Reducing Your Risk of Diabetes

by Traci Kaufman, R.D.


The purpose of this article is to help you determine if you may be at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, a very common disease, and what you can do to lower your risk. With the proper treatment and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and increasing your level of activity, you may be able to delay the development of Type 2 Diabetes or avoid it altogether. If you have diabetes, the information in this article can help you reduce the severity of the disease and avoid its many possible life-threatening complications.

Diet Site Almost 16 million Americans have diabetes, but about one-third of them are not aware of their condition. Type 2 Diabetes is considered a silent disease because it works its destruction over many years without causing any noticeable symptoms.

The good news is that you may be able to avoid Type 2 Diabetes altogether. Hopefully this article will help you understand the disease, and tell you what you can do to try to prevent it. Many people are able to avoid diabetes by making changes in their lifestyle such as eating less and exercising more.

Diabetes Mellitus (when the term diabetes is used alone, it always refers to diabetes mellitus) is a condition in which the body is unable to use sugar properly. Sugar (carbohydrate) is the substance our body uses as its major source of energy. Once this sugar is absorbed in the blood, it is referred to as blood sugar or blood glucose. Insulin (a hormone made in the pancreas that regulates the blood sugar) is either missing or deficient. As a result, the body cannot use energy nutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) effectively and the cells of the body "starve". The sugar in the blood may rise to high levels instead of being used for energy. Blood sugar is excreted through urine, which makes extra work for the kidneys causing frequent urination and excessive thirst.

Eating too much sugar does not cause diabetes. But you are more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes if one of your parents or a brother or sister has the disease.

For example, if you have a positive family history that makes you susceptible to developing diabetes and you are inactive and have been overweight for most of your life, your chances of getting diabetes are high. On the other hand, if you know you have a positive family history of diabetes but you exercise regularly and have never been overweight, you will probably not get diabetes. The knowledge of your susceptibility gives you a great deal of control over whether or not you will get the disease. You can lower those chances greatly by losing weight if you are overweight and increasing your level of activity.



Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes tend to come on very gradually and often go unnoticed until problems develop. If you have any of the following symptoms listed below, talk to your doctor about being tested for diabetes. You can prevent many of the symptoms and complications that can result from diabetes when you discover it at an early stage and begin treatment.

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Feeling very tired much of the time
  • Very dry skin
  • Sores that are slow to heal
  • More infections than usual

Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains may accompany some of these symptoms in the abrupt onset of insulin-dependent diabetes, now called Type 1 Diabetes.



Diet, exercise and medication are important factors that must be coordinated for diabetes to be kept in control. Medication is not used to treat all cases of diabetes. Medication when used can either be in the form of a pill (oral hyperglycemic agents) or insulin, which must be injected. Diet, exercise and medication all affect treatment but unless the diet plan is followed carefully no method of treatment will be effective. By eating the right foods in the right amounts diet can actually help control the basic problem of diabetes.


General Guidelines for the Diabetic Diet

The purpose of the diabetic diet is designed to achieve and maintain desirable body weight and near normal blood glucose levels in order to minimize the complications frequently associated with this disease.

  • Avoid concentrated sources of sugar (sugars) such as table sugar, honey, jelly, jam, molasses, syrup, corn syrup, candy, regular soft drinks, pies, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, regular chewing gum, and sweet pickles.
  • Avoid sweetened fruits, juices and fruit drinks. Choose fruit, which is fresh, frozen or packed in water or its own juice. Avoid fruits canned in heavy syrup.
  • Avoid sweetened carbonated sodas, juices and water.
  • Learn foods both high and low in sugar that are presented in the No Concentrated Food List (listed in www.dietsite.com)
  • Three meals at regular times should be consumed daily. Do not skip meals.
  • A nutritionally adequate meal plan that limits the amount of saturated fat, cholesterol and salt in the diet. Fat intake should be 30% or less of caloric intake and less than 10% of daily caloric intake from saturated fat. Dietary cholesterol should be limited to 300 mg or less daily. 2,400 mg or less per day of sodium is recommended.
  • Daily consumption of 20-35 grams of dietary fiber from a wide variety of foods is recommended.
  • Mild to moderate weight loss (10-20 pounds has been shown to improve diabetes control, even if desirable body weight is not achieved).
  • Monitoring blood glucose, glycated hemoglobin, lipids, blood pressure and body weight is crucial.
  • Read the label to determine sugar content of packaged foods. In addition to sugar, brown sugar and corn syrup, other names that are used on ingredient labels include: sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, lactose, sorbitol, mannitol, honey, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup.
  • Exercise is just as important as diet. Exercise is a vital part of your treatment. See your doctor before you start an exercise program. He or she can tell you what kinds of exercise are good for you and give you some tips on how to exercise safely. Here are some general guidelines:
  • Wear good athletic shoes that fit well, that are designed for the activity you do, and that have smooth insides without seams or areas that rub and can cause blisters. Break your shoes in gradually and always wear socks.
  • Choose a low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, or cycling.
  • Begin slowly, just enough to get your muscles and joints accustomed to the increased activity.
  • Build up gradually, starting with a few minutes, three times a week.
  • Stretch or walk slowly for 5 minutes before and after each exercise session.

Diabetes can have serious long-term complications such as heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, peripheral vascular disease, eye damage and kidney disease. Over time, if your blood glucose level is not carefully controlled, diabetes can cause damage to your blood vessels, kidneys, and nerves. The best way to avoid these serious complications is to maintain your blood glucose level in a healthy range and see your doctor regularly, even when you are feeling fine.

The following are healthy diabetic recipes.


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Traci Kaufman, Registered Dietitian, received her bachelor's degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked as a clinical nutritionist at UCI Medical Center-Irvine in Orange California, and served as team nutritionist for the Los Angeles Rams. Traci is an active member of the American Dietetic Association and two Dietetic Practice Groups: Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutritionist (SCAN), and Dietitians in General Clinical Practice. Traci resides in Southern California.


This page created 1999

This page modified October 2006

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