Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease that is characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar), which leads to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves over time.
Type 2 diabetes, once known as “adult onset diabetes” is the most common form. But it is no longer just a disease of adulthood: unfortunately, it is becoming common in children as well.
Here are some of the key findings:
- Worldwide, diabetes killed 1.5 million in 2012 alone.
- High blood-glucose caused an additional 2.2 million deaths.
- Since 1980, the number of adults with diabetes worldwide has quadrupled from 108 million to 422 million in 2014.
- Forty-three percent of the 3.7 million deaths occurred before the age of 70.
- Associated risk factors such as being overweight or obese are increasing.
- Diabetes is a cause of blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, and other long-term consequences that negatively impact quality of life.
Studies show that excess weight, lack of exercise, a less-than-healthy diet, and smoking all can increase risk.
The good news is that lifestyle and behavioral factors CAN be controlled. Here are some important things you can do to reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight is the single most important cause of type 2 diabetes. Being overweight increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes seven fold. Being obese makes you 20 to 40 times more likely to develop diabetes than someone with a healthy weight.
Get moving: Exercise helps prevent type 2 diabetes because it improves your muscles’ ability to use insulin and absorb glucose. You don’t have to become an exercise fanatic – even brisk walking for at least 30 minutes every day helps.
Watch less TV: According to The Nutrition Source from Harvard, watching television increases your risk. Every two hours you spend watching TV instead of pursuing something more active increases the chances of developing diabetes by 20 percent; it also increases the risk of heart disease (15 percent) and early death (13 percent). Unhealthy eating patterns associated with TV watching may explain some of this link.
Avoid added sugars (including sugary beverages and fruit juices) and processed foods. They are associated with an increase in a particularly nasty type of body fat that has been linked with diabetes, heart disease risk, and a multitude of other health issues.
Skip the artificial sweeteners: they are not a good substitute: Some studies have found that people who regularly drink diet beverages have a higher risk of diabetes than people who rarely drink such beverages.
Choose healthful fats: Good sources of fats include avocados, olives, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, natural peanut butter, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, and sesame oil. Dietary sources of saturated fats include butter, cheese, milk, meat, salmon, and egg yolks (there is no clear association between saturated fat and death for any reason, according to a large recent study). Even a little chocolate may help – believe it or not, some studies have shown that its flavonoids may offer protection from type 2 diabetes.
Avoid trans fats: Trans unsaturated fats (trans fats) have been associated with the development of many diseases and are the fats to avoid. They are mainly produced industrially from plant oils (a process known as hydrogenation) for use in margarine, snack foods, and packaged baked goods (in other words, they are used in processed junk “food”).
Choose full-fat dairy: If you drink skim milk or consume low-fat dairy products, you may want to reconsider: A new study published in Circulation indicates that full-fat dairy, like whole milk, may be healthier than low-fat dairy, like skim milk. Researchers analyzed the blood of 3,333 adults taken over 15 years and discovered that people who had higher levels of three different byproducts of full-fat dairy had an average 46 percent lower risk of developing diabetes.
Kick the habit: Smokers are roughly 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers, and heavy smokers have an even higher risk, so if you smoke, try to quit. For in-depth information on how to do that, please see our series on smoking cessation.
In the following video, Dr. Sarah Hallberg of Fitter U explains how type 2 diabetes develops and how to treat it. She says the solution is simpler than you might think.