The latest statistics from the American Diabetes Association show that in 2012, a staggering 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had been diagnosed with diabetes – one-fourth of people don’t even know they have it. Some 86 million Americans aged 20 and older have prediabetes, something that’s characterized by slightly elevated blood glucose levels, regarded as indicative that a person is at risk of progressing to Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a lifelong, chronic condition that has serious negative effects on your entire body. It can cause everything from kidney failure and blindness to heart disease and strokes, nerve damage and even the loss of fingers, toes and entire limbs, as well as premature death. In fact, this devastating disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
Even more, Americans are said to be insulin resistant, which means they’re on a fast path to becoming pre-diabetic, and developing full on diabetes. Frighteningly, reports show that one in three people in the U.S. have this condition, which means, the odds are pretty good that you’re one of them, especially if you are obese. That’s because when your waist gets larger, insulin is unable to work like it should, leading to higher levels of this hormone. Other signs include frequently experiencing “brain fog,” or the inability to focus, craving carbohydrate-rich foods, having hypertension, and feeling extremely tired after a regular meal. You may also have higher blood triglyceride levels, swollen ankles or experience depression, as it can be caused by a “deranged metabolism” that results from insulin resistance.
Even if you aren’t exhibiting any of these signs, it’s important to do all that you can to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, considering these alarming statistics and the consequences of the disease.
Although the genes you inherit may influence the development of type 2 diabetes, lifestyle and behavioral factors are the primary causes. Data from the Nurses’ Health Study has suggested that 90 percent of type 2 diabetes in women can be attributed to five such factors, including lack of exercise, excess weight, poor diet, smoking, and, perhaps surprisingly, abstaining from alcohol. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should be over-indulging either – the study refers to consuming one-half a drink of an alcoholic beverage per day.
What this simply means is, whether or not you develop diabetes is mostly under your control.
1. Lose weight
Even a small amount of weight loss can help to reduce insulin resistance, significantly lowering your risk of becoming diabetic or pre-diabetic. Obesity is thought to be the main cause of Type 2 diabetes in those who are genetically predisposed.
A 2013 study led by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine scientists found that by losing approximately 10 percent of their body weight within six months of being diagnosed as pre-diabetic, those individuals can dramatically reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Study leader Nisa Maruther M.D., M.H.S., says the researchers had known “for some time that the greater the weight loss, the lower your risk of diabetes.” But she added, “Now we understand that we can see much of the benefit of losing that weight in those first six months when people are adjusting to a new way to eating and exercising. Substantial weight loss in the short term clearly should go a long way toward preventing diabetes.”
Although not all people with pre-diabetes develop full-blown diabetes, without intervention the risk of getting it within a decade is substantially increased and damage to health may already have begun. Maruther noted that her research was good news as this means that the chance of the disease progressing to type 2 diabetes is mostly under the individual’s control. Developing it is not inevitable as lifestyle changes like losing weight can bring blood sugar levels back to where they should be.
Every 2.2 pounds of weight lost can reduce the risk of diabetes by 16 percent, according to Diabetic Living. Of course, losing weight is easier said than done for most. But perseverance, commitment, and a positive attitude go a long way in helping one to achieve a healthy weight. It’s best to set small, achievable goals initially, experience the success of accomplishing those goals, and then add new ones. Multiple studies have found that setting a goal of losing 5 to 7 percent of your starting weight is a good start for lowering blood sugar and achieving better overall health.
While eating fewer calories is important, the types of food you eat can make a significant difference in reaching your weight loss goals as well as improving your health and lowering the risk of diabetes, as you’ll see in the next important step.
2. Transform your diet
Simply reducing the calories you consume isn’t necessarily going to do the trick, at least when it comes to lowering the risk of diabetes while also supporting weight loss. It’s important to restrict the carbohydrates you consume by eliminating processed and fast foods. Studies have linked sugar-sweetened (as well as artificially-sweetened) beverages with obesity and diabetes. Cut them out of your diet and replace them with water.
Focus on whole foods that come from the earth, getting your carbs from things like nuts and seeds, vegetables and small amounts of fruit. These foods are also naturally high in fiber, which is known to reduce the risk of diabetes by improving blood sugar control as well as helping to promote weight loss by helping one feel full. Include moderate amounts of healthy fats, from sources like avocados, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil and nuts instead of following a strict low-fat diet. Healthy fats are essential for a number of the body’s processes and will help keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied so you don’t give in to “junk” later. You should also include cold-water fish like wild-caught salmon, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids that can help combat the pro-inflammatory effects of insulin improving the cells’ response to the hormone.
3. Add fermented foods
Adding fermented foods to your diet can also help manage your blood sugar levels as those foods contain healthy bacteria that offer multiple therapeutic properties, including being anti-inflammatory, which is particularly important in reducing the risk of many illnesses and diseases, including diabetes. Some of the healthiest fermented foods you can consume include kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt and kimchi, a traditional fermented Korean dish that is made from vegetables including cabbage, spices, and seasoning.
4. Eliminate wheat
In addition to the above, you may want to think about giving up wheat. A 2013 study published in the journal PLoS, found evidence that wheat is a major contributing factor to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes, which presently afflicts wealthier, gluten-grain consuming nations. The researchers from Copenhagen, Denmark’s Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark, explored the role that gliadin, a difficult to digest class of proteins within wheat, plays in promoting weight gain and insulin secretion. Gliadin was created by genetic research in the 1960s and ’70s and is found in our modern wheat today.
The experts noted that gliadin is an opiate, which binds opiate receptors in the brain, stimulating appetite and causing people to consume 440 more calories each day. Gliadin fragments were also shown to induce insulin secretion in pancreatic beta cells which are responsible for producing insulin – in type 1 diabetes these cells are destroyed or made dysfunctional. The researchers concluded that eliminating wheat (as well as other grains that contain gluten) is the best option for preventing weight gain linked to higher insulin levels and the development of diabetes.
5. Be more physically active
Getting regular exercise is a must for a healthy body and mind, as well as for combating insulin resistance. Vigorous cardio exercise helps to decrease the cells’ resistance to insulin. It also makes the heart and bones strong, relieves stress and improves blood circulation. Aerobic activity reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke by keeping blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels where they should be.
Aim for about 30 minutes of exercise a day, at least 5 days a week. You don’t have to train for a marathon – you can participate in any type of activity that gets your heart pounding, like using the stairs, taking a brisk walk, swimming, biking or dancing. Including strength training, like lifting light weights is also important. It helps build strong bones and muscles – with more muscle, you’ll burn more calories, even at rest.
If you haven’t been very active in a while, start out slowly, with 5 or 10 minutes a day. Then work up to more time each week. You can also split up physical activity into shorter periods, such as three 10-minute sessions a day. If you need to lose weight, you may want to work up to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise per day. Even if you are stuck in an office there are things you can use to keep fit, take a look at these 11 genius gadgets.
6. Practice stress-relief
Everyone experiences some level of stress, but it’s important to practice stress-relieving activities to lower its negative effects. The stress response triggers the release of a number of hormones that increase blood sugar. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve the ability to cope with stress. Regular physical activity, as mentioned above, will also help to combat it.
There are many other options for relieving stress as well, including spending time with friends, playing and cuddling with pets, listening to relaxing music, and laughing. Laughter releases endorphins that improve one’s mood and lower levels of the stress-causing hormones cortisol and adrenalin.
7. Limit the hours you spend watching television
If you’ve been an avid couch potato for a while, all of those hours you’ve spent watching television could be making you ill, and may increase your risk for developing problems like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, according to analysis conducted by the Harvard Public School of Health. The researchers found that for every two hours per day spent in front of the TV screen, the risk for type 2 diabetes was increased 20 percent, for cardiovascular disease that risk was raised by 15 percent, and there was a 13 percent greater risk for general (all-cause) illness.
A recently released study by Nielsen found that, on average, American adults watch five hours and four minutes of television every day. That’s an incredibly significant amount of time to be spending sitting around on the couch – 35 hours and 28 minutes every week! Numerous studies have shown that extended periods of television watching is not just more time spent participating in a sedentary activity, but it’s often more time spent consuming unhealthy foods including processed and fried foods, sugar-filled beverages and few fresh fruits and vegetables.
Limit your time in front of the TV and spend it doing something healthier instead – like going for a walk with a friend, taking a dance class, learning a new hobby or starting a garden that can be tended in your spare time.
8. Aim to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis
Chronic sleep deprivation, as well as poor quality sleep, increases your risk for obesity and diabetes. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye every night. A lack of sleep causes the body to store additional fat as it results in a decreased level of the hormone leptin which is responsible for controlling your appetite. If you don’t get adequate rest, you’ll crave more food and will have a difficult time feeling satisfied when you eat.
There are few people that haven’t struggled to get a decent night’s sleep at one time or another – as many as 30 to 35 percent of adults have had brief symptoms of insomnia, while 10 percent have a chronic sleep disorder.
If that’s you, there are a number of steps to help improve your sleep habits to lower your risk of diabetes and obesity. Try turning off all of your electronics at least an hour before going to bed. Taking a warm bath and performing gentle stretching or deep-breathing exercises can help the body relax and get into “sleep mode.” If you need to, wear an eye mask to block out any light that can keep you awake. Here are another 10 things you can do before bed to ensure a restful nights sleep.