Your Best Strategies for Preventing Diabetes

Practical ways to lower your risk
woman giving herself an insulin injection

By: Marwan Hamaty, MD

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One in four people has pre-diabetes, or elevated blood glucose, that puts them at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There are no clear symptoms of pre-diabetes. You may have it and not even know.

To prevent diabetes, I recommend a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and following a healthy diet are 50-50 in terms of importance in preventing diabetes — and doing both provides the best benefit. If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, nothing beats these two.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include: a family history of diabetes and being overweight. Being overweight can keep your body from making and using insulin properly. How overweight you are matters: the higher the weight, the higher the risk.

To prevent diabetes, it is important for you to know your numbers. Studies show that treatment with modest lifestyle changes can often return blood sugar levels to normal and lower your risk for developing diabetes by at least 58 percent.

You are more at risk for type 2 diabetes if:

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You should be checked with a blood glucose test by ages 40 to 45 if you fall into these categories. Even if you are younger, if you are overweight and have a family history, please consider getting tested. We’re seeing diabetes at a much earlier age than we used to, as young as in the teens, because of inactivity and obesity.

The magic of exercise

Exercise not only helps you lose weight, but keep blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides at optimal levels. Even just moderate exercise of 30 minutes per day, five days a week can help.

Exercises may include:

  • Simple activities: walking, using the stairs instead of elevators, moving around throughout the day
  • Aerobic exercise: brisk walking, swimming, bike riding
  • Strength training
  • Flexibility exercises

A healthy diet

Besides helping to prevent diabetes, the great thing about a healthy diet is that it’s effective for controlling cholesterol and blood pressure too.

The quantity of food you eat is key. Portion control is very important, even if you’re eating all the right foods. Some guidelines for a healthy preventive diet:

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  • Eat foods that are low in animal/saturated fats
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber
  • Avoid simple sugars
  • Get protein sources low in saturated fat: turkey, fish, chicken (not fried)
  • Get vegetable protein that’s also high in fiber: beans, portabella and other varieties of mushrooms, veggie burgers
  • Get dairy protein that is fat-free: egg substitutes, skim and soy milk
  • Use canola and olive oil in cooking; both have unsaturated fats

Healthy diet and exercise also work to prevent diabetes even among those who don’t need to lose weight. For some who are at risk, and are at normal weight or only slightly overweight, weight loss isn’t a target per se, but the benefits are there in preventing diabetes.

Medications for diabetes prevention

Doctors prescribe medications for people diagnosed with pre-diabetes, but they don’t have full-fledged diabetes). Taking metformin and acarbose helps when diet and exercise are not providing adequate benefit — but they’re no substitute for the real thing. In clinical trials, exercise and dietary management were superior to both acarbose and metformin.

Diet and exercise are cheaper, healthier and there are fewer side effects — except good ones.

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