Tips to keep your blood sugar in check and help prevent diabetes.
Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes and one-third of these people don’t even know it. What’s more, an additional 54
million people in the U.S. have blood-glucose levels that fall into a risky “prediabetes” range.
Basically, diabetes is a health
condition characterized by high levels of glucose
—a form of sugar that fuels our body’s cells—in the blood. Our bodies
break down the foods we eat into glucose—but the sugar can’t get into cells without an escort. Insulin, a hormone produced by
the pancreas, ushers the sugar in. But in people who have diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas don’t make enough insulin
(type 1 diabetes
), or the
body’s cells don’t respond effectively to the hormone (type 2 diabetes
). The result: glucose
stays in the blood, where it accumulates. Over time, this high concentration of blood glucose—a condition called
hyperglycemia—weakens blood vessels and then can damage the eyes, kidneys and nerves. Diabetes can also cause heart disease
The root cause for the diabetes “epidemic” still eludes medical researchers but most experts agree that poor diet and
sedentary living are significant contributing factors. The upside of this is that eating well and moving more helps prevent
the condition—even if your blood glucose level is already in what’s considered to be a “pre-diabetes” range. (And if you have
diabetes already, a healthy diet helps keep glucose levels in check.) The nutrition experts at EatingWell recommend
the following steps to help control blood glucose and prevent diabetes.
1. Lose weight.
Extra fat can make your body resistant to the action of insulin. Losing weight improves insulin’s activity, which reduces
blood-glucose levels. Research suggests that people at high risk for diabetes who lose as little as 5 percent of their body
weight (i.e., about 10 pounds, if they weigh 200 pounds) can prevent or delay onset of the condition. The most effective
approach, say experts, is a structured weight-loss program, such as The EatingWell Diet
emphasizes lifestyle changes.
2. Exercise regularly.
Studies show that physical activity improves the body’s response to insulin and helps lower blood-glucose levels. Aim to fit
in 30 minutes of moderate activity—such as brisk walking—nearly every day.
3. Choose whole grains.
Selecting whole grains, such as whole-wheat breads and pastas, barley, corn and oats, over refined ones can help improve
insulin sensitivity. Whole grains will help you meet your recommended daily intake for fiber (25 grams); they also provide
more vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting nutrients than refined grains.
4. Don’t skip meals.
Research suggests that eating breakfast increases insulin effectiveness in lowering blood-glucose levels, and eating
regularly spaced meals also has a beneficial effect on insulin response.
5. Use good fats.
Season dishes with moderate amounts of olive oil and the other “good fats” that make food tastier and more satisfying. At the
same time, keep a watchful eye on saturated fat and trans fats. Limit saturated fats to less than 7 percent and trans fats to
less than 1 percent of total calories; restrict cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg/day. Do this by limiting fatty meat
and full-fat dairy products (which supply saturated fats and cholesterol) and processed foods (which tend to be packed with
partially hydrogenated oils, a.k.a. trans fats).
6. Choose foods low on the glycemic index.
The glycemic index (GI) is a system of ranking foods that contain equal amounts of carbohydrates according to how much they
raise blood-glucose levels. (The lower the GI number, the less the food boosts your blood sugar and the more
diabetic-diet-friendly it is.) The GI is somewhat confusing and even a little controversial. But, in general, it does lead
you to healthy foods. For example, vegetables, whole grains, beans and high-fiber foods tend to fall lower on the glycemic
scale, while processed and refined foods and sweets are higher up.