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Are you at risk of diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. It may also cause damage to the nerves, kidneys, and eyes. The good news is that people don’t suddenly wake up one morning to discover that they have this disease. It takes years to develop, and early blood-sugar problems—called “pre-diabetes”—can be reversed before type 2 diabetes develops. Here’s what you need to know about type 2 diabetes and how to prevent it:

How the trouble starts

Sugar is the body’s main source of energy, fueling the brain, muscles, and organs. The body usually does a good job of regulating how much sugar is in the bloodstream. When there’s too much, the pancreas releases insulin to drop blood-sugar levels. However, this delicate balance fails when people eat a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. Over time, the body must make more and more insulin to keep up. After many years, the body stops responding to insulin and the pancreas may even stop making it.

Healthy diet key to prevention

A healthy, balanced diet can prevent people from getting to this point. For those who currently have high blood sugar, eating well may reverse their pre-diabetes diagnosis. That’s because a healthy diet can help keep blood sugars level.

So what should people concerned about blood sugar have on their plate? Lots of fresh vegetables and fruits are key. Lean proteins (such as turkey meat, chicken, and fish), nuts, beans, and complex carbohydrates (whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, and sweet potatoes) are important to include as well. It’s best to avoid simple carbohydrates such as white breads, regular pastas, white rice, white potatoes, junk foods, and candy. Brownies, cakes, cookies, chips, soda, juice, and honey also cause blood sugar to spike. Fast foods, such as hamburgers, french fries, and tacos tend to contain unhealthy fats and hidden sugars, so they should also be avoided.

Activity makes an impact

Getting regular exercise can help keep pre-diabetes from progressing. Being physically active requires muscles to use up sugar (energy), which reduces blood-sugar levels. Patients don’t have to go to a gym for a tough workout or fit in a long run for physical activity to count. Going on a brisk walk for 30 minutes five to six days per week is a very underrated form of exercise and can be extremely beneficial!

Understand personal risks

While diet and exercise play the biggest role in type 2 diabetes prevention, they aren’t the only factors. Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes increases the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes. Weight and waist size are also factors. Maintaining a healthy weight better enables the body to respond to its own insulin and keep sugars in a healthy range. Individuals who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes should ask their doctor for a screening test to check for pre-diabetes.

Women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women who didn’t. It’s important for women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes to be tested for type 2 diabetes six to twelve weeks after delivery and every one to three years thereafter.

Identifying high blood sugar early on enables people to change their lifestyles and avoid medications and possible complications down the road. What’s more, a healthy diet and regular exercise help prevent many other conditions, from heart disease to cancer. Being proactive about diabetes helps an individual’s overall health.

If you have questions about your diabetes risk or think you should be screened, do not hesitate to discuss this with your clinician at your next appointment.

Kelley Zinka is a family nurse practitioner at Vancouver Clinic. She is passionate about supporting patients as they become the healthiest and happiest version of themselves.