If you remember just one health statistic today, let it be this one: Roughly 45 percent of American adults have diabetes or prediabetes. That equates to about 114 million men and women from California to Connecticut.
Even more startling is this: Nearly one-fourth of U.S. adults who have diabetes don’t realize they have it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and only about 12 percent of adults with prediabetes are aware of it.
By itself, diabetes is a serious health condition. In fact, it ranked seventh on the 2015 list of the top causes of death in the U.S., the CDC says. Even more worrisome is that diabetes can lead to health problems such as vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and amputation of toes, feet or legs, according to the CDC.
Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of the disease, which triggers unhealthy spikes in blood glucose levels. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body fails to use insulin correctly, the American Diabetes Association says.
Prediabetes also is marked by high blood sugar, but the level isn’t high enough to qualify as diabetes. Often, prediabetes isn’t accompanied by symptoms.
So, now that you’re aware of the seriousness of diabetes, what can you do to prevent or treat it? Here are six tips.
1. Know the risk factors.
Age, genetics and excessive weight are the three of the biggest contributors to diabetes, says registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Knoblock-Hahn, owner and founder of Whole Food Is Medicine.
While we can’t do anything about our age or genetics, we can do something about our weight. Knoblock-Hahn says weight loss of as little as 7 percent — 14 pounds for someone weighing 200 pounds — can prevent someone with prediabetes from getting type 2 diabetes.
Other risk factors include inactivity, high blood pressure and race. The Mayo Clinic says the reason is unclear, but people of certain races — including blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans — are at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
2. Recognize the symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of diabetes include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections, such as those affecting the skin, gums or vagina.
If you suspect you have diabetes, consult your physician or another health care professional.
3. Get tested.
Anyone age 45 and over should be screened for type 2 diabetes, says Haley Hughes, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. No matter what the age, someone with major risk factors should be screened for the disease.
4. Watch your diet.
For someone with diabetes or prediabetes, sticking to a healthy diet is critical.
Knoblock-Hahn offers these dietary suggestions:
- Follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and limit your intake of processed foods.
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Diabetes is one of the many diseases connected to chronic inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods include tomatoes, olive oil, leafy greens (such as spinach, kale and collards), nuts (such as almonds and walnuts), fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) and fruits (such as strawberries, blueberries and cherries), according to Harvard Medical School.
- Restrict or eliminate foods and beverages with added sugars.
Hughes points out that there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to your diet, so if you have diabetes or prediabetes, she suggests seeking out a registered dietitian who’s familiar with diabetes management who can work with you to map out an individualized eating plan.
5. Up the exercise.
Hughes recommends aiming for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day, including strength training at least two times a week. Regular exercise can help you head off or manage diabetes.
6. Take your medicine.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, medication may be prescribed to control your blood sugar. Diabetes drugs come in both oral and injectable varieties. Regardless of the type of medication, be sure you follow the doctor’s orders and take it as prescribed; otherwise, your diabetes could get worse.