by Darra McMullen,

Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher

As fall marches on and we move toward winter, we begin to think about the holidays and their accompanying food feasts.  On a related note to the importance of food in our lives, the month of November features a national observance of diabetes, the infamous blood sugar disorder adversely affecting millions of people around the world.

Whether attempting to prevent diabetes or treating it after it appears, many of the tenets of healthful behavior are the same, including a quality diet, a regular exercise program, an upbeat attitude toward life, an effective means of stress reduction, and a dependable schedule of sleep.  Before we begin looking at the details of each of these tenets of healthful living and diabetes prevention/treatment, let’s first examine some seasonal actions we can take to protect our dietary health and make use of in-season foods at the same time.

Make the Most of Autumn and Winter Offerings:

There are many fall and winter foods that can stabilize blood sugar and promote health.  To begin, let’s consider fall and winter squash, which are chocked full of vitamin A to improve immunity and fiber to regulate blood sugar levels and digestive pacing.  Pumpkin, butternut, and acorn squashes are old favorites with a proven track record of goodness and nutritional value, but don’t forget to try out the array of “foreign” squash varieties that are often available in stores across Houston, our personal international city, whose diverse population and large port enable us to enjoy a variety of foods from around the world.

Next, let’s consider nuts, which can be found in abundance in many stores at this time of year.  Nuts are great for snacking; their protein, fiber, and healthy fats stabilize blood sugar.  Just be careful to limit quantities on “honey roasted” or other sugared varieties.

Fall and winter citrus fruits are another winning addition to a healthy diabetes prevention program.  Citrus fruits contain a wonderful combination of immune enhancing vitamin C and bioflavonoids and blood sugar leveling fiber and water to slow the absorption of naturally occurring fruit sugars.

One other fall and winter nutritional powerhouse are greens.  Whether considering mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, or another variety, greens in general are fine additions to a healthy diet and are of particular value to anyone trying to lower or stabilize blood sugar levels.  Greens are low in sugar themselves and contain a wealth of antioxidants for general wellbeing, as well as generous amounts of fiber to assist with slowing sugar absorption while quickening digestive pacing.  Greens lend themselves nicely to cooking, and their flavors can be enhanced with a variety of herbs and healthy oils added to the cooking water.

Another wonderful component to the fall and winter months is the cooler temperature.  Lower temperatures enable us all to picture ourselves truly enjoying big steaming bowls of homemade soups, stews, one-pot meals, and oven-roasted delights without fear of overheating the house or ourselves, as is often the case during the summer months.

A virtually endless array of soups, stews, one-pot meals, and oven-roasted delights can be concocted by putting together different combinations of lean meats and various vegetables into low sugar, high fiber, high protein, and moderate complex carbohydrate culinary wonders.

Vegan or vegetarian alternatives can be created easily by swapping in beans, peas, tofu, or plant-based protein powders for the meat component of the above described soups, stews, one-pot meals, etc.

General Dietary Guidelines:

To prevent or treat diabetes, focus on cutting simple sugars from the diet and adding proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates with fiber.  If overweight, seek to lose fat pounds without losing lean muscle tissue that is critical to blood sugar regulation and physical strength.  Seek to lose weight slowly and sensibly.  “Crash” diets or unbalanced fad diets can wreak havoc on diabetic individuals.

Exercise:

More and more scientific studies show that keeping (or regaining) the body’s ability to effectively utilize glucose is tied not only to diet but also to exercise.  The body’s cells take in and make use of glucose more efficiently if the body’s muscles are accustomed to moving regularly.  Any movement is better than none.  Ideally, a formal exercise program that includes elements of cardiovascular work, weight training, and flexibility would be performed 3 – 4 days a week, or more often, if possible.  However, researchers are finding out that any small “bouts” of exercise, such as climbing stairs, walking for 10 or 15 minutes, parking at the far end of the lot and walking to and from the grocery store, or weeding a small garden “count” toward improving muscle fitness, insulin sensitivity, and heart health.

Upbeat Attitude:

One of the most important aspects of diabetes prevention and treatment is often overlooked and not brought to the public’s attention in a frequent and meaningful manner.  That aforementioned aspect is optimism.  Optimism about how much the individual person can do for himself/herself to affect the development of or course of the disease is one such example.

Another example is how optimism about drug treatments for diabetes can affect patient adherence to their prescribed regimens and even the outcomes to those prescribed regimens.

Additionally, the numerous available natural supplements that can positively impact blood sugar levels should be good cause for optimism.

An optimistic outlook also helps lower stress levels and the blood sugar spikes that accompany a high-stress mind-set.

In short, an optimistic attitude toward diabetes treatment and prevention can make a huge difference in the success or failure of the journey to a healthier outcome.

Stress Reduction:

Stress reduction is very critical to avoiding, or successfully treating, diabetes.  The human body produces a much higher rate of cortisol than normal when under chronic stress.  Cortisol raises blood sugar levels; therefore, chronic unrelenting stress and its accompanying high cortisol levels will result in elevated blood sugar rates compared to those of a person in a normal, relaxed state of being.

Seek any way practical to your individual lifestyle to reduce stress; whether you choose long walks outdoors, yoga, chatting with a friend, watching a favorite T.V. show, going on vacation, or whatever you find relaxing, be sure to make time for down time.  Your pancreas, heart, adrenal glands, and body in general will thank you.

Sleep:

Get adequate sleep.  Several scientific studies demonstrate clearly that even young, healthy, fit adults with no pre-existing risk factors can be made to temporarily exhibit diabetic or pre-diabetic blood sugar levels by artificially depriving them of sleep (such as forced awakenings after three to four hours of sleep) for just a few days.  Similarly, weight gain occurs in test subjects deprived of sleep, even if calorie intake is carefully controlled.  Inadequate sleep is a major factor in blood sugar derangement, and sleep deprivation predisposes even healthy test subjects to weight gain, due to unfortunate chemical changes in the body that occur with inadequate rest.  Imagine the damage done by sleep deprivation in a middle-aged or older person with one or more risk factors, such as obesity or high cholesterol.

Doctors and the American Diabetes Association recommend getting seven to eight hours of sleep daily.  Sleeping less than five hours daily is associated with a substantial increase in diabetes risk, as well as an increased risk of several other serious problems.

Supplements to Consider:

Think about adding cinnamon to your diet occasionally to lower blood sugar naturally.  Cinnamon adds a pleasant little kick to many foods, and it has been scientifically shown to lower blood sugar.

If you wish to include cinnamon in your regimen regularly, look for cinnamon capsule supplements at health food stores.  Large, regular doses of “table” cinnamon used for seasoning can cause a toxic overload of certain cinnamon compounds in the body.  Capsule supplements that are designed for regular consumption are generally free of (or low in) these compounds and are therefore safer than taking a lot of “table” cinnamon.

Many people, especially diabetics, benefit from taking supplemental alpha-lipoic acid, chromium picolinate, and/or magnesium to help lower and stabilize blood sugar and to help strengthen their bodies against some of the ravages of diabetes.

As always, before taking any dietary supplement(s), check with your doctor to avoid any “contra-indications” between your prescription drugs and dietary supplements.  Also, a chat with your physician may help reveal any likely sensitivities, allergies, or other specific reasons pertaining to your individual health that would point toward taking or not taking a particular supplement.

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