Did you know that over 29 million Americans are living with diabetes according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)? Another 86 million Americans are living with pre-diabetes, a condition where blood sugar is elevated but not to the level needed to be diagnosed as diabetes. The high prevalence of diabetes is not just confined to the United States. Other countries are seeing an increase in cases of diabetes as well. Diabetes is now the 7th leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of kidney disease, lower limb amputation and blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The cost of diabetes is enormous and makes up over 20% of healthcare spending.
The good news is the risk of developing diabetes can be reduced by up to 58% in people with pre-diabetes or at risk of diabetes when following a healthy diet and lifestyle. Many people believe they are doomed to develop diabetes at some point in their life because they have a family history of the disease. According to the Joslin’s Center for Diabetes and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), there seems to be a genetic predisposition to developing diabetes. However, not everyone with a family history of diabetes will develop diabetes and not everyone without a family history of diabetes is exempt from diabetes. It seems that some people may be more susceptible to developing diabetes but following a healthy diet and lifestyle is protective and can prevent the “diabetes gene” from expressing itself as diabetes in the person. (And by the way, researchers are not yet sure which gene or genes are affected). Even if someone has a gene that makes them more susceptible to diabetes, there must be an environmental trigger to turn the “diabetes gene” on. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing stress can empower the body to function properly and avoid disease. Major risk factors for type 2 diabetes includes obesity, being 45 years of age or older, sedentary lifestyle, history of gestational diabetes or delivering a baby weighing over 9 lbs. or having a family history of diabetes. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar does not cause diabetes but it does overwork the pancreas and causes an increased amount of insulin production which can fatigue the pancreas, lead to weight gain and cause other harmful effects in the body.
So the question is – how do I prevent diabetes in the first place? Knowledge is power so know your risk and learn what you can do to reduce your risk. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes, watch your diet and reduce your stress. A healthy diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and lean meats. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as in sweets, candy, doughnuts or sugar-sweetened beverages. Also avoid unhealthy fats (trans fats specifically) that can increase insulin resistance. A moderate amount of exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle can make a big difference. If your body mass index (BMI) is over 25, consider losing at least 5-10% of your current bodyweight. Even a little weight loss can improve your body’s ability to metabolize glucose. Calculate your BMI here. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, there is hope. Type 2 diabetes can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes. Even people who start medication for diabetes may be able to reduce the dose or eliminate it altogether once lifestyle changes are made, assuming the pancreas is still making enough insulin. Find a qualified certified diabetes educator here to give you the support you need.