Everyone should be thinking about prevention. However, if you are elderly, have African, Hispanic, or Native American heritage, or your mother had gestational diabetes, you’re at a much higher risk of developing diabetes at some point in your lifetime than other Americans. However, do not despair! With lifestyle modifications you can reduce the risk of diabetes immensely. Studies have shown that making just a few changes to your diet and lifestyle can reduce risk of developing non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus by as much as 58 percent.
- increasing Omega-3 fatty acids
- decreasing saturated fat to less than 8 percent of daily caloric intake
- reducing or eliminating simple carbohydrates and sugars
- adding in colorful fruits and vegetables
- adding exercise at least 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes per day for five days of the week.
The risk reduction is even greater in people 60 years old and older!
When is the right time to start implementing these lifestyle modifications?
NOW is the time to start, no matter what your age! Even though we now know that early in childhood is the best time to teach healthy lifestyles, the human body is adaptable and has an innate ability to heal and reverse damage. If you are later in your life, making the switch to a healthier lifestyle will make a difference.
How do I know what to eat?
Eat whole foods rather than processed foods. If it comes in a box, can or from the freezer it is likely a processed food. Highly processed industrialized foods lead to an increase in the inflammatory markers in the body, and research has shown that increased inflammation in the body can lead to a higher risk of developing diabetes.
Reduce the amount of calories that come from simple carbohydrates and sugars and replace them with whole grains and root vegetables. Complex carbohydrates have less impact on blood sugar than simple carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, rice or sugar. Balanced blood sugar leads to an overall feeling of wellness.
Increase protein intake from fish, white meats, and red meat from grass fed animals. Eating grass fed animal products has been shown to increase the Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid composition, leading to an overall reduction in inflammation.
Eat a surplus of non-starchy vegetables. This is likely the most important ingredient to a healthy diet. Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables. Some vegetables that are high in anti-oxidants and other beneficial nutrients are: dark leafy greens (kale, chard, collards), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage etc.), brightly colored peppers, sweet potatoes, and beets. Fruits should be eaten in moderation (2 servings a day) and ideally be on the lower end of the glycemic index.
The best fruits and vegetables are local and organic. Buying organic will reduce exposures to chemical residues left from pesticides and other ripening additives which may be correlated to an increased risk of chronic disease.4 To see a list of fruits and vegetables that should definitely be organic and those you can allow a little leeway visit EWG guide to 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide exposure data.
And what about exercise? How do I know what moderate exercise is?
Diet alone won’t prevent diabetes, but when coupled with a consistent daily aerobic exercise regimen the results are astounding. It is recommended, as stated above, that at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is enough to reduce risk of developing diabetes. The CDC defines moderate exercise as burning between 3.5 and 7 calories per minute. For specific exercises and guidelines visit the CDC General Physical Activities by Level of Intensity. Remember to drink adequate amounts of water to keep your body hydrated and work into an exercise regimen that is both manageable and sustainable for your life’s situations.
Remember, you are in charge of your health and taking steps to modify your lifestyle to live an active healthy life, provides you with the opportunity to participate in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Always follow-up with a qualified healthcare professional to manage diet, blood glucose levels, and any other healthcare needs. Visit Women in Balance Healthcare Provider Tool to find a qualified healthcare provider near you.
Written by Michelle Williams, Naturopathic Medical and Oriental Medicine Program. Edited by Dr. Elise Schroeder
- Ahmad, L. A., and J. P. Crandall. “Type 2 Diabetes Prevention: A Review.” Clinical Diabetes 28.2 (2010): 53-59. Clinical Diabetes Journal. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
- “EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™.” EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. Environmental Working Group, Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
- “General Physical Activities Defined by Level of Intensity.” Centers for Disease Control. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
- Erlandsen, Andrew, ND. “Food As Medicine.” Nutrition II. National College of Natural Medicine, Portland. Oct. 2014. Lecture.