The idea that one can prevent diabetes seems foreign to some people. I know this firsthand as I worked in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers for seven years as a clinical dietitian in the long-term care setting. As the staff dietitian, I spent much of my time assessing, educating, and recommending diet changes for the diabetic patient. I saw what a patient endures when their diabetes goes uncontrolled for a long period of time. A patient may suffer from amputations, blindness, kidney failure, and bed sores just to name a few. Diabetes also significantly increases the risk of heart disease and is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
The frustrating part for me, as a healthcare worker, is a majority of patients have the ability to prevent diabetes with a proper lifestyle and nutrition. Diabetes does not happen overnight. In most cases, it takes years for the body to grow immune to its natural insulin response.
To Prevent Diabetes You Have to Know What It Is
There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. I know, super creative. Type 1 diabetes is juvenile onset diabetes. It occurs when the pancreas simply cannot make insulin to control blood sugar. Roughly 5-10% of those with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is programmed in a person’s DNA. Just like my eyes are brown. That’s just the way I was born. There is simply nothing we can do at this time to prevent type 1 from occurring.
For our purposes I will be discussing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that takes years to develop. The body stops responding to the insulin produced by the pancreas thereby leaving the blood sugar uncontrolled. Type 2 diabetes has been known in the past as adult onset diabetes. However, with the rising epidemic of childhood obesity, it is now being seen in younger and younger youth.
To Prevent Diabetes You Have to Know the Risk Factors
In order to prevent diabetes (or at least help minimize it), it is essential to understand the risk factors that lead to it. There are many risk factors associated with diabetes, including:
- Being overweight or obese (which is defined as having a BMI of 25 or higher)
- Having a biological parent, brother, or sister with diabetes
- Being African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic American/Latino heritage
- Having a prior history of gestational diabetes or birth of at least one baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- Having high blood pressure measure 140/90 or higher
- Having abnormal cholesterol where HDL (“good”) cholesterol is 35 or lower, or triglyceride level is 250 or higher
- Being physically inactive-exercising fewer that 3 times per week
- Having a waist circumference of over 40 inches for men and over 35 inches for women
- Having a recent diagnosis of prediabetes. People with blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not yet in the diabetic range. Prediabetes usually has no symptoms.
Prevent Diabetes with These Five Steps
Knowing the risk factors of diabetes and taking action against these risk factors is crucial to delay or totally prevent the development of diabetes.
- Lose Extra Weight. If you are overweight or obese, your number one goal should be weight loss to better your chances to prevent diabetes. Losing just 5-7% of your body weight can lower your risk and help prevent diabetes.
- Eat a Healthier Diet. A “Mediterranean style” diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and legumes has been shown to lower the risk of and at times prevent diabetes. Switching to a more “natural” diet of whole foods (also including lots of fruits and vegetables) will also encourage weight loss as well as ensure you are getting adequate nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber to stay healthy. Fiber that naturally occurs in a Mediterranean style diet can help prevent diabetes by improving your blood sugar control. A high fiber diet will also lower your risk of heart disease and promote weight loss by helping you feel fuller for longer periods of time.
- Skip Fad Diets. Low carb diets, South Beach, or other fad diets will most likely help you lose weight initially. But these diets usually cut out a major source of calories such as carbohydrates. Furthermore, their effectiveness of preventing diabetes isn’t known, nor are their long term effects. Instead, think variety and portion control to help prevent diabetes.
- Get Active. Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, helps prevent diabetes in many ways. It can help keep you at a healthy weight, helps control your cholesterol and blood pressure, and will regulate your insulin. It’s easy to get started. Make a goal to walk 10,000 steps a day. However, even small amounts of exercise can decrease your risk and prevent diabetes. Recently, findings from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study suggest that walking briskly for a half hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30%. Or better yet, sign up with a BTU coach and get going on a more comprehensive program.
- Stop Smoking. The more you smoke, the higher your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, smoking can increase your risk of diabetes by 40%! Talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program and improve your likelihood to prevent diabetes.
Conclusion on How to Prevent Diabetes
Some risk factors for type 2 diabetes are out of our control. My daughter is of Pacific Islander decent. Her pediatrician is going to test her for diabetes at 11 years old solely because of her ethnicity. She is at a healthy weight and exercises over 6 hours a week. I love her birth culture. However, it puts her in a higher risk category that we have no control over.
However, there are so many aspects of diabetes prevention that we do have control over. Diabetes is not a pretty disease. The ultimate long-term effect is on the blood vessels and circulation, doubling the risk of cardiovascular disease. But it also damages the kidneys, eyes, and most commonly, the nerves in the arms and legs in a painful condition called diabetic neuropathy. It can be an overwhelming chronic condition that will have an effect on your daily activities. So, if there are steps and precautions that we can take, then it is well-worth the time and effort to make a change in our lifestyle in order to prevent diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, getting exercise, losing weight, and quitting smoking are all attainable goals that will set us up to delay and possibly prevent diabetes.
I realize this may be a wake up call to some who are at risk for type 2 diabetes. In fact, I hope it is, even though I know it can be scary.
However, we serve a God that will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us while we battle for our health. He has numbered all our days and they are in the palm of his hand. I am so thankful we follow such a loving Lord.
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:8