American Diabetes Month- What Is It?

Every November brings the American Diabetes Month, an important month devoted to raising awareness and education around this growing epidemic and what we can do about it. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes affects nearly 30 million adults and children in the US…that’s roughly 10% of our population! Perhaps even more staggering is the fact that another 86 million Americans have prediabetes, a condition which increases the likelihood of developing diabetes, specifically Type-2 Diabetes, in one’s lifetime. Many individuals with prediabetes don’t even know they have it. Why is our nation so concerned with diabetes? Having diabetes nearly doubles one’s risk for dying from heart disease, increases risk for stroke and is the leading cause of renal disease and new cases of blindness in middle age adults. Additionally, diabetes increases the likelihood for amputations during ones lifetime and roughly 60-70% of individuals with diabetes suffer from nerve damage.  Without question, diabetes is one of the leading contributions to disability and death in the US.

Type 1 Diabetes

It is important to differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes (formerly known as Juvenile Onset) is an immune disorder where the body attacks insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is needed to transport glucose (blood sugar) into our cells. Without insulin, the bloodstream remains high in glucose, a condition which leads to a myriad of negative health effects including death if untreated. Type 1 is largely out of our control and comes on in childhood or young adulthood, however this type of diabetes only affects ~5-10% of our population.

Type 2 Diabetes

On the other hand, Type 2 Diabetes (formerly known as Adult Onset) accounts for the vast majority of diabetes cases and is largely preventable with lifestyle changes. In Type-2 Diabetes, the body becomes less efficient at using insulin (called insulin resistant) which can lead to chronically elevated blood glucose and associated health consequences. We used to only see Type-2 Diabetes in middle to later adulthood but now even children and adolescents are coming down with this disease due to poor lifestyle choices.  The reality is the vast majority of cases of Type-2 Diabetes are preventable with healthy eating and exercise habits.

Take control of your health and reduce your risk for Type-2 Diabetes by following the tips below!

  • Aim for a Healthy Weight:  Being overweight is the leading risk factor for developing Type-2 Diabetes. Being overweight can reduce the body’s ability to use and produce insulin efficiently (insulin resistance), and also increases risk for additional health consequences such as high blood pressure and heart disease. If overweight, try reducing portion sizes and logging your food while gradually increasing physical activity to start the weight loss process. Speak with a qualified health professional to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight for life!
  • Eat Healthy:  Choosing nutritious foods helps reduce risk for many diseases and health ailments and diabetes is no exception. Try to replace refined, “white” grains with whole grain, high fiber varieties and swap sodas and other sugar-containing beverages for water or unsweetened iced tea. Aim for 1 ½ to 2 cups fruit and at least 3 cups of vegetables daily, choosing a variety of colorful produce. Choose a variety of protein foods including vegetarian options (such as beans) and select leaner meats most often, preferably organic. Incorporate healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts/seeds, coconut oil and omega 3 fats from fatty fish such as salmon. Reduce intake of sugars and solid fats found in many packaged snack foods and desserts.  One quick tip to get you started is to fill half your plate with vegetables and/or fruits at every meal…this increases nutrient density and displaces higher calorie, lower nutrient foods.
  • Move your Body!  Regular exercise is essential for health and reducing one’s risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking or jogging, most days of the week. If you are new to exercise, start with 10 minute exercise segments and try to repeat 2-3 more times during the day to get up to a goal of at least 30 minutes. If you are already exercising 30 minutes or more keep doing what you’re doing and incorporate new types of activity, like trying a new fitness class, to help keep you motivated and avoid injury and burn-out.  Be sure to include strength training exercises a few times per week to boost muscle mass and bone health.

Make fitness and nutrition a priority for life!