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4 Tips to Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Health experts agree that diabetes is an epidemic in the U.S. More than 18 million Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and the numbers are growing each day. It is now so common that it’s routine to hear of celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and Paula Deen publicly sharing their struggles with the disease.

Scientists have long debated its causes because there are so many things in our environment that can impact the endocrine system. Yet there are three major contributors all agree on – consuming too many calories, lack of exercise, and genetic disposition to the disease.

Here’s how it works in the body: Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that transports glucose (our body’s source of fuel that comes from the food we eat) into our cells to be used as energy. However, glucose can only be used if the body has adequate insulin to transport it to the cells. Carrying around extra weight (fat) also decreases the effectiveness of insulin in controlling blood glucose levels.

Prediabetes occurs when glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetic. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin or when the body’s cells become desensitized to insulin.

Am I at risk for diabetes?

According to the National Health Information Center, you may be at risk for type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Exercise less than three times a week
  • Are older than 45
  • Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Are African American, Hispanic or Latino American, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
  • Have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes

How do I decrease my risk?

Alec and Paula’s solution: good ole diet and exercise! And they couldn’t be more right. Research shows losing 7 percent to 10 percent of your body weight dramatically reduces your risk of developing diabetes. It also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. Often losing weight means finding a balance between physical activity and eating habits.

This does not mean giving up your favorite foods or the after-golf rituals. Below are some options that may help you lose weight and improve your diet.

Keep a food journal – Writingdown what we eat can bring awareness to our eating patterns and the quantity and types of food we consume. With increased access to the internet, there are now many online resources to help you keep track what you are eating. There are often apps you can download on smartphones and tablets to make this easier.

Increase your consumption of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains – Fruits and veggies are lower in calories and contain fiber, which helps us feel full. Summer is a great time to hit the local farmers market and stock up on local fruits and veggies. Aim for five per day. And we can’t forget about whole grains. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Focus on limiting fat – Limiting fat in your diet, specifically saturated and trans fats, can help decrease the amount of calories consumed. We typically find them in whole-fat dairy products, sweets, baked goods, and high fat cuts of meat. When incorporating fat into your diet, choose heart-healthy versions found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts, salmon, and tuna in limited amounts.

Exercise – It not only burns calories, which aids in weight loss, but it also increases the sensitivity of our cells to insulin. When we exercise the insulin in our body becomes more effective at bringing glucose into our cells. The American College of Sports Medicine has the following recommendations for adults:

  • Moderate Cardiovascular Physical Activity: 150 to 300 minutes per week or 30 to 60 minutes five days per week. Examples include brisk walking, hiking, water aerobics, and light bicycling.
  • Vigorous Cardiovascular Physical Activity: 75 minutes per week or 20 to 60 minutes at least three days per week. Examples include running, bicycling, mountain climbing, swimming, water jogging, and karate.
  • Just 10 minutes of physical activity provides cardiovascular benefits. So if the daily goal is 30 minutes, one way to accomplish this in a busy schedule is to aim for three 10-minute bouts of walking.

Not only does the combination of diet and exercise work for celebrities, it can also work for us, and our families, co-workers, and friends. It is often a journey of experimenting and finding the right balance that complements your unique life. If you would like more information on preventing prediabetes and diabetes, please visit the American Diabetes Association.

About the author: Kimberly M. Povec, R.D., C.D.N., is a registered dietitian at the Healthy Living Center, a program of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Center for Community Health. Kimberly works with patients to help them discover sustainable lifestyle changes that can enhance their health. Through education, support, and choice, her hope is that patients choose behaviors that help them achieve their individual health goals.