Friday Nov 14, 2014 is World Diabetes Day. As of today, 1 in 10 people has diabetes, and 3.5 million of them will die from it this year - just having diabetes, doubles the risk of death. It will cost $500 billion dollars to the economy each year to manage this disease that continues to outpace the growing population. It remains among the top leading causes of death. Tragically, 90% of diabetes cases are preventable through healthy diet and lifestyle.

Most people understand what diabetes is. Diabetes is characterized by somthing as simple and innocuous as a rise in blood sugar that is higher than average. Sounds rather harmless doesn't it? The reality, is that over time unmanaged diabetes will undoutedly lead to cardiovasular disease, kidney disease and kidney transplant, blindness, amputation and ultimately a significantly impacted quality of life. I have close relatives with diabetes that have gone blind, lost their ability to drive, became bed-ridden with foot ulcers, had limbs amputated and sit on dialysis for hours per day. They can't go anywhere, they can't do anything, they can't see anything - all because of an abusive relationship with unhealthy food for the better part of their lives. Their loved ones are left to take care for them day in and day out around the clock because they are unable to take care of themselves. Sadly, all of this was preventable from the start.

hand 003 by Allen Hazen licensed under CC BY 2.0
I'm aware of the grim picture I have just painted, but the world needs a swift kick-in-the-pants-reality check. Let me be clear, type 2 diabetes (which accounts for 90% of all cases of diabetes) is lifestyle and diet related; it happens because of poor choices and habits multiplied by time. It's a simple equation. It's easy to blame circumstance, it's easy to blame genetic potential, it's easy to blame the fact that sweets are just so tasty, but more than any other major cause of disease, diabetes is overwhelmingly linked to diet and lifestyle. So sure of this am I; that as someone who eats a very healthy and balaced diet, who exercises, who maintains a healthy body weight, and who avoids sugar, I can't guarantee that I will never develop cancer, or heart disease, or respiratory illness, but so long as I continue with my ways I can guarntee you that I will never suffer the ravages of type 2 diabetes. It's that simple, without sugar, there is no uncontrolled blood sugar, and there is no diabetes.

Yet despite the growing epidemic of diabetes, we continue with the status quo like a marching drum – we look forward to sugar after every dinner, and our favourite meals consist of those of the processed and or starchy variety; pastas, potatoes, corn, bread, cereal, pancakes, waffles, chips, popcorn, juice and soda. There's sugar for every holiday and occassion; birthday cakes, christmas pies, halloween candy, valentines day chocolates, easter candy, fall pies, winter jams and jellies, and homemade maple syrup. There's even a pasta salad and a potatoe salad for when healthy green vegetable salads become too healthy. What do we give our kids when they behave? Candy. What's our favourite cereal according to 2014 statistics? Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Frosted Mini Wheats. The average Canadian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar per day – we are addicted to sugar.

For World Diabetes Day this year, as a nutritionist, but more importantly, as your friend, I implore you to find healthier alternatives, and to change the status quo. One of the key contributors to diabetes is not the consumption of sugar or high starch foods, but the habit of routinely doing so. Break this routine and others will start following suit; it happened with cigarettes and this is no different.

Until we break the cycle of routine dessert, of routine soda consumption, of routine candy-riddled holidays, of routine “meat and potatoes” dinners, of routine nasty breakfast cereals, and routine juices and God forbid “fruit drinks”, we will continue to see Diabetes rise, alongside our growing epidemic of obesity.  Make sugar an occasional "treat" (emphasis on occasional), and not the norm.

Exceptions of course withstanding, our failure to tackle these issues as a society are not because of the fluoride in our water, the plastic packaging on our foods, our use of microwaves, genetically modified foods, or government conspiracies; they are simply a product of our lifestyle and dietary choices and we need to step up our game or we'll continue to lose this battle. It comes down to individual responsibility to take care of our bodies. As a society (I hope) we all know how to do this; there is no secret; we just have to apply our will and our knowledge and stop making excuses for our failure to do so.

Kicking sugar can be like kicking a drug habit. It can be difficult, but there are natural solutions to help you get through it. As always, we're here to support you in any way we can and to answer any questions that you may have.  Whether you need tips on night-time snacking, how to rid yourself of a sweet-tooth, or need a full dietary overhaul, we've got you covered.  Consider us your support group!