The Rise of Diabetes - Is the Western Diet Really to Blame?

It’s not breaking news that the rise of type 2 diabetes has brought the western world into crisis. In the UK alone, the number of diagnosed cases has doubled in the last 20 years, with 4.6 billion people currently living with the disease. In a report released by Diabetes UK, the number of people diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes has increased by almost 100,000 since last year. Almost 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2, and it is estimated that there are nearly 1 million people currently living with the condition who don’t know they have it because they haven’t been diagnosed. In short, an epidemic is underway...

Is it fair to blame the Western diet for the diabetes crisis?

 Junk food

There are reports everywhere claiming that following the typical Western diet increases the risk of chronic illness including diabetes. A report was published by the National Medical Association in the US directly linking type 2 diabetes with the western diet. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health stated that: “The typical Western diet, red meat, high-fat dairy products, refined grains and desserts may increase your chances for Type 2 diabetes.”

It may seem obvious that indulging in a diet of burgers, fries, fizzy drinks and general junk food can increase your risk of heart disease or diabetes. Researcher Lyn M. Steffen, (PhD, MPH, RD) told Web MD that: “Just two burger patties a day and one daily diet soda substantially boost the risk of getting metabolic syndrome.”

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of related conditions including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. They occur together to collectively increase the chance of diabetes as well as other health problems.

What exactly does a “Western diet” consist of?

Of course there are variations, but typically a western diet is known to be high in salt and sugar, along with a large amount of processed meats and foods which are artificially sweetened. Dairy products, red meat and ready made meals are large culprits, whereas there is a smaller consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Western-style diet is characterised by its highly processed and refined foods and high contents of sugars, salt, and fat.

How can I prevent type 2 diabetes?

There are a number of ways you can ensure better health and avoid the possibility of type 2 diabetes. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t begin and end with what you are eating - there are other steps you can take to lessen your chances of being faced with the disease.

Eat healthily, avoiding processed foods 

Eat more fruit, vegetables and high-fibre foods, making sure you cut back on salt and sugar. ‘Convenience meals’ are a danger zone for these reasons, so opt for home cooking with fresh ingredients where possible. 

Limit your alcohol intake

Too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and may increase your blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Men should have no more than two standard drinks a day and women should have no more than one. Being mindful of your alcohol intake can go a long way to improving your health as well as reducing your risk of diabetes. 

Get moving

Even gentle exercise when done consistently can have a major impact on your health. Join a gym, go walking or swimming, or simply try taking the stairs at work instead of the lift for a little cardio boost. Moderate physical activity on most days of the week helps manage weight, reduce blood glucose levels and may also improve blood pressure and cholesterol.

See your doctor for regular check-ups 

Visiting your GP means you can regularly check your blood glucose, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, all of which are important indicators for these types of health problems. Being able to catch things early doors can seriously prevent more serious illnesses from developing. It's just an appointment, make time!

Quit smoking

Smokers are twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-smokers. The NHS has some good advice and online help for those who are looking to quit.

Watch your blood pressure

This is connected to the above point about getting exercise....this combined with a healthy diet can help you keep your blood pressure down.  In some cases, you might need medication prescribed by your doctor. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease have many risk factors in common, including obesity and physical inactivity.