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This topic is one that I am quite passionate about. Metabolic disease will cause more health issues and deaths than Covid ever will, and yet it is not on the front page of the paper or leading the evening news. This modern lifestyle disease affects many people we all know and results in these people having a shorter lives and a worse quality of life.
Metabolic disease is possibly the biggest health issue confronting our modern society and the numbers of affected dwarf almost every other disease in Australia. It is any combination of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and it is more common than most would realise. In our country today:
These numbers are all rising and, sadly, most of this is driven by our modern lifestyle. Even more sadly, it is rising in a period of history during which we have never known more about health, nutrition and exercise physiology. People are living in poor health and dying prematurely, and it is avoidable.
So, if our lifestyle is the cause of the disease, it is also the cure.
It will help to have a basic understanding of what is happening in your body with diabetes and metabolic disease. In a healthy person, you eat carbohydrate, you digest it and break it into sugars and absorb it into your blood. Your body then releases insulin which moves the sugars into the organs and muscles so it can be used as fuel. Spare sugars can get turned into fat, but these fats can be burned for fuel when the sugar runs low at a future time.
In a person with diabetes, your cells become too full of sugar making your system less responsive to the sugar in the blood despite there normally being enough insulin. So, the sugar stays in the blood leaving our organs, nerves and circulatory system soaking in sugar which leads to damage. The damage leads to blindness, kidney failure, fatty liver disease, heart attack, stroke and amputation among others. On top of this, because there is so much sugar, your body cannot burn any of the fat you have stored.
In the simplest terms, excess carbohydrate intake over a long period of time leads to blood sugar levels that are too high. This causes fat to build up in your organs in your blood and in your body. This also contributes to high blood pressure. This problem accumulates over many years, so it is happening long before it appears on blood tests. Ultimately, the quality of your life and the length of your life will likely be worse because of it.
So, getting back to the cure. Quite simply change your lifestyle decisions. Because your previous lifestyle choices got you here, better lifestyle choices will get you out of here. What you eat, when you eat and how you move your body is the solution. Do this even remotely right and you will live a longer, healthier life.
Food: What is good and what is not?
The simplest rule here is eat food that is its natural state from the plant, from the paddock or from the ocean. Avoid foods from factories.
Minimise processed carbohydrate. Diabetes is a disease where your body no longer handles carbohydrates very well. So, if you don’t put them in your body you don’t have to deal with them.
Carbohydrate based foods
Good: Vegetables, limited fruit, brown rice, wholegrains – basically unprocessed foods that are presented how they grew.
Not good: Processed carbohydrates are the biggest problem. They have had their fibre stripped out and this makes them easily absorbed. They also don’t make you feel full so you can just keep eating them.
-Sugar based foods – chocolate, lollies, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, deserts, soft drink, jams. See below for further comment on sugars.
- flour based foods – breads, pasta, savory biscuits/crackers
- rice flour and rice flour products – rice cracker, rice paper
- most cereals – many cereals are marketed as healthy but are very high in sugar and processed carbohydrates eg Nutrigrain, Just Right.
- white rice
- fruit juices – most have as much sugar as soft drink. Importantly the fibre is stripped out and the sugars are left behind which is why they are not good. If you think about it, there are possibly 6-8 oranges in a glass of orange juice. Nobody is going to sit there and eat 6-8 oranges at a time but people drink this many all of the time.
Proteins: beef, fish, chicken, eggs, lamb, pork – all good. Protein makes you feel full, which means you are likely to eat less.
Fats: Fats do not make you fat. Butter, oils, avocado, olives, nuts – all good
Dairy: Cheese, butter are fine – milk in moderation
Sugar and Sugar Products – poison to your body?
Sugar is it’s own special problem. On average, Australia we consume three times as much as what is considered safe for a healthy person. This number is probably 6 to 10 times as much as a diabetic person should have. The special problem that is specific to sugar is it’s composition and the fact that it is very easily and quickly absorbed. The composition of sugar is one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose stuck together. When you digest sugar it is broken into these two molecules, the glucose is available to be used by the all of the organs and muscles in the body. The fructose, however, can only be metabolised in the liver. So, an over supply of sugar to the body has the whole body working to clear out the glucose but only the liver working on the same amount of fructose. Through a series of processes this leads to a fat build up in the liver leading to a damaged fatty liver. Interestingly, this fatty liver is not distinguishable from the fatty liver damage caused by alcoholism. Further to this, the metabolism of excess fructose leads to excess uric acid which can contribute to gout and, even more importantly, leads to the elevation of blood pressure. On top of this the fructose adds to inflammation processes in the body and it contributes to the growth of cancer cells.
The common question here is around fruit. Isn’t fructose the sugar found in fruit and isn’t fruit good for you? The answer to both is broadly, yes. BUT, the fructose in fruit is with the fibre which slows the absorption and there is a limited amount. In sugar, the fructose is unlimited and there is no fibre to slow the absorption.
The second common question here is around the fact that sugar is natural. And yes it is. But, in nature, in every food source humans eat sugar co-exists with fibre. So, the same point applies – the fibre slows the absorption. Even sugar itself in natural sugar cane, looks like a stick. The only exception I’m aware of in natural food is honey.
To me, a diabetic eating sugar is not too different to a smoker with lung cancer continuing to smoke.
This is a very broad and very complex subject but quite simply – if you have diabetes just don’t eat sugar.
Intermittent Fasting / Time Restricted Eating - Part of the solution
The “animal” that we humans are was not made to eat three, four, five or six times a day. If you think about the pre-industrial revolution human, they only ate what they caught or what they grew. There was no refrigeration / freezing etc. This meant periods each day with no food, or several days with no food. So, it is no surprise that as history moved on and food became very readily available whenever we want it, lifestyle diseases soared. A return to eating as we were made to eat is a key to returning to good health.
There are many variations of this from limiting your food intake each day to an 8 hour window to going several days without food. For the purposes of this conversation we will consider the idea of going 16 hour periods each day with no food and then eating only during the remaining 8 hour period. For example, eat dinner at night at 6pm and your next meal is lunch at 12pm the next day. There is much evidence that eating this way reduces blood glucose and insulin release. Done correctly, many of the issues associated with diabetes may even completely resolve. If you go well with this, an option may be to go a whole 24 hours a day or two a week. That is, just eat dinner each night. During the fasting periods water and black coffee/ tea are fine to drink but nothing else. Do not worry about your blood sugar going too low or your energy. Your body will quickly adapt make its own glucose and it will happily start burning fats for energy.
(Caveat: If you are taking any medications for diabetes please speak with your doctor or pharmacist prior to trying this)
Exercise – the ultimate drug
If there was one “drug” I could provide to the masses as an antidote to metabolic disease it would be exercise. It is by far the best medicine for good health. Your body was made to move, so move it.
I hear the resistance people have and I have heard all of the reasons why people cannot exercise. But, there is almost always something people can do. And if you can’t think of that thing, ask someone in the field. And although there may be some pain in doing it, but, for most, this is nothing compared to the future pain of not doing it.
It only takes 30 minutes 4-5 times a week. The intensity does not have to be high. A level where you can still hold a conversation is enough. But there is nothing you can do for your body that is more important than keeping it moving.
The antidote to metabolic disease
If you would like to know more about this or are interested but would like some more guidance please get in touch with me. I’m happy to have a chat and help steer people towards better health.
Palm Springs Pharmacy