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SALT LAKE CITY — November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, a time when communities across the country work together to bring attention to diabetes and the burden it places on millions of Americans.
According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 30 million Americans with diabetes and another 84 million Americans — about 33.9 percent of the adult U.S. population — with prediabetes.
So, where does Utah fall? According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 201,000 people in Utah, or 10.2 percent of the adult population, have diabetes. An additional 619,000 people in Utah, or 32.7 percent of the adult population, have prediabetes. The nonprofit also reports an estimated 12,000 people in Utah are diagnosed with diabetes every year.
Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. Someone with prediabetes has a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or a stroke. Many of the 84 million American adults with prediabetes don’t even know they have it.
The American Diabetes Association has a risk test to gauge your risk for Type 2 diabetes. They list increasing age, gender, family history, previous gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and being overweight as risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. However, just because you are at risk does not mean you will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes.
Here are five simple changes you can make today to reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Instead of filling your cup with sugar-filled beverages, opt for good old-fashioned water. Sugar in most beverages is a simple carbohydrate that can send our blood sugars rising very quickly. Registered dietician Lindsey McCoy, who hosts a live streaming cooking class on CookWithMe.TV, says, “Calories in beverages are not metabolized the same way as calories from food, and we don’t get the same feeling of fullness from beverages. It’s a small choice we can make not just daily but throughout the day by having a glass (of water) with every meal and snack. Making water a priority can have a drastic impact on our long-term health, especially when it comes to preventing and managing a chronic disease like type 2 diabetes.”
It’s not just soda we need to watch out for. Dietitian and diabetes educator Megrette Fletcher, author of “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes” adds, “Many people are unaware there are carbs in flavored coffee, sweetened teas, juices, and sports drinks. Our minds have been trained to look for fat or calories so it can be a learning curve to learn about total carbohydrates.” If you don’t like plain water, try infusing it with fresh herbs, fruits or vegetables for a bit of flavor.
Find a form of physical activity you enjoy and stick to it. Arielle “Dani” Lebovitz, registered dietitian nutritionist, states, “While we know lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle are related to an increased risk of both obesity and diabetes, sedentary behaviors such as sitting for long periods of time contribute to those negative health consequences. Adults spend an average of 55 percent of their day inactive."
Lebovitz suggests incorporating movement into daily life by setting a timer on a phone, watch or fitness tracker to remind you to get up and move for a few minutes every 90 minutes. This can include walking to the bathroom or even stretching.
Fletcher adds, “To prevent and delay diabetes, physical activity is really the Most Valuable Player or MVP on the team. Think of exercise like an MVP — try to have Many bouts of activity, engage in a Variety of activities that you enjoy, and be Purposeful about your activity — a 5-minute walk, taking the stairs, and dancing with your friends once a week is just a few examples of how small bouts of activity can help you reduce your risk of diabetes.”
Fletcher says another simple way to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes is to eat regular meals throughout the day.
“Eating three meals a day is a great place to start," she says. "Many people think skipping meals will save calories, but in fact, most people eat more at the following meal. In addition to giving your body the nutrients it needs, the idea behind three meals is it reduces the insulin load. In other words, you are asking the pancreas to do less work at one time. Like spacing, you work over a 14-hour day, having three meals is a great way to not overwork the pancreas.”
Enjoying more plant-based whole food meals rather than processed foods is a simple way to reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes, says dietitian Annette Pedersen.
“Minimize your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates by eating more real foods" such as vegetables, fruits, meats, whole grains and dairy, if tolerated, says Diane Norwood, registered dietician.
Making water a priority can have a drastic impact on our long-term health, especially when it comes to preventing and managing a chronic disease like type 2 diabetes.
To incorporate more whole foods into your diet, try meal planning and cooking meals from scratch at home.
Taking time for yourself and practicing self-care is something that often gets overlooked when it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes. We need to take care of ourselves on both the inside and outside — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Having all aspects of health in balance can help decrease stress and anxiety, which in turn helps improve overall health.
Self-care looks different to every person. To some, it could mean engaging in an hour-long yoga and meditation session each Saturday morning, while to others it means getting to sleep in on Saturdays. Finding what self-care means to you is a great step in making healthy lifestyle changes and reducing your risk for Type 2 diabetes.
You can take action in your everyday life to make simple changes to reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes. You are responsible for your own health, so put your best foot forward to make a step in the right direction today. It doesn’t have to be a huge change all at once. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference in your overall health. Start by choosing one or two behaviors to work on this week that can help you on your journey to wellness.
About the author: Brittany Poulson is a Utah registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She shares her passion for health, food and nutrition on her blog, www.yourchoicenutrition.com, where she encourages you to live a healthy life in your unique way.
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