Diabetes has become a national health scourge. Between 1980 and 2012, the number of adults diagnosed with the disease quadrupled, from 5.5 million to 21.3 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If present trends continue, one out of every three adults may have diabetes by 2050.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to quickly reduce your risk of being diagnosed with the disease.
However, although research suggests these dietary and behavioral changes can have a powerful impact, they are often "easy to say and harder to do," says Maggie Powers, president-elect of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association.
To increase your odds of success, seek out the help of experts such as registered dieticians, and learn more about the disease by attending diabetes education programs, Powers says.
You can find help through a one out of every three recognized by the CDC.
Or, if you prefer, you can simply get started on your own today. In honor of American Diabetes Month, here are five simple ways to quickly lower your risk of diabetes.
1. Lose weight by eating more healthfully
If you are overweight, cutting back on junk food and fatty meals can help you shed pounds, which in turn will significantly reduce your risk of diabetes. That's true even if you already have been diagnosed with prediabetes.
"Losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight will prevent or delay prediabetes from going to Type 2 diabetes," Powers says.
In fact, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study found that for every 1 kilogram of weight loss (about 2.2 pounds), the risk of diabetes falls by 16 percent. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/29/9/2102.full
- Take a walk every day
Studies have shown that a brisk 30-minute walk every day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 30 percent, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Exercise has two major benefits, Powers says. First, it increases insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in your bloodstream.
Second, briskly walking can help you lose weight.
"The weight loss will decrease insulin resistance, which also means that one's insulin works better," Powers says.
A 30-minute walk might not seem like much. But take that walk five days a week, and you have added 150 minutes of exercise to your weekly routine, Powers says.
- Switch to eating whole-grain foods
Refined grains – including white flour, white rice and white bread -- have protein and a lot of nutrients stripped out during processing. Refined grains are found in many breads, cereals, crackers and pastries.
By contrast, whole grains retain the bran, germ and endosperm. Such grains are rich in vitamins, minerals phytochemicals and fiber. Eating 100 percent whole-grain foods will not raise your blood glucose levels as much as consuming refined grains.
The Nurses’ Health Studies I and II found that women who averaged two to three servings of whole grains a day reduced their risk of diabetes by 30 percent compared to women who rarely ate whole grains.
4. Drop sugary drinks from your diet
Consuming sugary drinks causes blood sugar levels to spike and is closely associated with increased risk of diabetes.
The Nurses' Health Study II found that women who drank at least one or more sugar-sweetened beverage each day had an 83 percent higher risk of diabetes than women who drank less than one sugar-sweetened beverage during the month.
5. Drink alcohol – but only a glass or two a day
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol helps increase the efficiency of insulin at getting glucose inside cells, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. So, does that mean we all should tip back a few?
"We don't typically encourage alcohol because of potential overuse issues," Powers says.
She notes, however, that moderate alcohol use is probably OK if you stick to guidelines – one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men – and follow safety guidelines, such as making sure to eat properly.