Friday, January 13, 2017

Staying healthy in the new year

A few years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. I won't get into all that history now, but suffice to say it was a big surprise to me, given that we have no family history and I was not obese in anyway. Up until that diagnosis, I always considered my diet to be relatively healthy. I almost never eat fast food, I do not drink soda or sugary drinks, no junk food,  no heavily processed foods, etc. I generally cook most meals at home using fresh produce and proteins, and I try to buy local or organic foods. What I didn't know was the importance of balance in my diet and how certain food groups are so important to health, and in particular if you are a diabetic.

For a few years I coasted along, only checking my blood glucose levels twice a year at a doctor visit.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this past September, I had a near brush with death when I allowed my glucose levels to reach well over 600 and was a walking time bomb. As luck would have it, my excellent health care physician caught it in time for some hospital care, and in no time was back on my feet.  That was a turning point for me, in that I discovered my pancreas had not been producing enough insulin to naturally regulate my blood sugar. The upshot was that I had to start taking insulin injections every night. I went on a crash course to refine my diet. It was back to a strict regimen, checking my blood glucose levels three times a day.
image from Healthy Diet Advisor

I decided to do a lot of research and consult with experts, nutritionists and of course my own doctor. The obvious and most critical points for people with type two diabetes are to moderate the amount of food per meal, avoid anything white (rice, pasta, bread, sugar), eat a balance of lean protein, lots of green vegetables and a small portion of a complex carbohydrate. Skip desserts and sweets, or just limit to a small bite, when you have a meal to help absorb it. Portion control is a key factor, and of course, limit alcohol consumption.

The other big learning along the way was about the importance of the gut, and how by increasing your fiber intake can have a huge overall health benefit. There are numerous studies and articles out there about this topic. The general topic of probiotics and prebiotics is more widely discussed, and there is no shortage of products on the market to help add healthy bacteria to your digestive system. What few people talk about however is the importance of eating more fiber and vegetables. As it turns out fiber is extremely important not only for digestion but to help improve your overall health and well being.

image from Care 2
I've read studies that show Americans consume only half the amount of recommended daily fiber in our diets. I'm not just talking about taking a fiber pill or something like that--I'm referring to leafy vegetables, beans, stalky ruffage, low glycemic root vegetables, etc. A combination of these fibers helps to regulate blood sugar, because they digest slowly and help the gut do its job. Diabetics can benefit from more fiber in our diets too. The big benefit is what happens in the gut when all this fiber is ferments. It sounds like a scary word, but gut fermentation is a good thing. That fermentation allows the good bacteria to develop and grow. The "good bacteria" can develop and it helps fight off the "bad bacteria" that we all have in our gut. This balance of bacteria, or as scientists call it "microflora"is critical to being healthy.

I've learned that I can make a big difference in my own health, and also in controlling my own diabetes by eating more fiber in my diet in conjunction with the other factors I mentioned. Taking a probiotic supplement or eating yogurt is fine, but that alone isn't enough unless your gut has been continually "fed" fibers to help maintain the presence of the good gut bacteria. In fact I take a probiotic called Trinity by Natren that is refrigerated so the bacteria strains stay alive and are actually useful to the gut. (Don't waste your money on those probiotics that are sitting on some shelf in a store at room temperature, the good bacteria often dies off when exposed to heat and is useless by the time you buy it).  I think probiotic supplements are great but I know that I also need to increase my fiber intake to truly benefit my health.

My kids "Miss Ellie" and "Mr Sheldon"
Food and nutrition is near and dear to me. I've been involved in pet nutrition throughout my career, and had to keep up on the latest research and advancements in food, nutrition, ingredients and health. I've attended countless conferences, I sit on the board of a food manufacturer, and also serve on an nutrition innovation team with some of the smartest nutritionists in the industry. I assumed I knew everything there was about eating healthy. Having been in the pet industry for over 20 years, I've also lectured about the importance of a healthy diet for your pet. New research indicates that this concept of increased dietary fiber is even important for dogs and cats, the same principle applies to them. As you would do for yourself, feed your pets the best quality food you can afford. For people, we can make our own food easily and vary our consumption. For pets, it takes a more careful review of the foods on the market. Not all pet foods are equal, and not all provide the right levels of protein, carbs and fiber either. These days, I am taking better care of my own health by being more careful with what I eat, how much and also getting exercise every day. I read labels and nutrition facts in detail, and I calculate net carbohydrates to be sure I manage my diabetes. The cool thing is that while learning more for my own health, I have also become better informed and more educated about pet nutrition and how I can keep my pets healthier. My own education led me to pursue more information and facts about emerging data for dogs and cats.

Some day I'll write about some of the interesting new research about keeping pets healthy, but for now I wanted to share my own new year's commitment about staying healthy and managing my diabetes. If you are diabetic, take responsibility for your own health. Ask your doctor lots of questions and take control of your diet and exercise. If you are lucky enough not to have any health issues now, you can still make a big difference in your life my eating more fiber along with a healthy  diet. One day I'll write about all that in greater detail. Here is to your health!

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