Diabetes Self-Management Blog

With this being a presidential election year and all, many people’s thoughts turn to the costs of health-care. The total cost of diabetes, including prediabetes and undiagnosed diabetes, was $174 billion in 2007. No doubt, those costs are higher today and will only continue to climb as more and more people are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Maybe it’s time to jump on the bandwagon and focus on what can be done to prevent diabetes from happening in the first place.

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable. Data from the Nurses’ Health Study indicate that 90% of Type 2 diabetes cases in women are linked to five factors:

• Excess weight
• Lack of exercise
• A not-so-great diet
• Smoking
• Abstaining from alcohol

The bad news is that making changes in these categories isn’t so easy, but the good news is that it’s possible. Also, it’s very likely that men can benefit from changing up their lifestyle, too.

Last week, I wrote about losing weight, doing more physical activity, and making sure you get enough sleep. There’s a lot more that one can do, however, to ward off diabetes. So, the list continues:

Drink coffee. It may seem odd to people that drinking coffee is actually a good thing, but apparently it’s true. Three compounds in coffee — caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, and caffeine — seem to have a protect effect against diabetes. A study published in 2009 reported that with each cup of coffee consumed per day, the risk of diabetes dropped by 7%. Both regular and decaf coffee provide the benefit. The caveat: leave out the cream, sugar, and other add-ins.

Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast doesn’t do you many favors, especially when it comes to diabetes. People who eat breakfast regularly lower their chances of getting diabetes by 30%. Also, breakfast eaters are less likely to gain weight, ironically enough. But be choosey about your breakfast foods: Wolfing down a bowl of sugary cereal or grabbing a 75-gram refined-carb bagel may not work. The best type of breakfast is one that includes some protein, which helps lower the hormones that trigger hunger. How about a boiled egg and a slice or two of whole grain toast?

Go for the grain. Speaking of grains, which seem to get a bad rap among some people with diabetes, you may be interested to know that eating two servings of whole-grain foods each may lower your diabetes risk by 21%. Whole-grain foods include brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, popcorn, and steel-cut oats. When reading an ingredient list, the first ingredient should be some kind of whole grain. Go easy on refined grains, though, like white bread, white rice, and regular pasta, as refined carbs may actually increase your diabetes risk.

Fill up on fiber. Several large-scale studies have found that getting enough fiber in your diet may lower your diabetes risk by up to 60%. Fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrate from your intestines into your bloodstream so that “spikes” in blood glucose are minimized. It’s easy to find fiber — just go for fresh fruits and vegetables, bran or oat-based cereals, beans, peas and lentils, and nuts and seeds. Look for foods that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. And aim for about 25 to 38 grams per day.

Munch on stone fruits. Summer is waning, but there’s still plenty of time to enjoy peaches, nectarines, and plums. Why? Besides the fact that they’re delicious, stone fruits (those are fruits with a large, hard seed) contain phenolic compounds that appear to fight diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Say cheese (maybe). Cheese is not usually known for its health benefits, mostly because it tends to be high in saturated fat, the kind of fat that may raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Researchers looked at data from eight countries in Europe, involving more than 300,000 people. Those who ate the most cheese had a 12% lower diabetes risk than those who didn’t eat much cheese. But, the researchers didn’t report on what kind of cheese people ate, nor did they explain how or why cheese might lower the risk. So still go easy on cheese, at least for now.

Drink water, not sugar. People who drink water instead of sugary drinks like soda, iced tea, or sports drinks have a lower risk of getting diabetes. In fact, drinking even one or two sugary beverages a day bumps up diabetes risk by about 25%. Drinking sugary drinks is linked to weight gain, and researchers now know that the kind of sugar in these drinks (mostly high fructose corn syrup) may lead to insulin resistance, spikes in glucose, and inflammation (which are precursors to diabetes).

Eat selenium-rich foods. Selenium is a trace mineral and an antioxidant. People whose diets are rich in this mineral are 24% less likely to get Type 2 diabetes than people who don’t consume much of it. Food sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, whole grains, poultry, fish, meat, and eggs. Researchers advise against taking selenium supplements, however, because foods contain more than one type of selenium. Also, too much selenium can be toxic.

Try turmeric. Turmeric is a spice widely used in cooking. It gives Indian curry dishes their famous yellow color. Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance that seems to have anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been linked with alleviating many diseases and disorders, including some types of cancer, ulcerative colitis, indigestion, and now, diabetes. In a small study of 240 Thai adults given curcumin capsules, none of them developed diabetes after nine months compared to 19 of the 116 adults not given the curcumin. It’s too soon to rush out and stock up on curcumin supplements, but then again, it may not hurt to add turmeric to your cooking.

So, as you can see, there’s much that you can do to lower your risk of diabetes. Are any of these guarantees? Maybe not, but you’ll still reap the health benefits that these steps have to offer.

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Comments
  1. Amy,

    Thank you for writing about diabetes prevention. So many are writing after the fact of diabetes, that it’s refreshing to see someone say, “You don’t have to get diabetes in the first place. You can lower your risk and here are some ways to do it.” Please continue to emphasize prevention. A country without 75,000,000 who could well have a pre-diabetes diagnoses would be a great place! For those folks to know they can do something about it is tremendous.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I will post a link in my little blog to this article. It’s important information.

    Thank you,
    Phil Ruggiero

    Posted by Phil Ruggiero |
  2. Thanks, Phil! I agree — more emphasis should be placed on diabetes prevention and empowering people to know that there are things they can do to lower their risk.

    Posted by acampbell |
  3. Thank you for your kind suggestions. It is true that grains get a bad rap among some diabetics. This is because the high starch/carbohydrate content of grains causes a rapid rise in blood sugar in people with insulin resistance/impaired insulin response. The same goes for other starchy foods like beans and lentils and also fruits, which contain natural sugars. The fiber content of these foods is often not enough to lessen the “spike” that occurs after eating them. Now that diabetics have personal blood glucose monitors, they can see this for themselves as clear as day. (My blood sugar easily reaches over 250 mg/dl after eating whole grains.)

    But I’m glad to see from your recommendations that you are basing yourself mostly on recent findings. Thank you again.

    Posted by Anna |
  4. Preventing diabetes could be possible with proper diet modification and exercise.

    Posted by Scott Alexander |
  5. Thanks, Anna. I think we need to be careful in assuming that whole grains, beans, and lentils cause blood glucose spikes in everyone. That’s not the case. Many of these foods have a lower glycemic index, or impact, so while blood glucose does rise after eating carbohydrate, when eaten in an unrefined form, eaten in a controlled amount, and eaten with, say, a fat source, glucose levels are more likely to rise slowly and not as high. But you’re correct — blood glucose and continuous glucose monitoring are ways to find out how different foods affect your own glucose levels.

    Posted by acampbell |

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