Most people think of diabetes as a hormone condition caused by the body’s inability to make insulin, the hormone that converts glucose, or blood sugar, into energy. But diabetes is really a cardiovascular disease, and a huge threat to heart health.
In fact, diabetes contributes to the development of coronary artery disease more than any other risk factor except for smoking. And diabetes is even more dangerous to women’s hearts than men’s.
Like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, it is possible to reverse diabetes. Also, just like high blood pressure, there is no such thing as “mild” or “borderline” diabetes. People who are told that they have mild diabetes fall into a category that is known as “insulin resistant.”
However, research shows that people in this category almost invariably go on to develop full-blown diabetes. So if you’re told you are insulin resistant, or have pre-diabetes, you have to treat the diagnosis just as seriously as diabetes.
Diabetes is generally diagnosed years after its onset, which means that the disease has an enormous head start in damaging your body, including your heart. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a person to learn they have diabetes only after they’ve had a heart attack. So when it comes to diabetes, you need to be proactive. If you have major risk factors for diabetes — if you’re older, overweight, or if you have a close relative with the disease — have your doctor test you for the disease.
If you are at risk, your doctor can perform a fasting blood sugar test. If this shows a possibility of diabetes, your doctor will follow it with a hemoglobin A1c test (also called an A1c test, or sometimes HbA1c).
Traditionally, this test was given to people with diabetes to learn how well their disease was controlled. But it is now being used as a diagnostic tool as well. The best thing about the hemoglobin A1c test is that it actually enables your doctor to look back in time and get a snapshot of your blood sugar over the past three months.
If you have diabetes, are pre-diabetic, or have major risk factors for the disease, the first thing to do is go to your kitchen shelves and fridge, and toss out any items that contain sugar. This includes table sugar, of course. But you also need to be a close label-reader, and seek out other types of sugar — like high-fructose corn syrup — that might be a hidden ingredient.
Next, eliminate simple starches such as white bread and white rice. Your body converts starch to glucose, and these foods can cause spikes in your insulin level.
If you have diabetes, a plant-based, high-fiber diet that includes plenty of whole grains will cause your body to metabolize glucose evenly throughout the day. That is the best way to avoid unhealthy insulin spikes.
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