Ask people ‘What was the big health story of the last year?’, and nearly everyone will say COVID-19, understandably. But throughout the pandemic that has dominated our headlines and lives, another one has been raging. Last year, diabetes killed three times as many people as COVID-19. Type 2 diabetes generally develops in adulthood, as a result of simple choices you make every day. So what can you do to reduce your risk? Plenty, starting by avoiding this common habit that can lead to diabetes. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
Diabetes is the body’s inability to process sugar (a.k.a. glucose). When a non-diabetic person consumes sugar, their pancreas releases an enzyme called insulin to convert it to energy. A diabetic person’s pancreas either doesn’t make insulin, or the body becomes resistant to it. Sugar then builds up in the blood, potentially damaging the arteries and leading to heart disease, stroke, eye problems, and even amputation.
Type 2 diabetes, however, is exploding in the United States. Experts predict that one in 10 people will have diabetes by the year 2045. And it’s directly connected to diet and lifestyle choices.
There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes. One of the biggest is a diet high in added sugar. When the body is swamped with sugar (and many processed foods contain simple carbs that break down into sugar), it can become resistant to insulin.
“Diabetes is when your body cannot provide enough insulin to allow glucose (sugar) into the hungry cells of your body,” explains Thomas Horowitz, DO, a family medicine specialist at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles. “The best way to avoid it is to be on a diet that does not task your insulin supply.”
That means avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, processed foods and refined grains like white breads, cookies, chips and baked goods. Choose foods that are low in added sugar and contain complex carbohydrates that break down slowly, like whole grains and vegetables instead of refined grains or sweets.
It’s especially important to limit or avoid beverages with added sugar, like sugar-sweetened sodas. One can of sugar-sweetened Coke contains 39 grams of added sugar—more than a person should consume from all sources in an entire day, experts say.
To reduce your diabetes risk or manage your diabetes, getting more physical activity is key. “Together with diet and behavior modification, exercise is an essential component of all diabetes and obesity prevention and lifestyle intervention programs,” said researchers in a 2017 study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and builds lean muscle, which can speed your metabolism, helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.