Make It A Household Affair

Type 2 diabetes was almost non-existent in children three decades ago and mostly affected adults aged 45 and over. Today there is a worrying increase in the number of cases among young people. What happened between then and now?

Understand the insulin connection

Every time we eat, our bodies get an influx of sugar, which, along with insulin produced by the pancreas, enters our cells as energy. This process keeps blood sugar levels in balance after meals or treats.

Sometimes cells stop responding to insulin or the pancreas doesn’t make enough. Then high carbohydrate intake can be problematic, says Rachel McBryan, a registered nutritionist on Vancouver Island, BC.

“Being overweight and high in carbohydrates can trigger a cascade of increased insulin production, but ultimately the pancreas cannot keep up, which leads to insulin resistance,” says McBryan. This can affect the cardiovascular system and kidneys, and it can also cause blurred vision.

Know the risk factors

In chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, genetics play a role. However, other risk factors have to do with lifestyle.

“Type 2 diabetes is linked to abdominal obesity (‘belly fat’), and the number of children with excess belly fat has increased in recent years,” says McBryan.

Youngsters have an additional challenge. Due to a physiological rise in growth hormone, they may experience insulin resistance during puberty.

In addition, many children and adolescents are stuck behind screens for a long time every day, which is another risk factor. “Exercise improves the effectiveness of the insulin the body makes,” says McBryan.

Teach the F word (fiber, that is)

A recent study concluded that people who ate whole grains and whole grains (like oatmeal, bran, whole grain breakfast cereals, dark bread, and brown rice) had a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

If you suspect fiber is behind the magic, you’re right, but there are phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins too. They help increase insulin sensitivity, decrease body mass, and reduce inflammation.

It’s never too early to start. “Parents are critical to setting healthy boundaries for eating and drinking and need to model healthy eating habits,” says McBryan.

Set healthy limits

McBryan’s recommendations for setting healthy limits include ensuring that every meal is abundant in fruits and vegetables, avoiding power struggles, and gradually reducing existing preferences for sweet foods rather than replacing sugar with substitutes.

Make it a family affair

Discover healthy eating as a family. “For children, I recommend having one meal at every meal that you know they’ll like and offering a new meal,” advises McBryan.

Here are some tips to transform your family’s health:

  • Whenever possible, leave the bowls on, but wash or scrub them before you eat.
  • Think in terms of color – the more on the plate, the more phytochemicals and fiber.
  • Replace sugary granola with your own selection of fruits, nuts, and seeds over bowls of cooked oatmeal.
  • Keep meat (especially fried) to a minimum. Herbal diets contain antioxidants and fiber, which can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by reducing inflammation.

herbs and spices

turmeric

When taken regularly, turmeric can lower the risk of prediabetes, the condition that precedes type 2 diabetes. Add it to soups and stews, or sprinkle with baked vegetables.

Fenugreek

Add fenugreek to your kitchen. This spice has been shown to help reduce the effects of insulin resistance.

cinnamon

Cinnamon has been used to control blood sugar levels, but its effect on insulin sensitivity is limited.

garlic

Garlic has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduce hyperinsulinemia. Add some fresh garlic to healthy dips like hummus, but if they’re not well tolerated, you can go for aged garlic extract, which has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant.

Note: Please consult your doctor to help choose the right supplements for your children.

Recent estimates show that one in three Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes, with type 2 diabetes accounting for up to 95 percent of diabetes cases. This also includes children and young people. Almost half are of indigenous origin.

Tips for treating symptoms

  • Exercise a total of at least one hour a day (preferably outdoors).
  • Cooking together with whole foods from scratch.
  • Choose homemade take away meals.
  • Reduce portion sizes.
  • Replace sugary drinks, including fruit juices, with water.
  • Eat only unprocessed snacks (fruits or vegetables, nuts, homemade seed crackers).

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