NEW ORLEANS — About one in 10 Americans has diabetes, and about half of them don't know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The chronic condition can lead to serious health problems in just about every part of the body.
There are simple rules for prevention when it comes to what you eat.
When it comes to cases of type 2 diabetes, Louisiana and Mississippi lead the pack, tied for second place. And a new global study published in Nature Medicine finds the problem could be what's on and what’s not on our plates.
“This new study showed that 70% of the risk for developing type 2 diabetes worldwide was attributable to eating a suboptimal diet,” said Dr. Melinda Sothern, Professor Emerita, LSUHSC School of Public Health.
In the last 40 years in the U.S., the diabetes risk from diet climbed from 30% to 70%, type 2 diabetes increased fivefold, and obesity increased sevenfold.
So, diabetes and obesity go hand in hand and are on the rise from food choices. We asked our experts Dr. Sothern and Dr. Jake Mey to break down the study jargon and explain the best and worst food choices.
“The carbohydrate foods, the refined grains, the sugars, the sugar-sweetened beverages, those are primary contributing factors to diabetes risk,” said Dr. Jake Mey, Assistant Professor of Research in Integrated Physiology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
“Most individuals across the globe were eating too many refined wheat, flour, you know, bread, pasta packaged foods. Most individuals across the globe are not eating enough whole grains that are associated with lower diabetic risk,” Dr. Sothern explained.
“The difference between white rice or brown rice, that refined grain versus the whole grains, that's still up for debate. I would say it's always a good word of caution to focus on the whole grain products,” said Dr. Mey when asked if brown rice or green pasta made a difference.
Food choices that show a relationship to a higher risk of diabetes are, first, eating refined, or processed carbs, and second, not eating enough of whole grains. Now, remember white potatoes fit into that category of simple carbs.
“A lot of European countries excess intake of potatoes, which they have nutrient values, but they're so high glycemic that if you're prone to risk for diabetes, it was associated,” said Dr. Sothern.
Now, let's look at the third food choice associated with diabetes risk. That's eating too much processed meat. That's those deli-packaged meats, hot dogs, and sausage.
“It's clear in the scientific literature, that this is not healthy for you, and all of the agricultural recommendations across all the countries, they say this. They say don't eat processed meat,” she added.
What Should I Eat?
So, let's look at what is good to put on your plate, to help prevent weight gain and diabetes. Some call these the complex carbs, or the good carbs. Fruits and vegetables have fiber, so that keeps you fuller and they are associated with a lower risk for diabetes.
“Low glycemic carbohydrates are effective in delaying insulin dependence if you're prediabetic, and obviously they have numerous metabolic health benefits, cholesterol-lowering, blood pressure, everything,” Dr. Sothern explained.
“There's also phytonutrients, which I’m a big fan of, which are those phytochemicals which are in brightly colored plant products, like your fruits and your vegetables that have independent positive health effects,” Dr. Mey added.
And that helps lower all that bad inflammation. And keep in mind, fruit juice, often loaded with added sugars, and without all the fiber, is not a substitute for the whole food.
The study also found that the poor food choices-diabetes connection was even worse in men, younger people, and those living in larger cities.
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