Diabetes – What Can We Do to Prevent It?

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Lisa Martin is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Diabetes Educator with the Diabetes Education Program at Black Creek Community Health Centre

Every ten seconds, two people worldwide will develop diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, of those with diabetes, at least 50% are unaware of their condition. Diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition which affects many people.  If you have diabetes, your body has difficulty using food for energy. A hormone called insulin uses the sugars from foods to give you energy. With type 2 diabetes, your body does not produce enough insulin or your body cannot use the insulin it makes. With time, sugar builds up in your blood instead of being used for energy. If diabetes is left untreated or not managed properly, it can lead to complications including kidney disease, heart disease, eye disease and nerve damage.

You are at an increased risk for diabetes if:

  • You are age 40 or over
  • You have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
  • You are a member of a high-risk group (Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent)
  • You had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or gave birth to a baby that weighed over 4kg (9lbs) at birth
  • You have been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have high cholesterol
  • You are overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around your middle)
  • You have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin) or schizophrenia

The good news is there is a lot you can do to prevent diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a large research study, concluded that changes in diet and physical activity can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than 50%. In Canada, there are a growing number of adults and children that are overweight or obese. Proper nutrition can help to reduce your risk by helping you to achieve a healthy body weight.

Healthy eating tips to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes include the following:

  • Eat 3 meals per day at regular times and space meals four to six hours apart.
  • Choose a variety of vegetables and fruit more often. They are high in fibre and help you to feel full. Aim for 7-10 servings per day and choose whole fruit over fruit juice.
  • Choose whole grain foods. These include foods made with whole wheat flour, brown rice, wild rice, couscous, barley and oats. These foods are high in fibre and can help you manage your weight as they help you to feel full longer.
  • Choose lower fat dairy products. Use skim, 1% or 2% milk and milk products and low fat cheeses.
  • Choose meats and alternatives made with little or no added fat. Trim any visible fat on your meat and remove the skin on chicken. Enjoy fish at least 2 times per week. Try legumes and lentils more often.
  • Try baking, broiling, steaming or grilling your food instead of frying.
  • Include small amounts of heart healthy fats, such as: olive oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds. Use butter, shortening, palm and coconut oils, fried foods and chips less often.
  • Eat smaller portions. Try the following:
    • Grains and Starches (rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, corn, plantain, cassava) Choose an amount up to the size of your fist
    • Meats and alternatives (fish, chicken, beef, ox-tail, legumes, lentils) Choose an amount the size of a deck of cards
    • Vegetables

Choose two large handfuls

Along with proper nutrition, regular physical activity can help to reduce your risk. Aim for 30 minutes of activity five days per week. Try taking the stairs, getting off the bus a stop early, parking your car as far away as possible, gardening or dancing. All of these things count as activity and can add up at the end of the day. Most important, remember to have fun!

For more information about preventing or managing diabetes, meet with a registered dietitian and diabetes nurse educator. Check with your local community health centre or hospital to find a program closest to you. The Diabetes Education Program at Black Creek Community Health Centre is located in North York Sheridan Mall at 2202 Jane St. They offer diabetes education in group and individual sessions. For more information, please call (416) 249-8000.

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