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It's a fact– the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) is rising right across the globe. First-world and third-world counties are all seeing staggering numbers of people with T2DM at younger and younger ages. While Diabetes can have many causes, there are a few standout lifestyle factors that are a big part of the problem. One of the most notable is our increased use of ultra-processed foods.
In previous generations, unprocessed foods such as fresh/frozen fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fresh meats, fish and milk made up the bulk of our diet. Then, we welcomed in some processed foods – made with ingredients you could typically find in your kitchen like sugar, salt, and fats. Processed foods include items such as bread, cheeses, and cured meats. Later, ultra-processed foods made their appearance. These are foods with added ingredients that you would not normally find in your kitchen including flavouring and colouring agents, emulsifiers, hydrogenated fats and high fructose corn syrup. Sodas, fruit drinks, commercially made cakes, cookies, pies and salty snacks like cheese puffs and chips, pizzas, breakfast cereals, sauces, spreads, dressings, ice cream and instant meal items are all considered ultra-processed foods.
We have evidence that eating a diet high in ultra-processed foods leads to eating extra calories and weight gain as well as increased insulin resistance, which are all factors in the development of T2DM (1). Research also proves that people who eat fast foods (which are almost all ultra-processed foods) two or more times per week have a 27% increased risk of T2DM. This increased risk still applies even if you are young, active and a non-smoker (2). This shows us just how important a healthy diet is in preventing Type 2 Diabetes! Even worse, when researchers looked at your home's proximity to fast food places and the number of restaurants in your area, both of these factors were directly related to your risk of having Type 2 Diabetes (3).
So, what does this mean for us? Well, it might sound too simple, but eat out less, cook at home from scratch more and use foods as close to their natural, unprocessed state as possible. A healthy diet really means relying on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fresh lean meats, legumes, milk, and grains in their natural state. While ultra-processed foods are here to stay, finding ways to cut back or cut down our reliance on them is imperative for our good health.
1. Hall KD, et al. "Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake." Cell Metabolism. May 16, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008
2. University of Minnesota Academic Health Center. "Fast food intake increases risk of diabetes and heart disease in Singapore." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2012. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120702210214.htm
3. Sarkar, Webster & Gallacher. "Are exposures to ready-to-eat food environments associated with type 2 diabetes? A cross-sectional study of 347 551 UK Biobank adult participants." The Lancet Planetary Health. October 2018.