By Dr. Seema Diddee
Diabetes is a global epidemic that affects about 29 million people in the United States. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer produces insulin, a hormone that controls the level of sugar glucose in the blood. It accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed cases and develops most often in children and young adults.
Some women develop gestational diabetes while pregnant. This type of diabetes is linked to hormonal changes during pregnancy and often disappears after giving birth.
Type 2 diabetes — the most common form of the disease — is caused by insulin resistance. The pancreas continues to produce insulin, but the cells in the body do not respond adequately to it.
Risk factors include being overweight, a family history of diabetes, previous gestational diabetes, physical inactivity and smoking. While the disease is most prevalent among older adults, increasing numbers of children and adolescents are developing type 2 diabetes, often due to lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits.
The good news is that we can often help prevent, or delay, the onset of diabetes with lifestyle choices that include a healthy diet and exercise.
1. A good diet begins with controlling calories and carbohydrates. It also involves using the glycemic index, a scale from 1 to 100, to identify foods that slow the speed of digestion and prevent rapid increases in blood sugar. These foods include many vegetables, whole grains, dairy, nuts and seeds, beans and fruits.
2. Another tip is to resist our “eating from the bag culture.” When we reach into a bag of chips or fill large plates and cups to the brim, we consume too much food. Imagine, instead, a 9-inch-wide plate filled with salads and vegetables on one side and equal amounts of food sources for carbohydrates and proteins on the other side. This plate has all the food you need for a typical lunch or dinner.
3. To help children develop healthy eating habits, serve fruits and vegetables for snacks and limit sweets.
4. Try to get 45 minutes of exercise at least five times a week. Your physical activities can occur at intervals during the day. Although exercise may help with weight loss, don’t let the scale discourage you. Your heart and bones benefit from your workout, whether or not you lose weight.
5. To encourage and monitor your physical activity, you can use tech devices such as FitBit and Jawbone fitness trackers that connect to your smartphone. There are also many short YouTube videos that make exercise, dance and yoga simple to learn.
6. Help your children get exercise by planning outdoor family activities. Hiking, cycling and skiing are popular choices and a great way to explore the Pacific Northwest.
When you make lifestyle changes, keep in mind that other people can help. Talk to your primary care provider about your risk factors and goals. A nutritionist can help develop a personal diet with the right calories and carbohydrates. Finally, being part of a group is good for motivation. As many of my patients discover, being healthy is contagious when you have support from coworkers, friends and family!
Dr. Seema Diddee is a family medicine doctor at the UW Neighborhood Issaquah Clinic. For more information, call 877.520.5000 or visit online.