By Tracy Shields – I’m sure you don’t need me to dole out the latest statistics on diabetes and pre-diabetes, or tell you that the growing number of children at increased risk of this disease has tripled in the past several years. But what I will tell you is that…
a) the health risks of having diabetes are no walk in the park. Do you know what it’s like to be a slave to your blood-sugar levels, go blind, lose a limb, or simply spend the rest of your life monitored by doctors or taking prescription drugs?
b) you’re not helpless; you can change bad habits and start living a healthier life.
1. Lose weight
I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, but if you’re overweight, you need to lose weight. I know. Easier said than done. I too have worried about my weight and it’s very hard to maintain a healthy weight. But, health-wise, your risk for diseases increases with your size, and diabetes is no exception. It’s usually the first to evidence itself. “The [Diabetes Prevention Program] found that participants who lost a modest amount of weight through dietary changes and increased physical activity sharply reduced their chances of developing diabetes.”i Get serious about your health. Your body is a temple; treat it like one and get on a plan. Weight Watchers is a great start. And remember, to lose weight successfully, your lifestyle needs to change! You cannot just remove food, lose weight and keep it off.
Exercise may be one of the most important things that you can do to try to prevent diabetes, as it is essential for losing weight. Diet and exercise are more effective for weight loss than diet alone. So remember the importance of exercise when watching what you eat. Exercise also encourages blood-sugar metabolism by helping the cells respond to insulin and take sugar out of the blood. Exercise is great for preventing insulin resistance.
In fact, not being active increases your risk of becoming pre-diabetic.ii
Exercise can be fun and doesn’t have to involve a gym. In fact, moderate and frequent exercise is recommended. Walking is a wonderful exercise that you can do daily. For example, increase your activities by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Even shopping increases the amount of walking that you do!
Walking 30 minutes a day or doing something active and enjoyable at least three times a week is a wonderful way to incorporate exercise and decrease your risk of getting diabetes.
Thirty minutes of moderate exercise or an activity like walking, swimming or cycling three to five times a week provides cardiovascular exercise and increases the heart rate.
Resistance training is also crucial. Exercises that strengthen and build more muscle are very important for a blood-sugar management plan.
3. Avoid drinking too many sugary beverages
Sugar leads to weight gain and being overweight increases the risk of getting diabetes. According to ABC News, “…drinking too many sugary sodas can increase risk of obesity.”iii Sugar quickly turns to fat, causes the body to produce insulin and elevates blood-sugar levels, which prevent weight loss—the key to preventing diabetes. So stop drinking calories (simple sugars) and replace beverages with water. There are plenty of sugars (carbohydrates) found naturally in vegetables, potatoes, breads, pasta and fruit.
4. Know your blood-sugar level and get serious about prevention
According to the book, The Weight Loss Plan for Beating Diabetes, “By the time you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, you have already lost 50% of your beta cell function, and your chance of preserving pancreatic beta-cell function is severely compromised.”
Yikes! That means be aware. Get tested early. Why? Because high blood sugar doubles the risk of heart attack and leads to blood-vessel damage. If your fasting blood-sugar level is greater than 126, you have diabetes; if less than 126 but over 100, you may have pre-diabetes. Discuss with your doctor the various tests for diabetes. We recommend that everyone know his or her number.
5. Avoid eating fried foods or those with trans or saturated fats
While the government grapples with banning trans fats (found in things like fried foods, donuts and other baked goods), you need to get a head start and avoid them. With or without a ban, trans fats are bad news. Fried foods pack on pounds. Cakes and donuts are delish. But give your taste buds a chance to develop an appreciation for fruits, veggies, and grilled and sautéed dishes. Yes, I know, fried or fast foods are often cheaper and easier to find when you’re on the go. But you need to get serious about your health. There are a million burger joints, but only one you.
Incorporate lean meats and eggs in your diet as a source of healthy protein and nutrients. Enjoy healthy fats instead of trans fats. Try omega-3-rich fish like salmon or herring, or have an avocado.
6. Eat a balanced diet
Eating carbs all day long is not healthy. The body must have some fat for proper nutrition and protein is very important. Add some healthy unsaturated fats from omega-3-rich fish such as sardines, salmon, tuna, herring or mackerel, or lean meats.
Avoiding all carbs and eating only meat all day is not healthy either. Balance is the key to good health. Always be sure to add vitamin-rich foods, antioxidants and fiber to your diet, all of which are found in fruits and vegetables. Remember the food pyramid from grade school? How about the diabetic food pyramid? Not much of an improvement. Try Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid. I consider it to be one of the best, healthiest diet plans ever.
7. Take vitamins and minerals
Nutraceuticals are natural vitamins and minerals in capsule form that, when taken daily, help supplement the diet. It is very difficult to get enough fiber, fish and all the required vitamins and minerals in your daily diet by the foods you eat—especially if your diet isn’t well rounded. Supplementing can often be lifesaving.
Taking a potent omega-3 supplement from a fish source, for example, is important. Taking 1.8 grams daily of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA was reported to encourage the body’s ability to use insulin after just 12 weeks of use.1 Vanadium, magnesium and chromium are all good for blood-sugar metabolism. Resveratrol has been shown to play a role with the metabolism of blood sugar as well. In fact, mice on a high-fat diet that were fed resveratrol did not develop diabetes. Digestive problems, too, can usually be helped by taking a digestive enzyme supplement that helps breakdown starches, proteins and fats, and can reduce bloating and indigestion.
But get the facts on supplements before dashing out to the pharmacy. Not all nutraceuticals are created equal!
8. Get a buddy
There’s safety in numbers! The more people who support you, the better your chance of success. Also, there are tons of forums and support groups online, specifically for diabetes. And don’t forget family and friends. Set goals with your friends; you can help each other stick to them. Friends can take walks with you, join a gym with you and inspire you to stay committed to your health. Never underestimate the value of a friend or group of friends to help you achieve your goals.
9. Get on a healthy lifestyle plan
There are some wonderful online meal plans for any dietary need, including Self magazine’s food-tracking program that allows you to track and analyze foods and recipes for calories and nutrition. There are also fabulous and free apps like Lose It! that allows you to track all your meals, calories, sugar intake and sodium. Lastly, check out the book, Stop Pre-Diabetes Now, by Jack Challem, and/or our own Dr. Frederic Vagnini’s The Weight Loss Plan for Beating Diabetes, both of which are excellent for existing diabetics, pre-diabetics or those who want to lose weight to decrease their risk of diabetes.
10. Reduce stress
Last but not least, stress can affect your health in more ways than you know. It can trigger a chemical release in the brain, which tells the body to prepare for fight-or-flight situations by increasing blood-sugar levels when there is actually no need for this kind of response. Too much stress means too many wrong signals being sent through the body, which ultimately leads to physical exertion and disease.
Find ways to learn how to deal with everyday situations. Meditate. Take time outs. Lie flat on your back on the floor. Breathe. Rest. Try to improve sleep. If you are under serious amounts of stress, take action. See a doctor, therapist or friend. Read
about ways to reduce stress. It can save your life!
Main reference (unless otherwise footnoted):
Book: “The Weight Loss Plan For Beating Diabetes” by Frederic J. Vagnini and Lawrence D. Chilnick
Additional references and supportive literature :
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/a-z.asp
1 Fish oil compound may help ward off diabetes, Reuters News, 2002