When you eat carbohydrates, they are converted into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. The rise in blood sugar signals the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin transports glucose into the cells where it can be used as energy or stored as fat. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body is unable to produce enough insulin, or when the cells become insulin resistant, causing blood glucose to rise to dangerous levels.
The good news is that nine out of ten cases of type 2 diabetes are entirely preventable. By maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating a nutritious diet, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing this deadly disease.
1. Watch Your Waistline
Overweight individuals are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who maintain a healthy weight. People have a tendency to gradually pile on pounds as they grow older and many are unaware that they are technically overweight. Use an online BMI (body mass index) calculator to determine whether your weight falls within the normal range for your height. A BMI over 25 means you are overweight and a BMI over 30 puts you in the obese category. Waist size is also related to diabetes risk, independent of BMI. Overweight men with a waist circumference of over 40 inches and overweight women with a waist over 34.5 inches have the same risk of developing diabetes as those who are clinically obese. If your BMI or waist measurement is above the healthy range, losing 10% of your current weight could cut your chances of developing type 2 diabetes in half.
2. Give up Sugary Soft Drinks
Cola, flavored sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks and other beverages containing added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup quickly raise blood sugar and insulin levels, increasing insulin resistance over time. They also contribute to weight gain, another factor linked with type-2 diabetes. A meta-analysis of eight studies concluded that for every additional 12-ounce sugary beverage a person drank each day, their risk of developing type 2 diabetes increased by 25%. Iced herbal tea (with no sugar added) is a good substitute for sugary soft drinks. If you can’t give up soda, switch to a diet brand, preferably one sweetened with stevia, a natural herbal sugar substitute.
Refined carbohydrates including white bread, white rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, sweetened breakfast cereals and baked goods made from white flour have a high glycemic load. They are quickly broken down into glucose and cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. This puts stress on insulin receptors in the cells and can lead to type 2 diabetes. A dietary study including approximately 350,000 participants from four countries found that those who ate the highest amounts of white rice had a 27% higher risk of diabetes than those who ate the least. The risk increased by 10% with each additional daily serving. The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose. This leads to lower, slower increases in blood sugar and insulin. Switching to whole grain foods can help to lower your diabetes risk.
4. Get Moving
Exercise doesn’t just protect you from diabetes by helping to keep your weight down. It has specific benefits for blood sugar regulation. Working your muscles makes them more responsive to insulin and improves their ability to absorb glucose. Exercise clears glucose out of the blood and into skeletal muscle cells, which utilize it to fuel the increased activity. Exercise also boosts blood flow to muscles, making more glucose available for the muscles to absorb. The result is lower blood sugar levels and a decreased risk of diabetes. Try to get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week. Studies have shown that simply walking briskly for a half hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30%.
5. Eat More Vegetables
A four year study of 64,000 middle-aged Chinese women concluded that a higher intake of vegetables helps to protect against type-2 diabetes. Those who consumed the most vegetables (averaging 426 grams per day) lowered their diabetes risk by 28% compared to those who consumed the least (averaging 122 grams per day). The same study found no association between fruit consumption and diabetes risk. Vegetables tend to contain less natural sugar than fruit while supplying many of the same vitamins and nutrients. For example, oranges contain 9.35 grams of sugar per 100g whereas broccoli contains 1.39g of sugar per 100g, yet broccoli also has more vitamins C. Replacing sugary and starchy foods with extra servings of vegetables can help you to control both your weight and your blood sugar levels.