Over 450 million people worldwide have diabetes, a number that’s projected to double within the next three decades. Remarkably, 90-95% of people with diabetes have the form known as type 2 or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, a largely preventable condition in which inadequate carbohydrate metabolism results in chronically high blood glucose (sugar) levels (hyperglycemia).
This one’s especially near and dear to my heart.
My grandmother succumbed to type 2 diabetes just shy of her 60th birthday while my mother was subsequently diagnosed in her 40s, suffered through a related amputation in her 50s, and continues to struggle with this condition today. You too have likely been affected by type 2 diabetes in some way or another, whether you or a loved one developed it.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably also wondering how you can avoid this condition or even successfully manage its symptoms if you already have it?
Practicing healthy lifestyle habits alone can reduce the risk of diabetes by as much as 60-70%.
Truth is, while the onset of type 2 diabetes is closely linked to genetics, your lifestyle plays an even greater role in your overall susceptibility. In fact, practicing healthy lifestyle habits alone can reduce the risk of diabetes by as much as 60-70%. And, you’d be surprised at how little changes can make a huge difference.
Here I’ve compiled a list of six simple lifestyle habits that’ll substantially lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and even help you effectively manage its symptoms if you already have it.
1. Being Mindful of Your Overall Carbohydrate Intake
Habitually and haphazardly consuming a diet largely comprised of carbohydrates (carbs) can dramatically increase blood glucose levels, ultimately increasing your risk of hyperglycemia. This holds especially true for refined carbs like white breads, packaged cereals and snacks, chips, candy, cookies, and soft drinks.
Since these foods tend to digest and absorb rapidly, eating them regularly increases your body’s demand for insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels when they’re too high for too long. Continued demand for insulin can eventually lead to a state of insulin resistance. In this state, your body doesn’t properly respond to the glucose lowering effects of insulin.
Insulin resistance greatly increases the risk of developing ‘prediabetes’, and, eventually, type 2 diabetes.
2. Opting for Foods Rich in “Good” Carbohydrates
Healthy (“good”) carb-rich foods like vegetables and fruit, whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, and wild rice), and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are less likely to cause significant spikes in blood glucose after consumption. They also house lots of fiber, which helps inhibit sudden spikes in glucose by slowing its digestion and absorption in the small intestines.
In addition, good carbs are packed full of essential vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants that promote optimal health. For maximum protection, consume five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruit every day along with a combined 3-5 daily servings of whole grains and legumes.
3. Regularly Engaging in Physical Activity—That’s Every Day
To effectively prevent or manage type 2 diabetes, daily physical activity is an absolute must! This can include a combination of spontaneous physical activity and ‘structured’ exercises like jogging, cycling and circuit training.
Whenever you engage in physical activity your muscles demand more glucose. The more intense the activity, the more glucose demanded. Hence, physical activity inherently has “insulin-like” glucose-lowering effects.
Whether you go for a daily walk or jog, lift weights or take the stairs throughout the day in place of the elevator, make an effort to engage in at least 60 minutes of activity every day.
Even taking sporadic walks throughout the day can reduce your body’s overall demand for insulin. This is particularly, if you already have type 2 diabetes.
Make healthy living your ‘new’ medicine.
4. Eating Moderate Amounts of Healthy Fat
Healthy fats (monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids) help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by stabilizing blood glucose levels and keeping insulin at bay. Such fats are naturally housed in extra-virgin olive oil, full fat salad dressings, avocado, nuts and seeds, and a variety of other foods, all of which can effortlessly be included in your everyday diet.
To spice up a salad, add a serving of avocado, nuts, flaxseeds or lightly seasoned olive oil. You can also enjoy 1-2 tablespoons of hummus or your favorite nut butter (peanut, walnut or almond butter) as a tasty sandwich spread or dip. Now, although these fats are considered “healthy”, moderation is key, as they tend to be relatively high in calories.
5. Consuming High-Quality Protein-Rich Foods
Protein is one of the best macronutrients for keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels under control, thereby reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. High-quality sources like lean meats, poultry, seafood and fish, eggs, cheese, and whole soy foods are generally devoid of sugar so there’s never a need for the body to metabolize it.
In addition, when paired with high-quality carbs, protein tends to slow the digestion and absorption of any sugars present, reducing the likelihood of unhealthy spikes. While animal-based foods and soy products are especially rich sources, you can also get an ample supply by regularly consuming nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
6. Getting Adequate Sleep
There’s a direct linkage between habitual sleep deprivation and type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation is generally classified as getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night. A number of studies have shown that losing out on just one night of sleep can result in acute insulin resistance, impairing the body’s ability to properly respond to the glucose-lowering effects of insulin.
Sleep deprivation can also increase cortisol production. This is the body’s primary stress hormone, known to make cells more resistant to insulin when produced in excess. Over time, elevations in cortisol can also lead to weight gain, further increasing the risk of diabetes. For prevention and management, always aim to get at least six hours of high-quality sleep each night.
And, there you have it—Six simple lifestyle habits that can help ward off type 2 diabetes.
At the end of the day, having a genetic susceptibility to type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean the disease is inevitable. It simply means that you have to make healthy living your ‘new’ medicine. By implementing these simple lifestyle changes, you can successfully keep your blood sugar levels under control in ways that support both the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.