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Nutrition Notes: Preventing Diabetes – Is it Possible?

by Karen Lentner, MA, RD, LDN

KarenLentnerAs we recognize American Diabetes Awareness Month in November, let’s take a look at our health and what we can do to prevent or even reverse diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 34.2 million Americans, or 1 in 10, have diabetes and 88 million Americans, or 1 in 3, have prediabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form that occurs when your body doesn’t produce or use insulin efficiently. It is common in people of all ages who are obese or overweight.

Will you get diabetes if it runs in your family? Family history, obesity, and lifestyle do play a role in developing diabetes. It is possible however, to prevent, delay, or even reverse diabetes by making small changes to the way you eat, losing weight, and exercising. Research has shown that making positive lifestyle changes is very effective for everyone, especially older adults. Losing 5% of your body weight may help lower your blood sugars, reduce your risk of developing diabetes, and perhaps reverse it.

If you’ve had a lifetime of struggles with weight issues, where do you begin? Set small and realistic goals that you can live with. Losing weight is important, but keeping it off is the key. Focus on long-term changes. Try limiting dessert to every other day to start (or cutting the portion size in half), and walking around your apartment or home for 15 minutes a day. When your goals become habits, you may feel proud of your achievement and move on to a new goal, perhaps increasing your exercise and looking at additional changes to your diet.

Healthy changes and recommendations include:

*Create a healthy plate with half of your plate containing colorful fruits and vegetables, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter healthy protein. You may include healthy fats (such as olive oil and avocado) and no-sugar added beverages (such as flavored unsweetened seltzer).
*Increase fruits and vegetables. Try cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, plus fruits and berries. Fresh or frozen vegetables and fresh fruits or those packaged in their own juice are ideal. Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber and may be consumed freely.
*Increase fiber. Add high fiber foods to each meal or snack including fruits, vegetables, chickpeas, lentils, beans (legumes), and nuts. Foods high in fiber often have fewer calories by volume of food, helping you feel full for longer periods. A good source of fiber contains approximately 3 - 5+ grams per serving. High fiber carbohydrates are an important part of your meal and a balanced diet is the key.
*Decrease processed foods and added sugars. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages (soda), sweetened desserts, white rice, and flour. Read labels when shopping and avoid products with sugar as the first or second ingredient. Select brown rice, quinoa, whole grains, and oatmeal. Optimal beverages include water, seltzers, and herbal teas.
*Eat less red meat, avoid processed meats. Red meat (beef, pork), bacon, sausage, and cold cuts may increase your risk of diabetes. Select lean chicken, fish, low-fat dairy, and eggs instead.
*Select healthy fats or plant oils. Try olive oil, canola oil, avocado, and Omega-3 fats in flax seeds, walnuts, and salmon.

Remember your goals! Cutting back on calories and increasing your activity are the keys to losing weight and lowering blood sugars. Take a walk around the block after eating a meal, move your arms and legs while watching television, stay active throughout the day. It IS possible to prevent or reverse diabetes, so start your journey to a healthier lifestyle today.