What does diabetes do?
Type 2 diabetes risk increases with overweight and obesity. While the early signs of diabetes may not be immediately apparent, long-term complications can include nerve, kidney, and eye damage, increased stroke and heart disease risk, skin infections, and hearing loss.
What you can do about it
Along with weight loss, doctors may recommend making dietary changes to help decrease a person's risk of developing diabetes.
The Mediterranean diet--which consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, olive oil, and nuts, with some dairy and meat--has shown promising results for diabetes prevention.
The glycemic load is a measure of the blood sugar-raising effects of a given amount of a food. Several studies have suggested that diets with higher glycemic loads can raise diabetes risk.
To further investigate the effects of the Mediterranean diet and eating foods with a lower glycemic load on diabetes risk, Italian researchers looked at the diets of 22,295 people who took part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Eleven years after they collected dietary information from the participants, they used it to draw conclusions about the people's risk of developing diabetes:
Over the course of the study, 2,330 people were diagnosed with diabetes.
People who stuck most closely to the Mediterranean diet had a significantly lower chance of developing diabetes.
People who had the highest glycemic load diets were significantly more likely to develop diabetes.
People who followed the Mediterranean diet closely and ate low glycemic load foods lowered their diabetes risk by 20%.
Most studies investigating the Mediterranean diet haven't found an association between diet and weight loss. "This suggests that the protection of the Mediterranean diet against diabetes is not through weight control but through several dietary characteristics of the Mediterranean diet," said lead study author, Dr. Carlo La Vecchia of The Mario Negri Institute, Milan.
Beyond what you eat
In addition to following a Mediterranean diet, these tips can lower your diabetes risk:
- Watch your weight. Talk with your health care provider about an effective and safe weight-loss plan. This will help lower your blood pressure and keep blood sugar levels in the normal range. Even a few pounds can make a difference. If overweight, losing 5 to 10% of your body weight can lower your diabetes risk by almost 60%.
- Don't smoke. Smoking increases diabetes risk and makes the complications of it worse should you develop diabetes.
- Get active. Exercise helps you lose weight, maintain healthy blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, raise your HDL ("good") cholesterol, lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week. For added motivation, get a friend in on it with you!