Can you stop the sweet killer? 5 most recommended ways to prevent diabetes

Every year 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, an illness that cost an average of 176 billion for direct medical costs. Diabetes is a chronic illness and it surges when the pancreas can’t produce insulin anymore or when the body can’t use insulin efficiently.

The history of type 2 diabetes in my family is long. We have lost at least 6 people in our family in the past 3 years due to complications of diabetes. They were from both my mother’s and my father’s side. My family has a very high risk. I think often if it is possible to decrease your chances when your DNA has all the information.

As I am growing older, I think a lot about the origin of diabetes in our family. My grandparents were from a rural area. They had fresh food to eat every day. Their diets were based on fruits, vegetables and grains that they collected every day. The consumption of animal proteins was very sporadic, small animals like chickens or turkeys where consumed once in a while and on the weekends, maybe two times a month, others farmers sold cow, pig or lamb meats they were consumed fresh as well. They had a refrigerator but almost never had anything on it but milk or cheese. They had very active lives. My grandfather from my Father side was diabetic. He woke up every morning at 3:30 am and needed to leave by 4:00 am. He didn’t have breakfast but coffee, bread and fruit. He worked until to 2:00 pm, then he came back home and have dinner. He stayed at home for an hour of two and come back out to work again. At night they had something small, fruits or milk and they were in bed at around 8:00 pm. The consumption of refined sugars was not an issue because none were available.

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My mother is diabetic, she lived part of her childhood in the country, her hometown was very isolated, so her diet was very similar as my grandfather’s. Then they moved to the city. They weren’t sedentary at all, they walk every day, every where. My grandmother cooked every day, so they never eat out or junk food. My mom said she considered herself being poor and couldn’t afford to buy any candy or soft drinks. She was diagnosed with diabetes at 45 years old.

I lived in the city my whole life. Life in the city is not sedentary, you have to walk everywhere, my diet as a child was very healthy too. My mother cocked everyday and our diets were based on fruits, vegetables and grains but we did eat met everyday. The availability of refined sugars was broader I have a sweet tooth and I am overweight. People always tell me to watch what I eat or I am going to get diabetes. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong but the question is… Can you stop the sweet killer?

According to the American Diabetes Association you are at high risk if you don’t exercise, you are obese, you have family with the illness, you have had gestational diabetes and you are older than 45. A test to know your risk is offered at this website. So, I decided to find out what is my risk. Turns out that I met 4 out of 5 requirements, and the results shows that my risk is 50%. This is like flipping a coin. I may or may not have Diabetes when I grow older. This was just basic information, but what is next? It does feel like I am playing Russian roulette right now… It left me thinking, I need to have a plan, I need to think ahead. I am going to make sure I stay at the good 50%. So what can I do?

 

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Lets start talking about sugar, what does it make to your body? Sugar by itself is very important to the human body, in the right amount, it gives cells energy. But in excess, it will damage your teeth decaying them. It can cause fatty liver disease. Sugar also causes huge amounts of dopamine release in the brain, which make sugar very highly addictive.

I love sugary stuff, as soon as it hits my tongue my brain gets delighted with pleasure, this has a scientific explanation: when you eat sugar, it sends information to your brain to shoot out serotonin and endorphins hormones that makes you happy. Sugar also makes your body resist leptin, a protein that helps keep your metabolism in check. When you eat sugar your body never sends the signal that is full.

When talking about type 2 diabetes, the most common type, prevention is key, but the answer is not that simple, the causes of diabetes are more than genetic or dietetic factors, it is in the style of life. There is a chain of events that could help you develop the illness especially if you are at risk.

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Here there are 5 simple ideas for prevention:

 

  1. – Keep a Healthy diet

Keeping a healthy diet will help you keep your sugar levels down. Sugars are considered to absorb very rapidly and give almost instantly energy to the body. If is not used at the moment, it will be stored as fat. The consumption of fructose present in vegetables and fruits gets metabolized and stored in the liver. A diet with high contents of fructose will develop fatty liver and insulin resistance causing type 2 diabetes.

Sugar liberates serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps the mood and improves wellbeing. But is also considered a cause of depression and anxiety. So if you are using a little sugar, you may have the effect of well being, but when using a lot you may have the anxiety and depression. Rapid changes in sugar levels in blood can provoke irritability, changes in mood, and nervousness.

Make healthy choices and try to eat at least 3 times a day with at least a portion of each food group. Limit the consumption of salt and sodium. Eating more fiber will benefit your blood sugar levels. Choose wheat and cracked grains, legumes like beans, dry peas, lentils, soy and vegetables.

A diet rich in sugars and carbohydrates will elevate your risk. The high consumption of sugary drinks specially soft drinks, energy drinks, sport beverages and fruit juices, refined sugar, honey, heavy syrups and desserts, elevate considerably the blood sugar levels. And most important keeping a healthy diet will help you maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and being overweight are the number one cause of diabetes.

 

  1. – Drink water

Water keeps your body hydrated. The water you drink helps process and regulate the blood sugar in your body. The glucose depletes fluids, and to get rid of it, the kidneys will try to pass it out in the urine, so the higher your blood glucose, the more fluids you should drink. People with diabetes are always thirsty. The amount of water needed to regulate your sugar levels is a ratio of 6 molecules of water for every molecule of sugar. That is why is imperative that you drink at least four 8 oz glasses of water a day to protect you against high blood sugar.

  1. – Decrease your stress level.

One of the most difficult things to avoid diabetes is control of stress levels. Stress has serious effects on your blood sugar. Hormones like epinephrine and cortisol increase during stressful events. They encourage the liver to produce glucose and insulin resistance. Add time in your routine to practice mindfulness. Learn what triggers your stress and try to keep it at minimum.

  1. Sleep well.

Every body is different. There is not a perfect number of hours to sleep per night; sleep requirements are based most in your daily life and in your genetics. Doctors, recommend at least 7.5 hours a day.

In 2015 a study from the journal Diabetologia to a more than 59,000 women ages between 55-83 determined than women with less than 6 hours of sleep will increase their risk of diabetes and the more you are awake, your resistance of insulin increases, raising your risk of pre-diabetes.

  1. – Keep yourself active

The sedentarism of our life styles requires that we are aware of our physical activity. Practicing a sport regularly, will reduce the amount of sugar in your blood stream and has many benefits for your health. A mix of cardio and aerobic exercises will level your sugar levels and decrease your possibilities for getting diabetes.

Sounds easy right? Just follow these 5 simple steps! But the reality is that sure hasn’t been for me. I work a lot, I am a housewife, I am a student, I am a mom and have many activities outside my house. Cooking healthy is one of my biggest issues, my slow cooker is my best friend but almost nothing can be eaten fresh. Gym? When? I feel like I have no time and when I do I feel guilty because I don’t see my family, so I choose not to. Of course it makes my life NOT stress free. But having done this test got me worried, I need to start doing something for my health. I want to break the chain or at least delaying it. So I am going to do it, let’s do it.

If you want to be diabetes free, follow these simple steps and remember that prevention is key. It is very important that you know your risk and have a plan to defeat your odds. For more tips and information visit the National Institute of Diabetes or the American Diabetes Association.

 

 

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The taste of my summers…

 

 

Ever since I can remember, my cousins and me spent our summers on the farm, “La Loma” where my father was born and raised and “San Nicolas” where my mom was born. These two rural areas were four hours away from home on Mexico City at the time. As kids we always waited impatiently for the last day of school, so my dad could take us to spend our two months summer break around the rural areas.

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Fig.- La Loma, Acambay. My father’s home town.
Fig. 2.- San Nicolas, Solis. Edo de Mexico. Where my mother was born.

Every year we watched the corn stalks grow in the “milpas”. The maize was small when we arrived at the beginning of the summer. and ready to harvest when we left. The soil at the milpas is great for growing corn, it is light, moist, fertile and well drained and summer is the perfect season for rain. The milpas were the perfect place to play hide and seek and pick up fresh flowers. My grandma had a large variety of corn seeds, red, black, yellow, white. The black kind have been always my favorite. She pulled out the sack and started measuring the corn into a large wooden container and dumped it into a large pot. It needed to be cooked with lime (calcium hydroxide) and water to remove the seed’s skin until it was ready for tortilla dough the next day.

Fig 3.- Nixtamal bucket.                                               Fig 4.- Women walking to the mill.

I always enjoyed the long walks to the “molino,” a place where you pay to get your corn grind. It was far away from the house. To be first in line, we had to leave the house very early. After the long line at the molino it was her turn, she got on her knees and start rolling the dough that was falling down in little balls, over and over again like snowflakes until her bucket was full. She never let me do it because “con la masa no se juega” she said, in fact, you don’t ever play with the dough. I knew that later on, she always would give me a little piece to make my little tortillas. As soon as we got home, the wood stove was already burning. The “comal” this special smooth, flat griddle was getting ready for hundreds of handmade tortillas that day. I would never forget the taste of fresh, hot and fluffy 10” tortillas that were going out of the comal. She had to do a couple of runs until she could stack some. The little hungry kids were watching everything and waiting on every tortilla to eat it right away.

                                    Fig 5.- Blue corn tortillas                                                        Fig 6.- Recently made corn tortillas  in hot griddle

We are in the middle of the summer. Corn is medium size. The spike and tassels started to show in the plant, in the next couple of weeks the large ears start to fill up! We were impatiently waiting for fresh corn in the next couple of weeks. I heard my grandpa right after dinner when corn was ready. “Corta unos doce” get twelve ears, he used to yell. The fresh, crunchy and juice taste of grilled corn satisfied our tummies every day. But it was not just the fresh cut corn we were waiting on, also the “caña”, this flavorful stick that looks like bamboo stick with very sweet juices. After we ate the corn caña was dessert.

Fig 7.- Corn fields

Maize is ready to be harvested. The tassels are dry, and cobs are getting hard. Grandpa needed a lot of help to pick it up. He had many “peones” people who he hires to help him harvest. They brought sacks of dry cobs from his other milpas. We sat down in the patio and watched him making piles: one here, one there, that one over there. One by one the corn cobs got their place. I could see pride in his eyes. These were his own seeds. I never understood what he was doing, but this activity that has occurred for centuries is call domestication. He always saved the pile with his better seeds for next year’s crop, and if someone in the community was in need of seeds, he will reach from this pile to share. The second pile was for sell, and the third one to feed the animals.

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Fig 8.-Donkey carrying dry corn stalks, that will serve as farm animal food.
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Fig 9.- Sweet corn stalk. You can suck the juice out of it, right after you take off  the ears of corns

 

Summer after summer, things were changing. No fees or tariffs were applied to agriculture products to exports and imports when NAFTA began. Something that looked like an advantage was a big disadvantage for farmers. Some activists were fighting for the farmer’s rights in some areas before NAFTA started, but in “La Loma” they didn’t know about it. New seeds from the USA and Canada are invading the market. The Mexican farmers don’t have a chance to compete with North American farmers. Their subsidies are 20 times less, doesn’t have machinery, irrigation systems or other resources to have a successful production constantly.

Corn seeds imported to the USA and Canada are having a great impact in the economy and social well being in rural areas. The poor are now poorest and the rich are now richer. But this is only the social and economic problem. which all together is a complicated but is the ecological part. Agriculture in Mexico is changing, specially corn production. GMO’s are endangering the biodiversity and centuries of domestication of our creole varieties. These seeds are being used without any strict regulation to protect them from contamination with transgenic genes. Areas where creole varieties are cultivated need to be protected. Farmers need to have an opinion and need to be part in decision taking on their land. Experiments in open fields in areas where only creole varieties are cultivated, are threatening centuries of hard work and challenging nature because we don’t know the consequences yet. We are giving power to the big biotechnological companies the rights over our seeds. The DNA is being transmitted from one plant to another, and the consequences for the environment, the farmers and the economy impact in Mexican farms is not yet safe.

 

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Fig. 10.-Dry corn ears.

Grandpa does not have as many milpas as he used to. He still plants his house milpa with his white big seeds, just for his family. He watches it grow every summer as we used to. But there is not more help, not kids that are excited for the cobs or the “cañas”. Everyone went North. They consider is not worth it to cultivate their lands since there is not profit. My grandpa’s seeds are still productive, but he is afraid that some day they will disappear because nobody else will plant them. My voice is his voice, the voice of thousands of farmers that live in Mexico in their small farms, still clinging with nails and teeth of those valuable seeds that are not just a crop but also their cultural heritage. I say no to the privatization of seeds, no to the experimental use of transgenic corn seeds and yes to the recovery the food sovereignty of Mexico.