Are you one of the 240,000 New Zealanders living with diabetes? According to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, diabetes is one of the fastest growing health issues in the country. Gone untreated, diabetes can lead to life-threatening complications like cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, vision impairment, nerve damage, amputation, and more.
One of the primary culprits for developing type II diabetes is sugar. Excessive sugar consumption can increase blood sugar levels in the body and insulin resistance as well as contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and other conditions that put you at risk for developing diabetes.
Studies suggest that adults in New Zealand consume anywhere from two to three times as much sugar in a day as they should. If you are trying to manage your type II diabetes or looking for ways to protect your body against developing it, don’t miss these four quick tips:
1. Know sugar’s many names
Life would be a lot easier if you knew that sugar was simply sugar, but in the day and age of processed foods, unfortunately, sugar is known by many names. Corn syrup, honey, molasses, fruit puree, sucrose, fructose, sucralose, maltose, hydrolysed starch . . . the list goes on. If your food contains any of these ingredients, you’re consuming sugar.
In addition to supplying sweetness, sugar is also used in more functional ways to enhance the texture, look, and shelf-life of food products. The Australia and New Zealand Forum on Food Regulation recognised that food labels were not adequately informing consumers about a food’s sugar content in respect to dietary regulations and in 2018 they started taking actions to update them.
2. Modify your favourite recipes
Reducing your sugar consumption doesn’t mean you need to throw out your favourite cookie recipes. Instead, simply modify them by cutting the “sugar” content by at least a third. White sugars and brown sugars do little but add sweetness so it’s ok to simply modify the amounts you put in without having to worry about changing the rest of the recipe.
You can also incorporate more naturally-occurring sweeteners into your recipes, i.e. like using dates, unsweetened applesauce, or maple syrup in baked goods instead of sugar. Don’t forget too that spices like cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, as well as vanilla and almond extracts, can add dynamic flavour to baked goods and other recipes making sugar superfluous.
3. Drink less sugar
You might think that simply ‘replacing’ the sugar you eat with artificial sweeteners is the way to go, however, research has yet to find any significant health benefits of doing so. In fact, a 2019 study published in the journal Stroke found that post-menopausal women who consumed two or more diet drinks a day had an increased risk for dying from a stroke as well as an increased risk for developing heart disease.
When in doubt, swap your sweetened beverages like tea, soda, and fruit juice for water or sparkling water that you flavour with fresh citrus, mint, or cucumber.
4. Make more of your own food
One place you are guaranteed to find lots of added sugars is in processed snacks. Even seemingly healthy foods like flavoured Greek yoghurts, trail mix, granola bars, and smoothies are loaded with tons of added sugars. One easy way to forgo the extra carbohydrates but still enjoy the foods you love is to make them yourself.
Instead of flavoured Greek yoghurt, try plain yoghurt with fresh fruit. Make your own granola with unsalted mixed nuts, rolled oats, dried fruit, and pumpkin and chia seeds. And whip up your own smoothie in the morning using fresh fruit, low-fat milk, spinach, and avocado. Same goes for dressings and sauces – these condiments have plenty of hidden sugars. Switch them out for sugar-free concoctions you make yourself out of olive oil, balsamic or white wine vinegar, tinned tomatoes, etc.
Successfully managing diabetes doesn’t just come down to the amount of sugar you consume. It is also important to get regular exercise, manage your stress levels, and follow the medication schedule prescribed by your doctor. Thousands of people live with diabetes everyday symptom-free and maintaining a safe blood sugar level.
Small changes add up to a big difference so don’t get overwhelmed trying to tackle everything at once. Even if you just start by putting half as much sugar in your morning tea as you normally would, you’ll be making a real difference in your health and wellbeing!