Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Prevent type 2 diabetes

Published October 21, 2015

URBANA, Ill. –November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and the sobering news is that more than 29 million Americans have diabetes, with another 86 million adults at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, said University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator Marilyn Csernus.

“The good news is that well-controlled blood sugars reduce the complications of diabetes. And persons with pre-diabetes can lower their risk of developing diabetes by over 50 percent if they make a few important lifestyle changes,” Csernus said.

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose numbers are higher than normal, but the numbers are not high enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for diabetes. Sometimes this condition is known as impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose, depending on what test was used to diagnose the condition, she explained.

“Although there are no symptoms that signal rising glucose levels without a blood glucose test, pre-diabetes is not a condition to take lightly. Without lifestyle changes, pre-diabetes often progresses to type 2 diabetes within a few years. Furthermore, pre-diabetes increases the risk of developing heart disease,” the expert noted.

According to Csernus, one key to preventing type 2 diabetes is recognizing the risk. Anyone who is over 45 years old should be tested.

You should also be tested if you are younger than 45 but have one of the following conditions:

  • you are physically inactive
  • you are overweight or obese
  • you have a family history of diabetes
  • you have had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • you are African American, Asian American, American Indian, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic/Latino
  • you have high blood pressure
  • you have abnormal cholesterol with low HDL “good” cholesterol and high triglycerides.

A major research study revealed that losing weight and staying physically active are the keys to keeping type 2 diabetes at bay, Csernus said.

“Be active for at least 150 minutes per week and, if you are overweight or obese, decrease your calorie intake to sustain an approximate 7 percent weight loss, to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes,” she advised.

Being overweight or obese is the greatest risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Carrying around extra weight can prevent your body from making and using insulin, the hormone that keeps blood glucose regulated, effectively. Being overweight can also raise blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, she noted.

“Regular physical activity burns calories and improves the body’s ability to use insulin, lessening diabetes risk. Find activities you enjoy and stick with them. Start with what you can tolerate and progress to at least 150 minutes per week. Walking is a great exercise and doesn’t cost a cent or require any equipment. Water aerobics is another option for anyone with physical limitations and have difficulty tolerating walking or other forms of physical activity,” she said.

Combine a healthy, lower-calorie diet and increase physical activity to help promote weight loss, she added.

“To consume a healthier diet, cut back on added fats and sugars by avoiding sweetened beverages and foods with empty calories— “junk” foods that have lots of calories but few nutrients. Increase your intake of plant-based foods, and decrease your consumption of red meat and processed meat. Poultry without the skin, fish, nuts, and beans are healthier protein sources. Canola, olive, and peanut oil along with nuts, seeds, and avocados are healthy fats. Balance your meals with a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” she said.

Modest changes can yield big rewards for your future health, said Csernus. To learn more about preventing type 2 diabetes, visit The American Diabetes Association’s website at http://www.diabetes.org/ .