I just went through something that really opened my eyes. Like most people I read stories now and then about how serious the situation is for Canadians and in particular Native people when it comes to diabetes. However, after attending the Timmins Diabetes Expo recently I came away shocked at just how bad things are in terms of this terrible disease.

When a prominent guest speaker from the United States Ginger Kanzer-Lewis highlighted the fact that 360 million people will get diabetes in the world this year that caught me by surprise. Every seven seconds someone in the world dies of complications from diabetes. How crazy is that?

In this country Aboriginals are experiencing an epidemic of diabetes. There are all kinds of reasons that we Native people are so susceptible to this devastating disease and some of it can be blamed on a feast and famine genetic disposition. This developed due to the type of nomadic lifestyle we lived for hundreds if not thousands of years where we ate as much as we could when food was plentiful and starved in times of famine. In these modern times we don’t have the famine as part of this cycle anymore so there is mostly feasting going on and our bodies are suffering from it.

The worst part is that because many of my people live on remote First Nations the cost of healthy food is very high as it has to be transported by air or by boat. People in general also do not have large incomes and there are many mouths to feed. As a result of all this we end up eating a lot of unhealthy food, such as hot dogs, frozen packaged foods and junk foods like pop, chips and candy.

Another eye opener for me came from a presentation by Mairlyn Smith, an international motivational speaker, author and comedian, who focused on healthy eating and lifestyles. She talked about studies that have been done on pockets of populations in the world where people are living to and over 100 years of age. It turns out that these centenarians all have something in common. They have healthy diets and they get a lot of exercise.

These champions of life eat many portions of vegetables and fruit during the day. They ate a lot of fish or seafood and not much meat. In particular they did not eat much in terms of fatty foods. So, their diets were high in fibre and very low in fat. It was also discovered that many of them had specific foods that helped them live longer lives, such as extra virgin olive oil in the Mediterranean, turmeric in southeast Asia and berries and fruits in southern California. These people also got a lot of exercise in terms of being outside, working, walking and moving around during their day.

This all pointed to a very important discovery for me and for all those attending the diabetes expo. In most cases, we can prevent or at the very least treat diabetes by copying the lifestyles of these centenarians. Smith pointed out that because we Canadians find it so hard to wean ourselves off of rich, fatty food diets we can take our lives back by making little changes one step at a time. For instance, it is very easy to make sure to eat one or two apples a day, a banana or some other fruit. These fruits are accessible and inexpensive so there is no excuse not to eat them. I am doing that every day now. When it comes to vegetables I think we all have a little more trouble trying to make sure we get some during our day but it is very easy to buy a bag of carrots and just munch on them raw through the day. Steaming broccoli or peppers is easy and quick.

Probably one of the best things we can do for ourselves when it comes to preventing and fighting diabetes is to cut back on our eating and in particular fast foods and those high in saturated fats. Cutting out soda pop is a great idea and taking tea and coffee without sugar and cream also helps. Stay away from prepared frozen packaged foods and cook at home rather than head out to a restaurant. If you do want to treat yourself to a meal at a restaurant try to stay away from buffets and ask for a doggy bag so that you don’t eat your entire big meal when dining out and actually it becomes two meals for you.

What I learned from the diabetes expo was that I could die young if I don’t figure out how to eat properly and get plenty of exercise. There are many developments in the medical world that are helping diabetics but the best medicine for all of us is to change our lifestyles when it comes to eating and movement. Get up off the couch, grab an apple and go for a long walk.