Did you know that in the United States close to 26 million adults and children have diabetes? That's a whopping 8.3% of the population. Many people's lives are touched by diabetes and that's why getting clear about what causes diabetes, how to manage it and how to prevent it is so important.
Ask someone what causes diabetes and you're likely to hear: eating too much sugar. Guess what? That's not true. It's true that diabetes causes your blood sugar level to be higher than normal, but eating too much sugar is not the cause. For people with type 2 diabetes, and that's about 95% of people diagnosed with diabetes, we know that genetics, weight and activity play a role in the development of diabetes.
If your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles have diabetes, you are at greater risk of developing it. It's in your family and in your "genes." In other words, your risk of getting diabetes is higher than someone who doesn't have diabetes in their family. Your risk is even higher if you are overweight and inactive.
You cannot control the genes passed onto you by your parents, but you can control your weight and activity level. Exercise and weight management help your body to control your blood sugar level naturally. Studies show a 5-7% weight loss can make a big difference. For someone weighing 200 pounds, a weight loss of only 10-14 pounds (5-7%) can help prevent the development of diabetes. If you have diabetes, weight loss may reduce your need for medication. A large weight loss may even put your diabetes into remission.
Move your body to prevent and control diabetes. Walk, hike, swim, bike, take a dance, yoga or aerobics class—choices abound. Choose something you like that fits your schedule and level of fitness. Start slowly and gradually increase the time you exercise. Over time, your level of fitness is guaranteed to improve. Consider this, walk 10 minutes, four days per week for two weeks. Next, increase your walk weekly by five minutes. In nine weeks, you'll be walking 45 minutes, four days per week. Impressive, isn't it? Exercise will also help improve your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, strengthen your bones, improve your mood and sleep quality, and help you to lose weight.
Plan, prepare and use portion control to manage your diet, diabetes and weight. A balanced approach to meal planning will keep you healthy and reduce feelings of deprivation. Plan weekday meals that are lower in fat by choosing lean meats, skinless poultry and fish (baked, broiled, boiled or barbequed) paired with carbohydrates (sources listed below) and vegetables. On weekends, allow for planned indulgences, but control portions.
To manage blood sugar levels, control carbohydrate portions. Carbohydrate portions affect the blood sugar levels after meals and snacks and include grains (rice, pasta, bread, cereals, etc.), beans and legumes, starchy vegetables (corn, peas, and potatoes), fruit, milk, yogurt, and sweets. Eat three meals a day and drink water or zero-calorie drinks to keep your blood sugar controlled.
For more guidance, and support to prevent or manage diabetes, ask your health care provider for a referral to a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator.
Ms. Hollander is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who has a private practice in Albany and works at the Richmond Health Center.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at email@example.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.
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