For the past few weeks I’ve been writing about ways to age-proof your body and rejuvenate your mind. This week is all about the vital importance of keeping your blood sugar levels in check.
That’s because having persistently high levels of sugar in the blood will age you, inside and out, faster than almost anything else.
Sugar in your blood sticks to proteins in the walls of your blood vessels, making them stiffer and less flexible.
According to Dr Michael Mosley, pictured, high blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes
High blood sugar levels also damage your nerves.
That’s why diabetes – a disease characterised by high blood sugar – is a leading cause of blindness and more than doubles your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, or of developing dementia. People with diabetes are also 20 times more likely to have a limb amputation.
And you don’t have to have diabetes for damage to occur. An Australian study of more than 10,000 people found that having pre-diabetes – raised blood sugars not yet in the diabetic range – increased risk of premature death by more than 60 per cent.
Finally, raised blood sugar will make you look older by attacking collagen and elastin molecules in your skin. This in turn makes your face saggy, baggy and wrinkled. So what can you do about it? Try following this simple five-point plan…
1 FIND OUT YOUR DIABETES RISK
Answer yes or no to the following questions, relating to known risk factors for diabetes:
- Are you 50 or over?
- Are you male?
- Do you have a relative with diabetes?
- Are you from an ethnic group other than white European?
- Do you have a waist measurement of 36in or more?
- Do you have a BMI of more than 30?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
If you answer yes to three or more of these questions, you could be at raised risk of diabetes and should probably be tested by your GP or get a self-testing kit from the chemist.
If I do this test, I get three ‘yes’ answers, which puts me into the raised-risk category. This is because my father was diabetic, because I am over 60 and because I am male. Clearly these are not things I can do anything about. But waist size and weight are. Raised blood pressure is also closely linked to higher levels of gut fat and will probably drop rapidly when you lose weight.
You can take a more detailed version of this questionnaire, and find out if you have a high risk, at diabetes.org.uk.
2 LOSE WEIGHT, FAST
If you are overweight, particularly if you have a waist that is more than half your height, then try my New 5:2 – the recipes feature every week in these pages.
You can either try cutting your calories to 800 on two days a week or, if you want much faster results, go for 800 calories a day for up to 12 weeks.
In a recent study, British researchers Professor Roy Taylor and Professor Mike Lean showed that type 2 diabetics allocated to an 800-calorie diet lost an average of 22 lb, which they kept off for over a year. Not only did they lose weight but nearly half were able to return their blood sugars to normal without medication. The more the weight loss, the greater the chance of success.
Rapid weight loss is not suitable for everyone and you should see your GP before starting, particularly if you are currently on medication. Visit thebloodsugardiet.com, where you will find support from health professionals and those who have successfully done the diet.
3 GO LOW CARB, LOW SUGAR
I’m a great fan of the Mediterranean diet, a tasty and incredibly healthy way of eating. The version I recommend in these columns and in my books is high in healthy fats such as olive oil, oily fish and oily nuts, low in starchy carbs like potatoes and white rice, and low in sugar.
I also eat full-fat yogurt and plenty of veg. Eating some fruit is OK, as long as you have it as a dessert rather than a snack. It is much healthier (and will keep you fuller) to snack on a handful of nuts or a small bit of cheese.
The best fruits to eat are the ones with a low GI (glycaemic index). These shouldn’t raise your blood sugar levels much.
Low-GI fruit includes berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries) and hard fruits such as apples and pears. High-GI fruits to avoid include melon, grapes and bananas.
4 THINK BEFORE YOU DRINK
Cut out sugar-laden drinks like Coca-Cola, fruit juice and most commercial smoothies. I am not a fan of artificially sweetened drinks as they have been shown to cause inflammation in the gut. Instead, keep a jug of water in the fridge with some slices of lemon, orange or cucumber floating in it. Tea and coffee are also fine, just as long as you don’t add sugar.
5 GET OUTDOORS
Do you have a question for Dr Mosley?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT.
Michael can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies
A recent review of more than 140 studies involving over 290 million people found that spending time in green spaces reduces the risk of getting type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and reduces levels of cortisol, a marker of stress. Being close to nature means you are more likely to exercise and also increases your exposure to ‘good’ bacteria, which will calm your immune system and reduce inflammation.
Try to minimise the time you spend sitting and fit in exercise into your busy day. I do muscle-building exercises like squats and press-ups most mornings and find that cycling is kinder to the joints than running.
5:2 recipe of the week… Chicken and butterbean casserole
Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a large casserole pan, then season and cook 4 small skinless and boneless chicken thighs for 2 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Add 1 finely chopped onion, 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 large carrot, chopped into chunks, and cook for 5 minutes. Add 125ml white wine, 500ml hot chicken stock, half a 400g can butter beans, rinsed and drained and some seasoning, then simmer everything for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the grill to high. Mix 1 more minced garlic clove, a small bunch of tarragon, finely chopped, a tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt then brush over 1 large wholemeal pitta cut into quarters. Grill for 1-2 minutes on each side and serve with the casserole and salad leaves on the side.
Higher-cal version: Use 8 chicken thighs so there are two per person, the whole 400g tin of butter beans, and 2 large wholemeal pittas, so that each person gets two quarters.
Dr Michael Mosley’s chicken and butterbean casserole which has just 276 calories per person with 560 for the higher calorie version