Diabetes afflicts 25.8 million people in the United States, with millions of those not even aware that they have it.
People with diabetes have trouble turning the food they consume into usable energy. During digestion, food is turned into glucose, a sugar the body uses for energy. The glucose is then converted into energy with a hormone called insulin. People can develop type II diabetes when the cells in their liver, fat and muscles don’t use insulin properly, the amount of glucose in their bloodstream increases and their cells are starved for energy. Years of high blood glucose levels can lead to nerve and blood vessel damage, as well as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease and other complications.
A person is at risk for developing type II diabetes by being overweight, having high blood pressure, and/or a family history of diabetes. Some ethnic groups are more predisposed to developing diabetes: Alaska Natives, American Indians, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The Harvard School of Public Health said the disease can be mostly prevented in nine out of 10 cases by taking simple steps and changing habits.
Here are five easy ways to lower the risk of developing type II diabetes:
1. Pumping Iron
A recent study by UCLA researchers shows that adding muscle may be a way to lower the risk of developing type II diabetes.
“Our findings suggest that beyond focusing on losing weight to improve metabolic health, there may be a role for maintaining fitness and building muscle mass,” researcher Preethi Srikanthan told USA Today. Srikanthan is an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.
The researchers learned that for every 10% increase in the ratio of muscle mass to total body weight — called the skeletal muscle index — there was an 11% drop in insulin resistance and a 12% drop in pre-diabetes, which is an early warning sign of high blood sugar levels.
Did you know that losing between 7% and 10% of your current weight (if you weigh 180 pounds, that’s 18 pounds to lose) a person can cut the chances of developing type II diabetes in half?
3. Make Smarter Eating Choices
Cut the amount of fat in your diet to about 25% of the total calories, said the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Also, try to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day (about one teaspoon of salt).
Even little changes can make a big difference, said Kelly Nordby, M.P.H., R.D., a nutrition and physical activity specialist with the University of North Carolina.
She suggested that people avoid soda, tea and other sugar-laden beverages and instead drink water with slices of cucumber, lemon or lime.
“When shopping, we are often enticed by labels like sugar free and fat free, but this does not always lead us to the best choice,” Nordby said. Some fat-free varieties of ice cream have as many calories as the regular versions. “Instead, choose a fruit bar with no added sugar, or better yet make your own smoothie with frozen fruit and yogurt.”
4. Have a Drink
Moderate amounts of alcohol can help increase the efficiency of insulin, the Harvard School of Public Health said. And by moderate, the school means one drink a day for women and two for men.
Avoid drinking more than that because some research shows higher levels of alcohol could increase the risk of developing diabetes.
5. Quit Smoking
Smokers have a higher risk of developing diabetes than nonsmokers – about 50% more likely, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
With 79 million Americans estimated to have pre-diabetes, it’s clear that more people than ever need to review their lifestyles and make needed changes.