Prevent diabetes later by eating better, sooner

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Let’s say that, just as you and your family sit down to eat, a pesky person comes by to tell you that there’s something on your plate that could take five to ten years off your life, raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, cause skin problems, nerve damage, and play havoc with your sight. Would you eat it? Would you let your kids eat it?

You probably wouldn’t eat it, although many of us do, every day. As a population, Canadians have a diet that includes highly processed foods rich in fats, preservatives, refined sugar and that is very high in calories. We eat like this because, frankly, processed foods taste good. Nevertheless, it’s also a recipe for type 2 diabetes. In kids, type 2 has increased 15-fold since 1990. Today it is reasonable to assume that there are perhaps 20,000 people in Canada under the age of 20 living with the disease.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The rate of type 2 diabetes in Canada is expected to double by 2025, perhaps affecting more than five million people. We know many of them. They are our kids. Whether they get it when they are still young or later in life, it will be a reflection of how they are living and eating today. They won’t be alone. “Weight-related chronic diseases,” with type 2 diabetes topping the list, “will be the most significant public health concern throughout the 21st century” says the International Diabetes Federation.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The more you know about diabetes and what you’re eating, the better.

Getting to know Type 2

There are different forms of the disease, yet in Canada, when we talk about diabetes, more often than not we are talking about type 2. It’s far and away the most common form; 90 percent of the 2.5 million people in Canada who have diabetes have type 2.

It is also the only form that is related to lifestyle, and is causally linked to weight and obesity. Not everyone who is overweight will get it, but most people who get it are overweight.

That’s why type 2 is considered preventable. By tackling the weight issue, we can make a sizable dent in the prevalence of diabetes in our kids, both now and when they are older.

An ounce of prevention

No one is perfect, and when it comes to diabetes, you don’t have to be. A few changes now can make a big difference later. “Modest weight reduction,” says a recent report, “reduces blood pressure and abnormal blood cholesterol and substantially lowers risk of type 2 diabetes.”

Here’s how:

  • Cut down on the high fat-foods
    Eat in instead of out, and cook from fresh ingredients as often as possible.
  • Eat more plants
    Fruit and vegetables, five to 10 servings a day.
  • Eat them raw
    If you don’t have time to cook them, well, don’t. Raw fruit and vegetables are perfectly fine and can be better for you, too.
  • Drink water
    Yes, milk and juice are good for kids, but they are also high in calories. Less is more. Cut juices by half with water.
  • Balance your use of prepackaged foods
    Cooking from basic ingredients takes time, so it’s easy to understand why we don’t do it very much. Still, it’s worth the effort. By balancing a use of prepared foods you can avoid fats and calories. Shop from the periphery of the grocery store; the further toward the middle of the store, the further away from nature the food becomes (with some exceptions – dried beans and rice, for instance).

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