
According to Pennesi, there are many ways that individuals can control diabetes and continue to live a normal, long and fulfilling life.
"I have worked with many people who have changed their lifestyles for the better," she said. "One gentleman who was morbidly obese lost over 100 pounds in one year, and his blood sugar stabilized, his blood pressure is now normal, and he has a whole new lease on life. Now he teaches physical fitness to the blind in the five boroughs of New York City, something he never thought he would be doing."
Here are Pennesi's dietary tips for controlling diabetes:
— Eat lots of fresh organic veggies and fresh fruit that are either raw, sprouted, steamed, baked or stir-fried with little to no oil
— Drink water with a slice of lemon or lime, over sodas, sugary juices and sports drinks
— Munch on non-starchy veggies like spinach, broccoli and green beans
— Adopt a low carbohydrate diet by weaning out refined breads, pizza, pastas, cakes, cookies and candies
— Cut out all fried and fast foods
— Drink lots of fresh green vegetable juices to curb sugar cravings
— Eat healthy proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, veggie burgers, low mercury, wild caught fish and good quality protein powders for shakes
— Enjoy low glycemic foods like berries, lemons, limes, miso soup and squashes, which can be combined with any green vegetables and flavorful spices
— Choose whole grain foods over processed ones. For example, select brown rice instead of white rice with stir-fry or spelt, quinoa or brown rice spaghetti over the normal white flour and semolina-based variety
— Down-size your food portions
— Eliminate all high-calorie snacks.
When it comes to sweeteners, not all are created equal nor have the same effects on your blood sugar.
Pennesi warned that many people gravitate towards sweet things when feeling emotionally unstable, are looking for love or even when they are just plain bored. This often leads to over indulging in sweets, which can spike blood sugar levels.
However, substituting white sugar and high fructose corn syrup with natural and lower glycemic level sweeteners, allows people with diabetes, or pre-diabetes, to enjoy the sweeter things in life in moderation without compromising their health.
Pennesi's list of healthy alternative sweeteners:
— Stevia, a naturally sweet herb that is commonly found in health food stores in powder or liquid forms
— Agave, cactus nectar that resembles maple syrup, also found in most health food stores
— Xylitol, a naturally occurring sweetener found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables that looks like typical white sugar
— Organic raw honey, which is readily found in most stores.
However, the most effective way to control diabetes is combining proper nutrition with daily exercise.
“Exercise is also very important, so be sure to integrate it into your daily routine, but make sure you have variety and be sure you are doing an exercise you enjoy," said Pennesi.