To truly understand how food can impact the development of diabetes we need to have a short history lesson.
10,000 years ago, man was primarily a hunter-gatherer. We ate the plants and animals that were part of our natural environment and we traveled with the food supply. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors sampled as many as 800 varieties of plant species (there are nearly 150,000 edible plant species on earth), and while meat was an important component of their diet, consumption was limited, since storage and preserving techniques were not developed yet.
Our bodies are designed to take advantage of scarcities in food supply, which is why we can eat several pounds of food in one sitting. We ate small amounts of very lean meat, which means that our bodies have a mechanism to collect and store cholesterol, and our taste buds are designed to react positively to sweets – all of which were important in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to our very survival.
The development of agriculture significantly changed what humans ate. For the first time, humans began eating large amounts of carbohydrates in the form of grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn and rice. But these cereals were prepared simply, ground between stones to break the outer surface of the grain, and cooked.
So, all of the carbohydrates (with the exception of fresh fruits) were very slowly digested and had little impact on blood glucose levels.
Fast forward to today and our food bears little resemblance to what we ate even 50 years ago. Much of the food Americans eat today is heavily processed, preserved, flavored, stabilized, filled with salt and fat, and practically digested for us. Add to the mix, modern snack foods, such as chips, cookies, sugary sodas, and fast food filled with refined sugars and carbohydrates, and something unexpected began to happen.
For many people, the rise in blood glucose after eating was higher and remained higher longer, which stimulated the pancreas to produce more insulin. Eventually, some of us simply overwhelm the body’s ability to provide the necessary insulin to convert and store the glucose into glycogen and the result is “diabetes”.
The simple fact is that our bodies simply haven’t evolved fast enough to keep pace with our food technology and concurrent lifestyle changes. Obesity has, thus, become a huge problem in the U.S. In 2000 the Department of Health and Human Services reported 64% of the population was overweight and 30% of those were classified as “obese”.
Thus begins a vicious cycle of poor nutritional habits, which contributes to weight gain, which causes less physical activity, which may lead to more snacking, which further exacerbates poor nutritional habits, which in turn causes more weight gain and less physical activity – a clear downward spiral.
If you remove hereditary factors from the diabetes equation, improper nutrition and low physical activity are the TWO most significant factors in the development of the disease. Fortunately, we have control over these two elements of the equation. Attention to these two variables can prevent diabetes in as many as 95% of all cases of Type 2 diabetes.
So, the question is…How can we, in our busy modern lives, find a balance between what tastes good and what is healthy for our bodies?
It is easier than you think.