How to prevent diabetes
Nine ways to help keep type 2 diabetes at bay
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious condition that causes a person's blood glucose (sugar) levels to become too high. After our food has been digested, glucose enters the bloodstream. The hormone insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into our cells, where it's broken down to produce energy. For those with diabetes, their body is unable to break down glucose into energy. Depending on the type of diabetes, this could be because there’s not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin produced doesn't work properly. Over a long period of time, high glucose levels in the blood can lead to complications with the heart, eyes, feet and kidneys.
Type 1 & type 2 diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong autoimmune condition where blood glucose levels are too high because the body can’t produce insulin. It’s caused by the immune system mistakenly targeting and killing beta cells, which are cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. Once diagnosed, those with type 1 will need to take insulin for the rest of their lives, usually through injections, using an insulin pen or an insulin pump.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin. Unlike type 1 that’s a lifelong condition, type 2 is not an autoimmune condition and has several risk factors including:
• Being overweight or obese
• Having a waist size of 80 cm (31.5 inches) or more for women, or 94 cm (37 inches) or more for men
• Having a close relative with type 2 diabetes like a parent or sibling
• Eating an unhealthy diet
• Being physically inactive
• Having high blood pressure or raised cholesterol levels
• Being of South Asian or African-Caribbean descent
What can I do to lower my risk of type 2 diabetes?
In the UK, around 90 percent of all adults with diabetes have type 2. The good news is that you can take steps to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. Here are nine ways to shake up your routine and make positive lifestyle changes to help reduce your risk.
Cut down on sugar
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help prevent type 2 diabetes. Carbohydrates are the body’s main form of energy and there are two different types: simple and complex or starchy carbohydrates. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. It raises blood sugar levels quickly compared to complex carbohydrates which provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day. Sugars and particularly added sugars have been linked with increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay.
If you want to cut down on sugar, get used to reading food labels, comparing products and choosing lower sugar or sugar-free versions. Many breakfast cereals are high in sugar. Try switching to lower-sugar cereals or those with no added sugar, such as plain porridge or whole wheat cereal biscuits. Focus on finding healthier snack options without added sugar, such as fruit (fresh, tinned or frozen), unsalted nuts, unsalted rice cakes, oatcakes, or homemade plain popcorn. If you're not quite ready to give up your sweet treats altogether, work on reducing your portion size, think 2 biscuits instead of half a packet.
Eat more high fibre, starchy carbohydrates
Choosing whole, unprocessed starchy carbohydrates over refined options and simple sugars is important. They usually contain more fibre which helps keep blood sugar levels stable, our digestive system healthy and cholesterol levels under control. Starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta should make up a third of the food you eat. Where you can, choose wholegrain varieties of starchy foods such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and wholemeal bread.
Lose weight if you’re overweight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. Excess body fat, particularly if it’s stored around your middle, can increase the body’s resistance to insulin. The good news is that reducing your body weight, by even a small amount, can help improve your body’s insulin sensitivity. This helps to not only lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes but also heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
Exercising regularly goes hand in hand with losing weight to help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Regular exercise will help you to maintain a healthy weight, help your body manage your blood sugar and insulin levels and helps to lower your risk of heart disease. If the thought of exercise fills you with dread, remember there are so many different ways to get moving. It really doesn’t have to be or shouldn’t be boring – find something that works for you and stick at it.
Getting your portion sizes right is important in eating a healthy balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Often, if you’re struggling to lose weight, your portion sizes could be to blame. Controlling your portions doesn’t mean strict restrictions, it’s all about balance. You could try using a smaller plate to serve your food or maybe try using measuring cups for a simple way to measure the amount you eat. Have a look at the nutritional information on food packet labels to check the recommended serving size. It may be different to the amount you would normally serve yourself.
Make healthy food swaps
Choosing healthier foods is easier than you think. Making small changes to a few of your eating habits can help to make a big difference to your diet and weight. A small amount of fat is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. However, we should be swapping foods high in unhealthy saturated fats with healthy unsaturated fats where possible. Healthier fats are in foods like unsalted nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, olive oil and sunflower oil. Try grilling, steaming or baking foods instead of using oil to fry. If you fancy a snack, reach for unsalted nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables instead of grabbing crisps, biscuits and chocolates.
Go for the water
Good drinking habits are just as important as good eating habits when it comes to preventing and managing diabetes. The kidneys remove glucose from the body in the urine, but require water to do so. The higher the glucose levels in the blood, the more water is needed to help get rid. This is why thirst is one of the main symptoms of diabetes. When it comes to keeping hydrated, water is your best option. Although it may be tempting to choose a fruit juice or a sugary drink over a humble glass of water, they contain hidden calories and sugar that can be easy to forget about. As water contains no additional sugar, it won’t raise your blood glucose levels. Aim for six to eight glasses of water a day.
Cut down your drinking
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. As alcohol is essentially empty calories, drinking too much can lead to weight gain. A pint of beer, for example, can contain almost the same amount of calories as a bar of chocolate. Too much alcohol may also cause chronic inflammation of the pancreas, which can affect its ability to release insulin. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink every now and then but it’s important to drink in moderation to avoid increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and nervous system damage. The less you drink, the lower the health risks. Simple. To help keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a minimum, drinking no more than 14 units per week is recommended. This is equal to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.
Smoking offers no health benefits at all, so it’s no surprise that it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Even if you’ve been smoking for years, it’s never too late to quit and give yourself a chance at a healthier life.