By now, most of us already know the risks of diabetes. Many, in fact, already know that diabetes is a major problem right here in Tennessee, with approximately 15 percent of the adult population in the state living with the disease. People who have diabetes not only have various health and lifestyle problems as a result of the disease, but they also incur almost twice the medical expenses compared to people who don’t have it. Nationwide, one in three adults has prediabetes, where a person’s blood sugar is abnormal, but not yet to official diabetes-diagnosis levels. With prediabetes, what you don’t know can really hurt you. Most people who have prediabetes don’t know they have it, making them closer to a full diabetes diagnosis than they realize. When you don’t know how close you are to developing diabetes, it’s even harder to avoid developing it, which is why it’s important to take steps toward diabetes prevention.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says there are five key things you can do to reduce your diabetes risk now, regardless of whether you have prediabetes. “First, make a greater effort toward adopting a more active lifestyle,” Pierce said. “This is something almost all of us could and should be better about. Being more active not only helps us lose weight and generally feel better, but for diabetics specifically, living a more active lifestyle can lower blood sugar and boost insulin sensitivity. With fall weather and cooler temperatures in sight, it’s a perfect time to get out for a hike, a walk, a run or a bike ride and just enjoy the outdoors before winter arrives. And you don’t have to start out drastically,” she said. “Even something as simple as choosing to take a five or 10-minute walk after a meal is a step in the right direction. And taking this first step will actually assist you in the second step you can take toward reducing your diabetes risk, which is modest weight loss. If you’re overweight or obese, a seven percent weight loss can reduce your risk for diabetes up to 60 percent, which is critical,” she added.
“Third, find a diet that you can be consistent with,” Pierce continued. “Part of losing weight is being more active, but the major part is eating better. Cutting down on excess sugar and limiting processed foods are certainly good places to start. It’s important, however, to adopt a diet plan that not only works for you but that you can sustain. There are lots of fad diets out there, and while some of them can lead to short-term successes, they tend to leave important things out. Remember that an overall healthy diet includes whole foods such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” she explained. “A healthy diet also includes fiber, which is a fourth important step you can take to reduce your diabetes risk. Eating more fiber will help promote weight loss by helping you feel full, which can cause us to eat less. Whole grains are a good source of fiber, so look for foods that have whole grains as primary ingredients. Ideally, we should aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day,” she added.
Last, but not least, Pierce says a simple blood sugar test can make a world of difference. “If you’re age 45 or older and you’re overweight, you absolutely should have your blood sugar tested,” Pierce said. “But, if you’re younger than 45 but also overweight, you may need to consider getting a blood sugar check, as well, particularly if you have other diabetes risk factors such as a family history of diabetes or if you’re prone to a more sedentary lifestyle,” she explained.