Tips to reduce your risk of diabetes
What is diabetes?
Diabetes develops when your body cannot use glucose properly and as a result there can be high levels of glucose in the blood if the condition is not controlled. People with diabetes can lead a full and active life. But if uncontrolled, it can cause a number of serious problems over time such as blindness, kidney failure, foot ulceration and nerve damage. Also, people with diabetes are at greater risk of developing heart disease than healthy people. So it is very important for those diagnosed with this condition to control their blood sugar levels and their blood pressure, to eat a healthy diet, be physically active and to lose weight if necessary.
There are two types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes
If you have type 1 diabetes, then the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin have been destroyed. The body needs the hormone insulin to use glucose as fuel for cells and to control the amount of glucose in the blood, so people with type 1 diabetes need to help their body to use glucose properly by using insulin injections. Nobody fully understands why these cells become damaged, but it may be triggered by a viral or other infection.
Type 2 diabetes
If you have type 2 diabetes, then your body either cannot produce enough insulin, or the insulin your body produces does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes tends to be diagnosed in older people, although increasingly, the symptoms are being seen in younger adults and even children. Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked with obesity and can generally be treated by making lifestyle changes, although some people do require medication too.
How can I reduce my risk of type 2 diabetes?
There are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. You can’t change all of them but you can make some changes to your lifestyle that will help to reduce your risk.
Not everyone with diabetes is overweight, but between 80-90% of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight. The more overweight and the more inactive you are, the greater your risk. To find out if you are overweight ask your GP to measure your BMI (body mass index) - a healthy BMI is 18.5-25 kg/m2. A healthy varied diet and regular exercise can help you lose weight gradually and help keep it off.
Women – if your waist measures 80 cm (31.5 in) or more you have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Men – if your waist measures 94 cm (37 in) or more you have an increased risk of developing diabetes (if you are white or black); if you are an Asian male the measurement is 90 cm (35 in) or more.
For type 2 diabetes, you are at increased risk if you are over 40 years of age; if you are African-Caribbean, you are at increased risk if you are over 25 years of age. The risk continues to increase with age. Of course, you can’t change your age but you can work on the other risk factors to reduce your risk.
Your family history…
You can’t change your family history either, but having diabetes in the family increases your risk. The closer the relative is, the greater the risk. Tell your GP whether anyone in your family has diabetes and if you know you do have a genetic predisposition, make sure that you are doing all you can to reduce your risk in other ways.
Some ethnic groups have higher risk of diabetes than others. If you are African-Caribbean or South Asian and live in the UK then you are at least 5 times more likely to have diabetes than the white population and it is particularly important for you to make sure that you maintain a healthy bodyweight.
You may also have an increased risk of having type 2 diabetes if you:
- have been diagnosed with circulatory problems, have high blood pressure or if you’ve had a heart attack or a stroke.
- are a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome and are overweight.
- are a woman and you’ve had gestational diabetes (a temporary type of diabetes during pregnancy).
- are a woman and gave birth to a large baby.
- have been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.
- have raised triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
Multiple risk factors
The more risk factors that apply to you, the greater the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A healthy varied diet, taking more physical activity, not smoking and losing weight (if necessary) may reduce your risk of diabetes. This page gives you tips on how to do this:
Try to be physically active and maintain a healthy weight (BMI 20-25 kg/m2) to reduce your risk of diabetes. The recommended minimum amount of activity for adults is 150 minutes of moderate level physical activity a week – that could be 30 minutes on 5 days of the week or it could be broken up into shorter sessions of 10 minutes or more. But don’t worry - you do not have to join a gym! Walking, dancing, swimming, gardening, golf, bowling and cycling are all activities that most people can enjoy. Activity can also be spread out through the day so you can make small changes to your lifestyle, which can add up to a lot more activity. For example, use the stairs instead of taking the lift, leave the car at home for small trips, or get off the bus one or two stops earlier. Even housework can count! These are all achievable ways to incorporate activity in to your daily routine. For more information about getting active, click here
Eat a healthy varied diet
Making healthy food choices and cutting down on the amount of food you eat will help achieve and maintain weight loss and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A healthy, varied diet is based on starchy foods and plenty of fruit and vegetables, and is low in fat, sugar and salt. Follow these recommendations:
- Try to eat 3 balanced meals at regular times throughout the day.
- Base meals on starchy foods, like potatoes, rice, pasta, bread and breakfast cereals.
- Choose high fibre, wholegrain products, for example wholegrain bread or wholemeal pasta.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables, aim for at least 5 portions a day and try to eat a variety.
- Eat fewer foods high in fat and sugar, for example chips, sweets, cakes or pastries.
- Choose lean meat, poultry, fish, beans and alternatives, instead of fatty meat or meat products.
- Choose low fat dairy foods, like skimmed or semi-skimmed milk or low-fat yogurt.
- Use vegetable oil in cooking but only in small amounts.
- Where ever possible steam, grill or bake foods. These are healthier than frying or roasting in fat.
- Choose products lower in salt and use less salt in cooking.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, no more than 2-3 units per day for women and no more than 3-4 units for men.
- Keep hydrated, try and drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day.
If you are worried you may be at risk of diabetes, or if you just want to find out whether you are a healthy weight then talk to your GP.
For more information: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/
Last reviewed 21/12/2012. Next review due 21/12/2015