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 and stroke.
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.