Did a parent have diabetes with complications, or has a close relative become unable to do the things they love because of type 2 diabetes? And are you concerned that you may follow in their footsteps? Well, there’s hope. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.
Many people experience a condition called prediabetes for a lengthy period before they develop type 2 diabetes — fortunately, unlike type 2 diabetes, prediabetes can be reversed when care is taken with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors. Most people with prediabetes do not experience symptoms, so it’s important to regularly see your healthcare provider if you are at risk for diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes risk factors include:
• Having a close family member (parent or sibling) who has or had type 2 diabetes
• Being of Black, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Asian American, or Pacific Islander heritage
• Being overweight or obese
• Being physically inactive
• Having high blood pressure (greater than 140/80) or being treated for high blood pressure
• Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels
• Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
• A history of diabetes during pregnancy
For many people, simply losing a small amount of weight and increasing daily activity are powerful tools in protecting against developing type 2 diabetes. The National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) showed that in overweight people at risk for diabetes, lifestyle changes reduced the likelihood of developing diabetes by 58 percent. Weight loss was defined as losing at least seven percent of initial body weight and maintaining this weight loss. Subjects also increased moderate-intensity physical activity to 150 minutes a week.
And age does have benefits: If you are 60 years old or older, lifestyle changes like these can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by as much as 71 percent.
(Learn more in “Diabetes, Prediabetes, and Staying Healthy: What You Need to Know.”)
Increased physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, as well as lower your blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor before drastically changing your physical activity levels, but the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) currently recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, like brisk walking, or 75 minutes per week of rigorous activity, like running. Adults should also take part in muscle-building activities, like lifting weights, at least two days a week. These activities can also increase your strength and balance, and help you lead a more active life.
Eating well is a key component in preventing diabetes; however, the right diet for each person depends on many factors, and you should discuss your personalized nutrition recommendations with your doctor.
Nourishing your body with a variety of nutrients including fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats can help slow the absorption of sugar, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health — all factors in preventing and managing diabetes.
Making choices like these will allow you to eat well while reducing to the risk of type 2 diabetes:
• Non-starchy vegetables: Eat the rainbow! Include various colorful vegetables — for instance, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, dark leafy greens, eggplant, and broccoli.
• Eat your fruit, don't drink it: Choose whole fruits — apples, pears, or two handfuls of berries — in place of fruit juices.
• Choose plant-based goodness for fats and proteins: nuts, seeds, and legumes such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils are excellent sources.
• Include fatty fish such as salmon, cod, anchovies, and sardines more often for animal proteins. Poultry and eggs can also be part of a balanced meal plan.
• Replace processed grains and flours with whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta, sprouted breads, whole-grain rice, whole oats, and quinoa.
• Be mindful of foods that are high in added sugar (thankfully, nutrition labels now state added sugars on packaged foods). And although fats should be eaten in moderation, some heart-healthy fats — such as those in olive, safflower, sunflower, peanut, and canola oils — can actually promote heart and vascular health.
Managing your glucose levels is a foundational part of managing prediabetes and diabetes. Talk to your doctor about necessary tests, and consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that gives you a complete picture of your glucose levels. CGMs help people understand how their glucose levels respond to different foods, varying physical activity, stress levels, sleep habits, and everyday life. A CGM is a small sensor that sits under your skin, does not hurt, and continuously measures glucose levels.
Start by making small changes to your lifestyle. Eat to win by making healthy choices. If you are overweight, try to lose one to two pounds a month. Incorporate physical activity into everyday life — use the stairs, walk with a friend, swim, or ride your bike.
And knowledge is power. Wear a CGM. Use real-time glucose data to make the lifestyle changes that are right for you. With these small steps, you can prevent diabetes and “beat genetics.”
Carbon Health provides expert diabetes care. If you’re a California resident, learn more about how a CGM device can help you better manage diabetes from the comfort of home. Schedule a free 15-minute eligibility check.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.