Food & Wine

Lessen diabetes risk with lifestyle modifications

Almost half of U.S. adults are estimated to have diabetes or pre-diabetes, and diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

In Benton County, the death rate from diabetes is 27 per 100,000, and in Franklin County, it is 39 per 100,000.

These are frightening statistics, but fortunately, you can do something about them. In a speech this year, Walter Willet, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University, claimed that 92 percent of Type 2 diabetes cases could be avoided with lifestyle changes. To understand this bold statement, it helps to know how research explains the cause of Type 2 diabetes.

When you eat too much saturated fat, insulin doesn’t work properly, and glucose, or sugar, builds up in the bloodstream. Normally, glucose is converted into energy in your muscle cells, with the help from the insulin that is produced by the pancreas. The pancreas can be damaged by too much saturated fat. Your liver is also involved in the glucose cycle, and saturated fat can injure the liver as well. Having Type 2 diabetes indicates that your organs are stressed and wearing out. It used to be that only the elderly got Type 2 diabetes, but even in children aged 10 to 19, the rate of Type 2 diabetes increased by 30.5 percent between 2001-09.

Getting rid of some of that saturated fat is important for people who have Type 2 diabetes and for people at risk. Saturated fat comes from like beef, chicken, pork, dairy, eggs, chocolate, hydrogenated and coconut oils. It can also come from your fat cells. If you are obese, fat from your fat cells may overflow into your bloodstream.

If you are at risk for diabetes, consider that a 2011 study of adults diagnosed with pre-diabetes showed that lifestyle modifications were more effective than anti-diabetes drugs in preventing Type 2 diabetes. Willett recommends not smoking, maintaining a body mass index of less than 25, walking briskly a half-hour each day, eating fish twice a week and red meat only occasionally; eating whole grains instead of sugar and refined grains; drinking water as your major beverage rather than milk; avoiding soda and other drinks high in sugar; eating lots of fruits and vegetables; and limiting alcohol to about one serving every other day. If you have Type 2 diabetes, work with health care professionals to carefully monitor your medications when following these recommendations, as your medication requirements may change rapidly.

To get started on some healthy changes, here’s a filling autumn soup with no saturated fat. Serve with whole grain bread and a green salad.

Yellow Split Pea Soup with Orange Vegetables

Start to finish: about an hour. Servings: 8.

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 medium winter squash, about 1 1/2 pounds, washed

2 medium sweet potatoes or yams, about 1 pound, scrubbed and pricked with a fork

3 large carrots, scrubbed and cut in 1” chunks

2 cups dried yellow split peas or lentils, rinsed

8 cups water or salt-free broth

2 teaspoon rosemary

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoon thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a rimmed cookie sheet or line with parchment paper. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Place cut-side down on a cookie sheet and place the sweet potatoes alongside. Roast until squash and sweet potatoes are soft and skins are brown, about 45 minutes (alternatively you can just peel the squash and sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces, and add to the soup with the water, but roasting adds flavor).

Meanwhile place the onion and garlic in a soup pot over medium heat with about 2 tablespoons of water. Cover pot and steam about 5 minutes. Stir, and more water if necessary, and cook for another 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add carrots, split peas, water, rosemary, bay leaf and thyme. Turn heat up to high until the soup boils. Reduce heat and bring to a simmer.

When the sweet potatoes and squash have cooked, scoop the flesh from the vegetables into the soup and discard the peels. When the split peas and carrots are soft, remove the bay leaf and puree the soup in batches in a blender.

Serve hot, adding hot sauce if desired. Leftover cans be refrigerated for about 4 days or frozen.

Nutrition information per serving: 219 calories, less than 1 gram fat, no saturated fat or cholesterol, 75 mg sodium, 791 mg potassium, 55 g carbohydrates, 17 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 12 g protein, 469 percent vitamin A, 53 percent vitamin C, 11 percent calcium, 18 percent iron.