Diabetes: The Up And Coming Epidemic


by Jeannie Versagli, RDN, CN

Did you know that one in eight adults have type 2 diabetes and another one in three are prediabetic? These are staggering figures. Learning about this disease helps identify the risk and can help aid individuals in becoming proactive about managing their health.

The factors that influence pre-diabetes and diabetes to develop are: 

  • Family History of diabetes or inherited tendency.
  • Fat distribution. If your body stores fat primarily in your abdomen, your risk of type 2 diabetes is greater than if your body stores fat elsewhere, such as your hips and thighs.
  • Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk of type 2 diabetes. Physical activity helps control weight, uses glucose as energy, and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
  • Being overweight by 20% or more of your body’s healthy weight range.
  • Physical stress such as surgery or illness.
  • Use of certain medications such as steroids and blood pressure medications.
  • Autoimmune disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Alcohol (risk increases with years of heavy alcohol use)
  • Smoking
  • History of gestational diabetes or delivery of a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.

Diabetes is the condition in which the body is unable to utilize glucose, which results in elevated levels of glucose in the blood. The foods you consume are broken down into glucose, a form of sugar that is released into the bloodstream and used as energy by the cells in the body.  High glucose levels in the body weaken the walls of the small blood vessels that supply blood to our vital organs, which then increase the risks of stroke, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, vision problems, and nerve damage.

Organ damages noted from elevated glucose levels

  • Vision is affected when blood sugar is out of normal range, resulting in blurring vision, difficulty denoting colors and blindness, because of damaged blood vessels at the back of the eye.
  • The heart and brain are compromised because elevated glucose damages the blood vessels, causing them to become stiff and hard and eventually blocking blood flow to the heart.
  • Nerve damage results in casing constant numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain in the feet or hands.
  • Kidney function is compromised due to the decreased blood flow to the kidneys. This causes the kidneys to not function properly, causing a buildup of waste such as proteins, sodium and other minerals in the body.
  • Feet are affected due to a decrease in blood flow to the lower extremities resulting in foot and or leg amputations. 60% of all non-trauma caused amputations in those ages 20-60 are due to complications from diabetes.

How is one to effectively manage this disease you might ask? Following a healthy lifestyle, that includes 150 minutes of exercise minimum a week and eating a healthy diet focused on complex carbohydrates such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables with the goal to lose weight.

Did you know that in adults carrying excess weight, a weight loss of just 5% of your total body weight will improve the body’s ability to use glucose?   

It is important to understand that a balance of macronutrients and exercise can achieve positive results to improve glucose control.  Eliminating refined grains, added sugars, processed meats, trans fats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and high sodium foods is a must in managing diabetes.

Many individuals have experienced positive results by following a Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean dietary pattern is recognized by the US DIETARY Guidelines 2015-2020 as the recommended meal pattern for disease prevention.  This diet emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, fish, and seafood several times a week while consuming poultry, eggs, and cheeses in moderation, and consuming red meats only on occasion. 

Research indicates that a Mediterranean dietary pattern can provide the following health benefits:

  • It provides an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, which help prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • A diet higher in fats from vegetables can decrease the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in females.
  • Processed red meat is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Substituting one serving of nuts, low-fat dairy, and/or whole grains per day for one serving of red meat can lower diabetes risk by as much as 16% to 35%.
  • Adding nuts into the diet has shown an association with lowering diabetes risk.
  • Incorporating whole grains that contain good sources of fiber decreases the relative risk of developing diabetes. Fiber aids in decreasing the reabsorption of blood glucose in the gut.

Diabetes is a manageable disease; following these guidelines will aid individuals in minimizing the disease and/or provide better management of the disease:

  • Get an annual physical.  
  • Practice mindfulness to gain better control over stress, as stress increases glucose levels.  The more stress, the more blood sugar will be elevated.
  • Be physically active daily. Walking is an excellent way to stay moving and improve blood sugar levels. 
  • Try a Mediterranean diet or other prescribed meal plan that works for you from a physician or registered dietitian.
  • Work towards a 5% weight loss if you are above your ideal weight range to improve blood sugar levels.
  • Take your diabetic medicines and test your blood sugars regularly per your MD’s recommendation. 

Registered Dietitians are experienced in developing nutritional plans to assist in weight management and blood sugar control, along with the guidance of your medical professional. When individuals focus on nutrition, they are on their path to wellness.


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