Blood Sugar Swings—Handled!

Folks with type 2 diabetes (that’s one in 10 adults in this country, according to recent reports) know the importance of making healthy choices at mealtime. But it’s just as important to stay away from the wrong foods—those that can cause your blood sugar to spike. Here’s why: Simple carbohydrates like white rice and sodas are broken down by the body into sugar, which enters the bloodstream, wreaking havoc with your blood sugar levels. Here are seven foods to avoid if you want to control blood sugar swings.

  1. Pretend white rice doesn’t exist. We understand this may be a most difficult endeavor for folks from the South, where “with a side of rice” is the unspoken rule. But researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found people who ate five or more servings of white rice a week increased their risk for developing type 2 diabetes; those who replaced at least a third of their white-rice servings with brown rice lowered their risk by as much as 16 percent.
  2. When you think about saturated fat, whole-milk dairy products may not spring immediately to mind, but they are also loaded with saturated fats. Several studies have found a diet high in saturated fats has also been linked to insulin resistance. Swap whole-milk dairy products to the no-fat or 1-percent variety; you’ll still get all the benefits of calcium without the saturated fats.
  3. While we’re eliminating white things, go ahead and scratch white bread from your grocery list. Your body quickly digests products made with refined flour such as white bread, and this quick digestion can cause your blood sugar to rise. Research also shows that people who eat more whole grains and fewer refined grains have less of the type of body fat that can trigger type 2 diabetes.
  4. We won’t tell you to cut red meat from your diet entirely, but studies show a diet high in red meat and processed meats such as hot dogs and cold cuts could contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. One study found that people who ate processed meat (think: two slices of bacon) every day more than doubled their risk for diabetes. Lower your risk by substituting one serving of red or processed meats with healthier sources of protein such as low-fat dairy or nuts.
  5. We’ve reported on this before, but it bears repeating: To keep your blood sugar within normal range, avoid soda and other sugary beverages. Studies have found that people who drank one or two sugary drinks a day were at a 26-percent higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than those who drank less than one 12-ounce glass a month. Replace regular soda or sugary drinks with water or seltzer.
  6. Put commercially prepared baked goods on your no-fly list if you have type 2 diabetes or want to avoid developing it. These foods tend to be high in trans fats, and even small amounts of trans fats raise the bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol in your blood and can cause inflammation, which can lead to diabetes.
  7. What’s better than fast food when you’re hungry and in a hurry? Trouble is, most fast food is high in calories, fat and salt, all of which can send your blood sugar soaring. A Canadian study found eating just one fatty fast-food meal spiked blood sugar levels by 32 percent in healthy people who didn’t have diabetes. And sodium-heavy fast food can increase your blood pressure. This is particularly dangerous for people with diabetes, who are two to four times more likely to have heart disease than those without diabetes.

Good and Bad News in the Diabetes Fight

Last month, the diabetes news came like the movie: fast and furious. The bad news is that the diabetes epidemic in this country is getting worse. One study found that the percentage of Americans with diabetes has nearly doubled since 1988, and nearly one in 10 adults have been diagnosed with the disease.

Twenty-five years ago, the rate of diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes stood at 5.5 percent of the population. By 2010, that number had jumped to 9.3 percent.

“Diabetes has increased dramatically,” says Elizabeth Selvin, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The rates have almost doubled since the late ’80s and early ’90s.”

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1, an autoimmune disease unrelated to weight, and type 2, the more common form (it accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Education Program) linked to a sedentary lifestyle and obesity.

For this study, researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included more than 43,000 adults followed from the first survey period (1988 to 1994) to the most recent (1999 to 2010).

Diabetes isn’t the only disease that skyrocketed during the survey periods. During that same time, levels of obesity also increased. Nearly 70 percent of adults in this country are overweight or obese.

“This study also highlights that the increase in diabetes really tracks closely with the epidemic of obesity,” Selvin says. “The diabetes epidemic is really a direct consequence of the rise in obesity. Combating the environment that contributes to obesity is an incredible difficulty.”

A small glimmer of hope in the study—that blood sugar management improved among whites—wasn’t seen in some minority populations, including blacks and Mexican Americans. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.

This lack of blood-sugar control is one reason the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Minority Health (OMH) has made diabetes among racial and ethnic minority a top priority. “For some minorities, poverty, lack of access to health care, cultural attitudes and behaviors are all barriers to preventing diabetes and having effective diabetes management once diagnosed,” OMH Director Jonca Bull, M.D., says. “People live in areas and engage in behaviors that often don’t support a healthy life. They don’t have enough access to healthy foods and perhaps too much access to fast food. They also lack access to ongoing health-care services.” (The FDA and Dr. Bull were not involved in this study.)

Selvin agrees, suggesting that more public health dollars aimed at prevention and awareness, alongside increased access to care, will help minority communities gain the same control as whites in her study.

Greater good news came from the second study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine. This study found that rates of diabetes-related complications like heart attack, stroke and lower-limb amputation are down by more than 50 percent over the last two decades. Researchers attribute the drop to better screening, medicines and care.