Reduce Your Diabetes Risk – Just Do It!

May 3, 2011 in Diabetes, Diabetes Management, Mediterranean, Weight Management, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

As many of you know, who have read this blog for a while, we started this writing work to share what we learned with others, based upon the experience that my husband and partner in this company, and occasional blog author Dr. Grandpa (Vic) had after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2004. In the spirit of an update, Vic’s A1c (originally at the time of his diagnosis was 9.6) has stayed between the range of 5.3 to 6.1 for these past 7 years. The goal at the beginning was to keep it below 7.0. Recently, the best medical advice is to keep it under 6.5. The A1c is essentially a measure of how much hemoglobin in the blood has glucose (sugar) attached to it.  It’s a test that ‘looks back’ for the past 120 days or so. In addition to making changes to accommodate physical activity 6 days a week, he made many changes to his eating habits. Vic has maintained a 35-pound weight loss for these years.

We realize that not all of you have your own private Registered Dietitian, dedicated to food shopping and cooking for you; but we’re doing our best to share ideas about lifestyle changes you can make to avoid this dreadful disease. We are also dedicated to the idea that healthy foods can be delicious, and do not deserve the stereotypes of being unpalatable. As a matter of fact, we receive many lavish complements on the tastes of our recipes and products.

Heart attacks and strokes strike people with diabetes more than twice as often as those who don’t have diabetes. Two out of three people with diabetes die of heart attack or stroke. I believe the increased risk for cardiovascular disease is not commonly thought about; the kidney failure, limb amputations, blindness and other nerve disorders are not to be scoffed at, but are more commonly known results. The point here is not to be paralyzed by the grim statistics, but to become informed and learn how to avoid it; or just start now, to stop its progression and keep it under control, while enjoying a healthy and vigorous life.

Prediabetes (a wake-up call)

In our country, and in the modern world, this problem, diabetes is not going away. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty likely that some of you out there in cyberland, have a form of diabetes called, prediabetes; and it’s likely that you don’t even know it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released figures in January 2011 that showed the number of American adults with prediabetes increasing from 57 million in 2008 to 79 million in 2010 (22 million increase). The actual diagnosed cases rose by 2.4 million during that same 2-year period.

Type 2 in children

The saddest part of this story is the fact that Type 2 diabetes was almost exclusively a disease of adults until the mid-1990s. As a matter of fact, just a decade ago, it was commonly called “adult-onset” diabetes. The cases of Type 2 diabetes in children have shot up from almost none to tens of thousands in the U.S. in a little more than a decade. It appears to be stimulated by the childhood obesity epidemic. Because we have never faced this problem, we have no idea how they will do over the course of a lifetime. Although we don’t really know how the population of children with diabetes will do in the long run, we do know what happens to adults (see above). So those who are concerned for the public’s health, naturally worry about the future health of children with diabetes. Will they have early heart disease, kidney disease,……? This is new ground, so we don’t know where it is all going. See a video and/or story of younger people with diabetes.

The A1c test is helping health care providers to detect prediabetes or diabetes cases that used to slip by the older, regular blood tests for high blood sugar. The older tests only showed if the blood sugar happened to be high at the time of the test. The time horizon of the A1c makes it a much more helpful test. The A1c is also especially advantageous, because in prediabetes, the person has few to none of the symptoms to help them realize that they have diabetes. These symptoms of full-blown diabetes, including heightened thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision and fatigue, are not usually present in prediabetes.

Some health companies have reported that an estimate of more than half of all overweight adults in the U.S. are either prediabetic or diabetic. With over 64% of Americans either overweight or obese, that is a startlingly large risk that we are facing. Losing weight and exercising are the clearest path to prevention

Some first steps in prevention

  1. Do 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity physical activity. If you need to start slower, do it; just start to move. See Tips for Exercising on April 29, 2011.
  2. Reduce your body weight by 5% to 10%. In one study, those that lost 7% of their body weight reduced their risk of diabetes by 58 percent. (Note: Vic lost over 17% of his weight at the time of diagnosis and has kept it off.)
  3. Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Ninety percent of the grains consumed in the US are refined. Since 1970, we have increased our intake of calories from grains (mostly refined) by 45%. Those nutritionally impoverished refined flours are displacing vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains. There’s really not much room in a healthy diet for refined flour products. Becoming aware of where the refined grains are lurking in your diet is a good place to start. Look for the refined flours and polished grains and weed them out. Restaurants serve liberal amounts of processed pasta, bread, rice, pancakes – it makes them look generous, but paradoxically, processed flour products are cheaper than whole grain products. (We have explained why in other posts). Look for refined white flours lurking in bagels, muffins, doughnuts, scones, pretzels, cookies, crackers, wraps, tortillas, and chips. As we have reviewed in past articles: Terms like enriched flour, multigrain and 100% wheat (if it says; “100% whole wheat” that’s the real deal), and “organic” does not mean whole grain; and 15 different grains can mean “15 different processed grains.”
  4. Pay attention to portion control.  One of the easiest ways to begin the weight loss process is to cut the portions of foods that you currently eat. Start by reducing your portion sizes of meat and starchy vegetables and the processed grain products mentioned above.
  5. Control your environment – increase the Mediterranean-style foods in your fridge and pantry; decrease the simple sugars and refined flours.
  6. Be careful with the added sugar. Choose low sugar cereals – even if you add a little sugar, you’re more likely to net a lower intake if you add your own sugar or sweetener and fruit.
  7. If you need help or supervision to make the necessary lifestyle changes – get it. Often diabetic units connected to hospitals can point you to counselors.

It can be done. You can reduce your risk. It’s worth the effort involved to change your lifestyle. Not only you, but in addition, your loved ones will be grateful for your efforts. I’m so grateful that, Dr. Grandpa, my husband Vic, was motivated to make the lifestyle changes that have given him a much-reduced risk for health problems. John C. Maxwell says something a little different about waiting for motivation; “The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.” Frankly, I think it’s true; if we take the steps toward making the necessary lifestyle changes; eventually the resulting success becomes a strong motivator. You can really do it!