Are You at Risk for Diabetes?
BY: Kim Schworm Acosta
It’s every woman’s worst nightmare: a breast cancer diagnosis. And with all the media attention, you’d think breast cancer really is the life sentence for all women over 40. But did you know that twice as many women die of diabetes each year? In fact, one in 10 women over the age of 20 is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes -- and because there are often no clear symptoms, many more have it without even knowing.
Could you be one of them? Here’s what you need to know about diabetes to help you prevent and fight off this killer disorder.
The Dangers of Diabetes
Diabetes wreaks havoc by preventing your body from using carbohydrates, its main source of energy. When you consume carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose; it then produces a hormone called insulin to make the glucose into energy. But diabetes prevents the body from producing enough insulin, so the glucose builds up in the blood instead of being converted into energy. This results in dangerous predicaments, from blurred vision and gum disease, to kidney failure and coma.
What You Can Do Right Now
The good news is, certain habits can decrease your risk of getting diabetes. Make these smart steps daily habits:
- Walk 30 minutes a day. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a major federal study, found that walking just half an hour a day reduces your chances of developing diabetes by 30 percent. “Even if you don’t see big results on the scale, you’re helping your insulin work better,” says Campbell.
- Opt for the “plate method.” Maintaining a healthy weight is key to preventing diabetes. Find a method you can adopt for a lifetime, says Amy Campbell, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Joslin Diabetes Center. She suggests the “plate method,” where you designate a space on your plate for every type of nutrient you need. At every meal, fill your plate strategically:
- Half with vegetables
- A quarter with healthy protein (i.e., chicken, lean meat or fish)
- A quarter with a whole-grain carbohydrate (e.g., brown rice or a whole-wheat roll)
- Add a piece of a fruit or a low fat yogurt on the side, and you’ve done it!
- Swap white for brown. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that opting for brown rice instead of white can reduce your diabetes risk by 16 percent. Choose another type of whole grain, such as barley, and you’ll lower your risk by 36 percent!
- Choose “whole” vs. “enriched.” Go directly to the ingredients list when evaluating foods at the grocery story, says Campbell. “Look for the word ‘whole’ rather than ‘enriched’ -- whole-wheat or whole-grain rye, for example,” she says. Enriched products may sound healthy, but they are actually refined foods to which a few synthetic nutrients have been added to make up for the natural nutrients stripped during refining.
- Whip up yummy salads. Leafy greens do double duty when it comes to diabetes prevention. The magnesium in romaine, spinach and their dark-green brethren may help fight diabetes, but so does the vitamin D, says Campbell. Several studies show a link between low vitamin D levels and greater insulin resistance. Plus, eating plenty of high-volume produce makes you less likely to indulge in snack foods full of refined sugars.
- Go nuts! Eating 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or an ounce of nuts five or more times a week cuts your risk of diabetes by 20 to 30 percent, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Peanuts are a good option, as are any other kind of nuts.
- Know your risk. Although anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, three factors increase your risk: age, family history and obesity. Also be aware of common symptoms, including the following:
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Tingling sensations at the hands and feet
- Wounds that heal slowly
- Red, inflamed, bleeding gums
- Blurred vision
- Increased number of vaginal yeast infections
If you are at risk or are concerned about any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, who can check your glucose levels and give you a proper diagnosis.