If you, or someone close to you has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may be overwhelmed and confused by the information you’ve received. Chances are you’re struggling to deal with the changes in your health.
But what you may not know is that type 2 diabetes is an entirely reversible condition. (1)
By understanding the real causes of type 2 diabetes (and what to do about them) you’ll be able to take the guesswork out of regaining your health, and feel empowered to work towards overcoming type 2 diabetes for good.
What Does It Really Mean to Have Type 2 Diabetes?
If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it simply means that too much sugar is floating around in your bloodstream, to the point of being dangerous to your health. Under normal circumstances, your body automatically removes excess sugar from your bloodstream every time you eat.
You see, the food you eat always undergoes a routine process: Once ingested, it’s broken down into sugar molecules in the bloodstream. As soon as your body senses that sugar has entered the bloodstream, it sends the hormone insulin to pull sugar molecules out of the bloodstream and into your cells to be used or stored as energy. This is a natural digestive process, intended to provide fuel for the body.
However, type 2 diabetes is the result of this natural process being disrupted.
When you have type 2 diabetes, it means your body has temporarily lost its ability to pull the sugar out of your bloodstream and into your cells, leaving you with elevated levels of sugar lingering in your blood.
But why does this happen?
The answer is simple. With an excessive amount of refined sugar in your diet, your body becomes resistant to dealing with it. It’s this exact mechanism that leads to insulin resistance, or type 2 diabetes.
Insulin Resistance Is Like an Annoying Neighbor
To best understand the process of insulin resistance, think of an annoying neighbor and his partner who knock on your door multiple times a day.
Every time they knock on the door, it’s for the exact same reason: they want to have a cup of tea with you. For a while, you’re polite and keep answering the door to let them into your home.
But after a long period of time, you begin to tire of entertaining the happy couple every single day. Eventually, you ignore the predictable doorknock and decide to no longer allow them back into your home.
This is exactly how insulin resistance (or type 2 diabetes) works. Your neighbor and his wife are the sugar and insulin, while your home is the cell.
Type 2 Diabetes: an Insulin Problem or a Blood Sugar Problem?
Contrary to popular belief, type 2 diabetes is not an insulin problem—your body is still producing more than enough insulin.
As described in the “annoying neighbor” example above, it’s actually the cell that’s become resistant to letting the sugar in. Therefore, the cause of type 2 diabetes is a blood sugar problem.
“But isn’t the body naturally supposed to handle sugar on its own?”
Yes, your body is naturally equipped to handle the sugar byproduct from digested food and convert it into energy.
But the sugar we’re meant to eat for energy is found in nature and comes from real, whole foods that are also high in fibre, healthy fats or protein. Fibre, healthy fats and protein help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream and require less insulin to be secreted, and less sugar to be brought into your cells. These foods include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and unprocessed whole grains.
Instead, it’s refined (or processed) sugar that creates the blood sugar problem, which is one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes.
How Refined Sugar Is the Major Cause of Type 2 Diabetes
Refined sugar refers to white flour and white sugar, which are commonly found in foods such as white bread, pasta, pastries, soda and muffins. These foods have been processed and stripped of many important nutrients, especially fibre.
Without fibre intact, refined sugar breaks down very rapidly into the bloodstream and demands an excessive amount of insulin to be released from the body. The insulin then overwhelms the cells by trying to bring in too much sugar at once.
It’s this sequence of events caused by refined sugar that encourages your cells to stop responding to insulin.
Why Type 2 Diabetes Can Be Reversed
As you can see, the real causes of type 2 diabetes are linked to the high refined sugar foods that are present in your diet and lifestyle. But don’t be hard on yourself—it’s not entirely your fault.
As a society, we’re constantly exposed to foods that are heavily processed and high in sugar for convenience purposes. Even worse, we’re fed misleading information through marketing tactics that only create confusion about what to eat for true health.
In addition to convenience factors and conflicting nutrition information, not eating well-balanced, nutrient dense meals throughout the day can cause your energy levels (and blood sugar levels) to drop.
To solve this problem, your body will crave energy from food in the quickest form it can digest, which is—you guessed it—refined sugar.
Unfortunately, the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave. (2) It truly is a vicious cycle. And although it’s this exact mechanism that causes type 2 diabetes, it’s one that can be reversed by making improvements in your diet and lifestyle.
[Related: How to Stop Your Addiction to Sugar]
How to Overcome the Causes of Type 2 Diabetes Naturally
Reversing type 2 diabetes basically involves taking counteractive methods to the lifestyle and dietary factors that lead to the causes of type 2 diabetes in the first place.
Often, patients with type 2 diabetes are prescribed to take extra insulin to resolve the problem. But as you now know, this isn’t what the body needs! The body is already producing enough insulin.
It’s insulin resistance, a build up of sugar in the blood, that’s causing the problem.
To begin regulating blood sugar levels, a diet rich in healthy foods and free of refined sugar is the first place to start.
While anyone with a high sugar diet can be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, those who are overweight are considered to be higher risk. Therefore, taking measures to also improve lifestyle factors that can lead to obesity, such as a lack of exercise, are also important to consider.
Here are my top suggestions to improve blood sugar levels, which can lead to you overcoming type 2 diabetes naturally…
Eat Foods High in Fibre
Fibre slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream. High fibre foods are found in nature and include dark leafy greens, beans, legumes, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The best fruits to eat are those lower in sugar, such as berries, pears and apples.
Try these recipes:
Veto White Flour
White flour breaks down rapidly into the bloodstream and negatively impacts blood sugar. So, replacing white flour with gluten-free grains in moderation (no more than once per day) can help provide your body with the fibre, vitamins and minerals that are absent from white flour.
Gluten-free whole grains also break down much slower into the bloodstream, to help support blood sugar balance. Gluten-free whole grains include brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat and amaranth.
Try these recipes:
Limit Grain Consumption
While gluten-free grains are a better alternative to white flour or gluten-containing whole grains, it’s best to limit them in your diet for stable blood sugar levels. Avoiding grains reduces the amount of sugar in your diet, and requires less insulin to be released. This contributes to optimal blood sugar balance.
Try these recipes:
- Apple Cider Vinegar & Greens Detox Salad
- Chipotle Cashew Chopped Salad with Vegan Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing
Pair Sugar Sources with Proteins and Healthy Fats
Pairing foods that break down into natural sugar (such as whole grains, fruit and starchy vegetables) with a protein or healthy fat helps in regulating blood sugar levels. This can also help diminish the craving for something sweet.
For example, pair a bowl of berries with ½ of an avocado, or a piece of whole grain toast with turkey or chicken. For optimal blood sugar regulation, I recommend eating carbohydrates with your evening meals rather than as breakfast. Here’s why.
Limit Caffeine Consumption, Replace with Herbal Tea
Caffeine is known to spike and crash blood sugar levels, which can move you further away from maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and reversing type 2 diabetes.
Removing caffeine from your diet and replacing caffeine with herbal tea (or an occasional decaf coffee) will help support the overall health of your blood sugar levels.
Replace Dairy with Nut Milk
Dairy products are high in carbohydrates and can negatively impact blood sugar levels. By substituting dairy with sugar-free products made from nut milk, you’ll help balance your blood sugar levels. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats and protein that improve blood sugar.
Here’s an excellent guide to nut milks from Nutrition Stripped.
You’ll likely agree that convenience is one of the main reasons that sugar creeps into your diet. How many times have you had to stop at a drive-thru to get a coffee and pastry for breakfast because there was not enough time to make something? These are the exact habits that can lead to unstable blood sugar levels.
Spending an hour during the week to pre-plan and prepare your meals to include healthy, blood-sugar balancing ingredients is one lifestyle change that goes a very long way when it comes to eliminating and reversing the causes of type 2 diabetes. Better yet, check out my tips for creating healthy eating habits here.
Exercising not only improves your mood and how you feel, but it helps drive blood sugar into your cells (3). Especially when it’s this type of training. However, exercise doesn’t have to be a strenuous or intimidating activity either. Simply going for a brisk walk after dinner or taking the stairs instead of the elevator is an easy, hassle-free way to include more physical activity during your day.
Remember, even if you don’t think it does, every small change adds up to making a big difference in your health!
Have a High Protein Breakfast
Start your morning off with a high protein breakfast without starchy carbohydrates. In doing so, you allow for better blood sugar balance throughout the day.
This is because one of cortisol’s jobs (a hormone whose levels are highest in the morning) is to break down sugar in your body to provide you with energy and help stabilize blood sugar levels.
If you include starchy carbohydrates in your first meal of the day, you’re providing your body with an influx of sugar that doesn’t require cortisol to do its job. I go into more detail about this concept in another blog post I did called, When to Eat Carbs: The Carb Backloading Secret.
For optimal blood sugar balance, it’s also a good idea to include a protein and/or healthy fat at every meal and snack.
For example, organic eggs with leafy greens, peppers and avocado, or quinoa with berries and almond milk. In fact, quinoa makes the perfect breakfast food as it is one of the highest plant based protein sources.
Keep Healthy Foods in Your Kitchen
By removing all of the high sugar foods in your home, and only keeping healthy, blood-sugar supportive foods in your cupboards, you’re less tempted to reach for something that will sabotage your health goals.
Now that you know the real causes of type 2 diabetes, I’ll leave it up to you to decide which changes you’d like to make to begin improving your health. Even the smallest improvements count!
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.