November is Diabetes Awareness month. For those already concerned – diabetic persons and their families – there is no such thing since they need to be aware 24/7 every month of the year. Awareness includes being cautious about eating and exercise habits to keep the blood sugar within an acceptable range. For some, also continuous monitoring of blood sugar levels and having insulin injections on a regular basis. In fact – many people with diabetes live healthier lives than others because they need to be aware and knowledgeable. The awareness leads to decisions that make a real difference, and the reward can be a life with fewer limitations. But what about the others? I am talking about the 90 million or so pre-diabetic Americans who are at high risk of developing type-2 diabetes and could really benefit from a higher level of awareness.
The good and bad news can be summarized in one sentence: “What you eat and drink makes a difference.” Bad news: the sky-rocketing type-2 diabetes numbers are caused to a great extent by an unhealthy lifestyle with too many fast-carb meals, too much of those sugary drinks and too little exercise. And obesity is the number one risk factor. Good news: A pre-diabetic state can be both prevented and reversed with quite simple lifestyle changes.
The advice from diabetes educators across the country includes dropping the sugary drinks, exercising on a moderate level and losing some weight. Sounds simple, but apparently not simple enough to curb the vicious trend of lifestyle-related disease affecting the lives of more and more people, and taking more and more of healthcare resources. This just can´t go on!
As a food scientist, I have spent more than 20 years researching the preventive properties of different foods and food concepts. My strongest driving force has been the conviction that prevention and the ability to choose is a much better deal for both individuals and society than lifelong treatment, medication and restrictions. My research has convinced me even more, that food can be a powerful tool. I have taken part in many clinical studies that show how the right kind of food can be as powerful as medication to fight blood sugar spikes and the associated inflammation, and entirely without side effects. But that knowledge doesn´t help much if it doesn´t reach the gut. So what is needed?
My view is that we need to make it easy and attractive for individuals to make more healthy choices. Food producers need to take more responsibility for the content and effects of their products. Restaurants and coffee shops need to develop recipes that don´t only satisfy their customers´ sweet teeth but also contribute to their health. Retailers must become more knowledgeable about the health aspects of what they offer. And we´re not talking rocket science. The recipe is quite simple: less sugar, white flour, and saturated fat. More of the fiber-rich, full-grain and veggies. Promote flavored still or sparkling water instead of sugary sodas and energy drinks.
It might sound like a hard cure, but my point is that: A) it’s necessary to break the trend and, B) the food industry has the resources and the knowledge to develop foods that are both attractive and healthy. And just think of the market and goodwill waiting out there for those who can offer that combination of added value and make it easier for people to live a healthier life.
It´s time to make diabetes awareness a business idea!