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Healthy Eating to Avoid Diabetes

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 16 Sep 2012 |
Type 2 Diabetes Healthy Eating Insulin

Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease, but in many cases it can be prevented through eating healthily, controlling weight and exercise. It is important to start this early, because healthy eating habits developed in childhood are more likely to carry on into adulthood, and overweight children have a tendency to become overweight adults.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?

One of the major causes of type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetes used to be most common in people over 40, but it is now seen in children as young as seven years old. Children who have a relative with type 2 diabetes may have an increased risk of developing it, so taking steps to prevent it is especially important in families with members with the disease.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

Carbohydrates are broken down in the body into a simple sugar called glucose, which is absorbed into the blood and used for energy. Insulin, produced in the pancreas, keeps blood sugar levels from becoming too high or too low. Type 2 diabetes happens when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, and/or the cells in the body are not able to use the insulin properly. This means blood glucose becomes too high and glucose starts to appear in the urine.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include being unusually thirsty all the time, needing to wee a lot, being tired and losing weight. Over the long-term, diabetes can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, damage the kidneys, cause blurred vision and even blindness, and damage the nerves, especially in the hands and feet.

How to Avoid Type 2 Diabetes

Eating healthily is the best way to reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes because it helps children reach and stay at a healthy weight. Focus on giving children a balance of lean protein and carbohydrates, preferably in the form of wholegrains, and not too much fat, as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables.

A study published in the British Medical Journal suggested that a Mediterranean-style diet could help prevent type 2 diabetes. This includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh fish, cooked in olive oil, and is low in saturated fat.

Eating wholegrains rather than refined ones can help maintain a healthy weight, because they break down more slowly in the gut, and make children feel fuller for longer, so they are less likely to snack. Wholegrains provide extra fibre in the diet as well. However, very young children should not have too much fibre in their diet, as it can fill them up too quickly, stopping them absorbing all the nutrients they need.

Try swapping from white pasta to brown pasta and white rice to brown rice (it takes a bit longer to cook, but has a nice nutty flavour). Use wholemeal bread (bread labelled ‘brown’ is sometimes just coloured white bread), and look for breads containing whole seeds and grains.

To help with weight control, keep sugary foods as a treat, and provide children with plenty of fresh and dried fruit as a healthy sweet snack.

In addition to healthy eating, taking regular exercise can also help prevent type 2 diabetes, and it helps children’s health in lots of other ways too.

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