November is National Diabetes Month, which provides a great opportunity to talk about diabetes, and more specifically, how to prevent diabetes. First, a few facts.
- Type 2 Diabetes used to be called adult onset diabetes, but its name has changed due to increased cases of type 2 diabetes developing in children and teens. Type 1 diabetes is a different type of disease, which accounts for 5-10% of diabetes in the US. For the purposes of this blog, we’re talking about Type 2 diabetes, as it’s the most preventable and most common.
- Type 2 Diabetes is a disease that strikes people of all walks of life, but your risk is higher if you have certain risk factors such as: family history of diabetes, race (diabetes risk is higher among African Americans, Mexican Americans, Hawaiians American Indians, and Asian-Americans), being overweight, smoking, older age, and inactivity.
- There are currently about 24 million Americans with the disease, and another estimated 57 million with pre-diabetes.
- 9 out of 10 cases of diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes including keeping your weight under control, not smoking, exercising, and eating healthfully.
The good news is there are many controllable lifestyle factors that can help reduce your risk of diabetes. Here are some specific diet-related things you can do to start reducing your risk now.
- Focus on whole grains: Choose whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and whole grain pasta and bread, over refined grains like white bread, pasta, and rice. Whole grains contain more fiber and protein, which helps control the rate at which your blood sugar rises.
- Choose healthy fats: Studies show that eating more healthful mono- and poly-unsaturated fats can help lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Healthy oils like olive oil, canola, oil, sunflower seed oil, sesame oil, and grapeseed oil are great cooking and dressing oils. In addition, foods containing specific healthy fats called omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA, which can be found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, and tuna, can contribute even more benefit. One recent study also showed that consuming 500 mg of EPA and DHA daily can help prevent diabetes related blindness for those who already have diabetes.
- Opt for healthier protein choices: Choose protein sources like nuts, beans, tofu, poultry, and fish more often than processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, deli meat, and red meat.
- Balance your plate using the plate method: Picture a plate. Make half the plate non-starchy veggies (cooked or uncooked), 1/4 of the plate whole grains, and 1/4 of the plate a healthy protein choice. Use healthy fats to accent your foods. For example, add olive oil to roast veggies, or dress your salad, top oatmeal with nuts or seeds, or use nut butter to spread on whole grain toast.
- Cut back on added sugar: Added sugar is sugar added to foods in addition to the sugars naturally found in foods like fruit and dairy products. It adds calories without much nutrition, and can raise blood sugar quickly. Most added sugar in our diets comes from sweetened beverages (soda, sweetened coffee drinks, juice drinks, etc.), baked goods, candy, and other processed foods like granola bars, and cereal. If you drink soda or other sweetened drinks, cutting back can drastically reduce your added sugar intake. Opt to sweeten foods with fruit (i.e. add fruit to plain yogurt instead of buying sweetened yogurt) and add spices like cinnamon, which can enhance the natural sweetness of foods.
For amazing recipes for preventing, controlling diabetes if you already have it, or simply eating a more nutritious and delicious diet, we highly recommend this book, Whole Cooking and Nutrition: An Everyday Superfoods Approach to Planning, Cooking, and Eating with Diabetes