Diabetes is one of many illnesses that disproportionately affects Black people in America. While 8% of the total population has the disease, more than 14% of African-Americans over the age of 20 are diabetic. Not all cases of the illness are the same: While between 5 and 10% of people diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1 (which generally occurs in childhood), 90 to 95% of have Type 2 – adult-onset diabetes. The good news is that Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. Prevention magazine put together a list of tips to help people ward off diabetes before it takes hold. Here are a few of their suggestions:
Nudge the scale
Shedding even 10 pounds can significantly slash your risk. Even extremely overweight people were 70 percent less likely to develop diabetes when they lost just 5 percent of their weight — even if they didn’t exercise. If you weigh 175 pounds, that’s a little less than 9 pounds! Use a calorie calculator to see how many calories you consume — and how many you need to shave off your diet — if you want to lose a little.
Ditch your car
Walk as much as you can every day. You’ll be healthier — even if you don’t lose any weight. People in a Finnish study who exercised the most — up to 4 hours a week, or about 35 minutes a day — dropped their risk of diabetes by 80 percent, even if they didn’t lose any weight. This pattern holds up in study after study: The famed Nurses’ Health Study, for example, found that women who worked up a sweat more than once a week reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 30 percent. And Chinese researchers determined that people with high blood sugar who engaged in moderate exercise (and made other lifestyle changes) were 40 percent less likely to develop full-blown diabetes. Why is walking so wonderful? Studies show that exercise helps your body utilize the hormone insulin more efficiently by increasing the number of insulin receptors on your cells. Insulin helps blood sugar move into cells, where it needs to go to provide energy and nutrition. Otherwise it just sloshes around in your bloodstream, gumming up blood vessel walls and eventually causing serious health problems.
Be a cereal connoisseur
Selecting the right cereal can help you slim down and steady blood sugar. A higher whole grain intake is also linked to lower rates of breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke — and cereal is one of the best sources of these lifesaving grains, if you know what to shop for.
Some tips: Look for the words high fiber on the box; that ensures at least 5 g per serving. But don’t stop there. Check the label; in some brands, the benefits of fiber are overshadowed by the addition of refined grains, added sugar, or cholesterol-raising fats.
Decode the grains: Where that fiber comes from matters, too, so check the ingredient list to find out exactly what those flakes or squares are made from. Millet, amaranth, quinoa, and oats are always whole grain, but if you don’t see whole in front of wheat, corn, barley, or rice, these grains have been refined and aren’t as healthy.
Watch for hidden sugar: The “total sugars” listing doesn’t distinguish between added and naturally occurring sugars; the best way to tell is scan the ingredients again. The following terms represent added sugars: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sugar, and sucrose. Skip cereals that list any of these within the first three ingredients (which are listed by weight).
Go veggie more often
Consider red meat a treat — not something to eat every day. Women who ate red meat at least 5 times a week had a 29 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate it less than once a week, found a 37,000-woman study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. And eating processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs at least 5 times a week raised type 2 diabetes risk by 43 percent, compared with eating them less than once a week. The culprits? Scientists suspect the cholesterol in red meat and the additives in processed meat are to blame.
Get a perfect night’s rest
There’s a sleep sweet spot when it comes to preventing diabetes. A Yale University study of 1,709 men found that those who regularly got less than 6 hours of shut-eye doubled their diabetes risk; those who slept more than 8 hours tripled their odds. Previous studies have turned up similar findings in women. “When you sleep too little — or too long because of sleep apnea — your nervous system stays on alert,” says lead researcher Klar Yaggi, MD, an assistant professor of pulmonary medicine at Yale. This interferes with hormones that regulate blood sugar. A Columbia University study found that sleeping less than 5 hours also doubled the risk of high blood pressure. For a good night’s rest, avoid caffeine after noon, leave work at the office, and skip late-night TV. Oversleeping may be a sign of depression or a treatable sleep disorder, so talk with your doctor.
Have a blood test
Many diabetes symptoms are silent. A simple blood test can reveal whether sugar levels put you at risk for the condition. People with prediabetes — slightly elevated blood sugar levels, between 100 and 125 mg/dl — often develop a full-blown case within 10 years. Knowing your blood sugar levels are a little high can put you on a track to steadying them — with simple diet and exercise changes — before diabetes sets in and medications may be necessary. Everyone 45 and older should have their blood sugar levels tested. Younger people who have risk factors such as being overweight, a family history, and high cholesterol and blood pressure should ask a doctor about getting tested sooner. If results are normal, get tested again within 3 years. If you have prediabetes, blood sugar should be tested again in 1 to 2 years.