The discussion of whether the Krispy Kreme Burger did it, or if a paid endorsement of a diabetes drug is OK, or whether Paula Deen waited too long to tell the world that she had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes is an exercise in asking and answering the wrong questions. Instead, let’s talk about how to avoid joining Deen and the nearly 26 million Americans who have type 2 diabetes.
Are You At Risk?
The American Diabetes Association reports that 79 million American have pre-diabetes—blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. People with pre-diabetes may already experience long-term damage to the heart and circulatory system. But because pre-diabetes usually has no symptoms, many people don’t realize they have it.
Pre-diabetes is diagnosed based on test results that may include the A1C blood test, the fasting plasma glucose test (blood test taken after you have fasted), or the oral glucose tolerance test (blood samples taken before and after you drink a sweet liquid containing glucose).
Know Your Numbers
Knowledge marks the first step in avoiding diabetes. In all the kerfuffle about Paula Deen, I haven’t heard yet whether her doctor ever warned her that she had pre-diabetes. But here’s what you need to know: If your A1C level is between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent, you have pre-diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. A fasting plasma glucose level between 100 mg/dl and 125 mg/dl also indicates pre-diabetes, as does an oral glucose tolerance test result between 140 mg/dl and 199 mg/dl. If you have concerns about diabetes, or if these tests and numbers sound unfamiliar, talk with your doctor about your risks and the tests that you may need.
Diabetes Is Preventable
The good news: Even if your test results indicate pre-diabetes, it’s not inevitable that you will go on to develop type-2 diabetes. Findings from the Diabetes Prevention Program, a large clinical study sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders, revealed that about 11 percent of people with pre-diabetes developed type-2 diabetes each year during the average three years of follow-up. Other research demonstrates that many people with pre-diabetes develop type-2 diabetes in 10 years. You don’t have to be one of them. Simple, small, steady changes can help you sidestep developing this chronic disease. Here’s what you can do.
- Lose weight, even a little. Don’t despair, thinking you have to do a dramatic, Oprah-style weight loss and drag around a wagon with 100 pounds of fat in it. Losing just 7 percent of your body weight can make a big difference. Say you’re tipping the scale at 165, more than you’d like. Shedding 11.5 pounds will drop your risk of diabetes. If you weigh 200, taking off just 15 pounds is a tremendous step in the right direction.
- Get active, just a bit. No marathons required. If you take a 10-minute walk three times a day, five days a week, your risk of diabetes will go down. You can gradually increase the length and speed of your walks as you feel comfortable.
- Swap drinks. Replacing soda, sports drinks, sweet coffee, sweet tea, and fruit juices with water cuts your calories, helps to manage your blood glucose levels, and serves as one more strategy to dodge diabetes.
- Choose good food. Boost the amount of fiber you eat every day by enjoying meals and snacks of whole-grain toast, oatmeal with berries, crisp apples, crunchy carrots, lentil soup, and spinach salad, to name a few. These high-fiber foods help you feel full longer and provide slow, steady fuel for your body, which can avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Opt for low-fat milk and cheese, and add healthy sources of unsaturated fat to your meal plan with nuts and olive oil. As for sweets, it’s best to step away from the two-sticks-of-butter, half-a-cup-of-heavy-cream variety. Layer yogurt, granola, and fruit in a parfait glass, nibble a handful of low-fat vanilla wafers, or have fruit salad as dessert.
- Watch your portions. “Even when you eat the right foods, eating too much of them can raise your blood sugar,” says Richard Oluoha, director of food and nutrition services at Los Alamitos Medical Center. Oluoha speaks from experience. He was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago, but controls it now with a healthy diet and exercise, and without using insulin.
Blinking back tears and with her chin wobbling a bit, Paula Deen stoutly declared on the Today show, “Diabetes is not a death sentence.” While that is correct, the rest of the story is that unmanaged diabetes leads to cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke, loss of vision, and circulatory problems that can result in infections, ulcers, or gangrene that may end in amputation. Not a death sentence, but a potential living hell you can avoid with smart choices.
For more information and resources, contact the American Diabetes Association in Orange County.