It’s an understatement to say the rates of diabetes have increased. It’s now a worldwide epidemic. Propelled by urbanization, poor dietary habits and less-active lifestyles, the diabetes epidemic has, unsurprisingly, increased as the rates of obesity have exploded, according to research in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.
“Diabetes — when the level of sugar in your blood is too high — is an illness of bloated modern life,” says physician Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., author of the “Beat Sugar Addiction Now!” book series. “This condition is extremely rare in Third World countries [that haven’t adopted a] high-sugar, high-white flour, low-fiber, highly processed Western diet along with inadequate exercise.”
It’s not surprising then that eating a balanced, healthy diet in order to lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight is the single most proactive thing you can do to prevent diabetes or the onset of prediabetes, a condition that almost always precedes type 2 diabetes.
Dropping 5 to 10 percent of your body weight will definitively lower blood sugar and cholesterol for most people at risk, says nutritionist Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, author of “The Prediabetes Diet Plan.”
“In fact, a diagnosis of prediabetes, the precursor condition in which blood sugar levels aren’t yet high enough to be labeled diabetes, is a major wake-up call to initiate changes in your lifestyle,” she says.
Here are ways you can prevent or delay a diabetes or prediabetes diagnosis.
Eating to help regulate your blood sugar
To curb the escalating diabetes epidemic, “primary prevention through promotion of a healthy diet, an active lifestyle and regular exercise should be a global public priority,” says Harvard medical researcher Frank Hu, M.D., in The New England Journal of Medicine. He writes, “Even if you’ve already developed diabetes, it’s not too late to make positive lifestyle changes to start controlling it.” Here’s what experts suggest:
1. Scrutinize your portions. The sheer amount of food you eat is closely related to blood glucose levels throughout the day. Wright suggests using measuring cups and estimating all your food portions to stop overeating. She also cautions against the amount of drinks you consume throughout the day.
“Beverages such as sports drinks and fruit-flavored waters have little nutritional value and greatly contribute to the development of diabetes by causing weight gain,” she says. If you can’t stop drinking sugary drinks completely, use a shorter glass which only holds 4 or 8 ounces to moderate your intake.
2. Take your B supplements. Certain vitamins may improve blood sugar levels and alleviate the long-term effects of chronically high blood sugar, says health expert Gary Null, Ph.D., in his new book, “No More Diabetes.” Side effects of high blood sugar include stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, eye problems and kidney disease.
“B complex vitamins with biotin, B6 and B12 help the body fight chronic disease by improving blood flow and enhancing insulin secretion,” says Null. New studies are underway to test the ability of natural herbs, such as ginseng and aloe versa, to help balance blood sugar levels too, he adds.
3. Bump up fiber grams. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that helps you feel satiated, and efficiently moves food and calories through your digestive organs. Data in the “New England Journal of Medicine” shows that diabetics who ate 50 grams of fiber a day (including whole grains and vegetables) controlled their blood glucose better than those who ate less fiber. The recommended daily allowance for fiber is 25 to 35 grams per day, but experts say it wouldn’t hurt to shoot higher.
4. Prioritize your complex carbs. Diabetes patients — and their caregivers — should understand nutrition labels and pay attention to the total amount of carbohydrates consumed per day, not just the sugar content of simple carbohydrates (such as the fructose in fruit). The American Diabetes Association says aim for 45 to 60 grams of high-quality complex carbohydrates per meal (lentils, brown rice, legumes, steel-cut oatmeal, etc.) Also, talk to your doctor to determine an appropriate amount expressly for you.
Take the next steps
If you have prediabetes, start reversing it now. If you’ve already progressed to type 2, change your lifestyle and realize that sugar isn’t necessarily your mortal enemy, says Teitelbaum. A little bit of sugar won’t hurt as long as you maintain a fitter weight, sustain a healthier diet, exercise regularly and keep your blood sugar on track. Love your body (and your blood sugar) and your body will love you back, experts say.