Diabetes affects an estimated 34.2 million or 10.5% of the population in the U.S., according to research from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control. That number includes 210,000 children and adolescents younger than age 20. Compared to other Western countries, the statistics for Americans are significantly higher. For example, the number of Italians suffering from the disease is almost half that of Americans.
Reasons for Increases in Diabetes within the U.S:
- Not enough exercise
- Too much fast food
- Not enough fruits and vegetables
- Too many processed foods with high sugar and salt content
- Super-sized food portions
What Can be Done?
The good news is that many people can keep their Diabetes under control with lifestyle changes, and studies show it’s even possible to reverse it. People can reach and hold normal blood sugar levels without medication through diet modifications, exercise, and weight loss.
Diet: What to Eat
We hear a lot about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, and Italians prove it works. Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, are the foundation of the diet, and olive oil is the primary source of added fat. Fish, seafood, dairy, and poultry are eaten in moderation, and red meat and sweets are consumed only occasionally.
Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat.
Fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure.
Diet: What not to Eat:
Avoid starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, carrots, and green peas. These vegetables are high in carbohydrates; although carbs provide energy, they can raise blood sugar levels quickly and in large amounts.
- Fried foods and those high in saturated fat and trans fat, such as butter, poultry skin, and many fast foods like French fries.
- Foods that are high in salt (sodium), sweets, and drinks with added sugar. Drink water instead and consider using sugar substitutes to sweeten coffee or tea.
- Processed foods like cookies, potato chips, breakfast cereals, and meat products like bacon and ham.
Get Started with These Tips:
- Build meals around vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
- Eat fish at least twice a week.
- Use olive oil instead of butter in preparing food.
- Serve fresh fruit for dessert.
In addition to healthy eating and weight loss, exercise can also control symptoms.
A study that had people aim for 10,000 steps a day and at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise a week — along with cutting 500-750 calories a day and following specific insulin and medication routine — saw more than half of them reach near-normal blood sugar without medication. However, it requires a long-term lifestyle change. In addition to an established exercise routine, you can make small changes in your everyday habits as well. Take the steps instead of an elevator, park your car at the far end of the parking lot and move and frequently stretch throughout the day. An active lifestyle is the enemy of diabetes. And here is where the Italians set another great example. According to data published in Nature, Italians walk 522 steps more a day or 95 miles more a year than Americans.
To get started with an exercise routine, The American Diabetes Association offers these tips.
So, while there may not be a cure yet for type 2 diabetes, it’s possible to reverse the effects through a combination of healthy eating, weight loss, and exercise. However, it takes willpower and long-term life changes. It can be challenging to start, so begin with minor modifications and work your way up. Your body (and your friends and family) will thank you. For more inspiration, check out the activities planned for Diabetes Awareness Month in November.
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