Health & Wellness

The Truth About Diabetes

04.01.13 Sugar Cubes

With more than 18 million Americans burdened with diagnosis of diabetes (an additional 7 million have it, but don’t know it, according to the American Diabetes Association), it’s likely you have a family member, or know someone with the disease – and if not now, you may soon enough, with more than 5000 persons newly diagnosed each day.

Diabetes is not only a burden on the individual, but also on the health care system.  One out of every ten dollars spent on health care is spent treating diabetes and its complications (up 41 percent since only five short years ago), with a whopping $245 billion annually attributed to overall costs for those with diabetes.

So how can we save both money and ourselves from getting diabetes?  The good news is that we don’t need to sit and wait to find out. Research strongly supports healthy behaviors dramatically reduce our risk of getting the disease.  Registered Dietitian Andrea Q. Vintro of Nutrition Logic gives us the truth about diabetes.

What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus (simply known as diabetes or DM) literally means “siphoning honey” in ancient Greek, describing the symptom of increased urine volume and sugar concentration.  The sugars and carbohydrates we eat cannot be taken up by the cells in the body, so blood sugar rises, and the kidneys need to work hard to remove the sugar.

There are two basic types of diabetes:

Type 1 DM (most often diagnosed in children and young adults), where the pancreas stops making insulin, the hormone that helps shuttle blood sugar into the cells.  Only 5 percent of all DM diagnoses are this type, where, for some unknown reason, the body’s own immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin.

The type of diabetes where lifestyle choices can greatly affect your risk is Type 2 DM.  Here, the pancreas still makes insulin (often MORE insulin), but the tissues don’t respond to it – this is known as insulin resistance.  Genetics may still play a role, but excess body fat and a sedentary lifestyle are predominant risk factors.

How can I reduce my risk?
Much has changed since the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program trial in 2002 showing that modest weight loss and physical activity reduces the risk of developing the disease by almost 60 percent.  Wow – big results.  So what can you focus on?  Here are five steps to take:

No. 1 Get your weight to a happy place.
Excess weight is the single most important cause of DM.  Lose 10 precent of it and your risk just got cut by half.

No. 2 Move more.
Active muscles take up sugar with less help from insulin, taking some of the burden off that process.  Experts report that 30 minutes of brisk walking, or five hours of weekly activity can reduce your risk by 30 percent.  Don’t like formal exercise?  Get enough by hiking with friends, playing a game of family football, or dancing the night away; vary it to spice it up and keep you motivated.

No. 3 Replace the packages with real food.
Cook more and find stores and restaurants that prep your foods the way you want – lots of whole foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant sources of protein such as beans or legumes, nuts and seeds.  A diet low in processed carbs and red meat, and high in healthy fats (nuts, seeds, plant oils, avocado, fatty fish) not only reduces risk of diabetes, but also other diet-related chronic disease including heart disease.

No. 4 Don’t drink your calories.
Important studies have shown strong links between sugary drinks and diabetes.  Moreover, since we can drink more calories than we can eat, it’s easier to put on weight – the main contributor to the risk.

No. 5 If you smoke, quit.
Smokers are roughly 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers – something we’ve known for some time.  If you can’t do it by yourself, get professional help.

Written by: Andrea Q Vintro, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

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