Published: Sept. 9, 2010
Updated: Sept. 9, 2010
Eat and Exercise Your Way to Better Health
By Emily Mitchell
Being diagnosed with pre-diabetes does not automatically sentence you to a life of insulin injections and blood glucose tests.
In most cases, the power to prevent diabetes from progressing is completely up to you.
Elisabetta Politi, RD, MPH, CDE, nutrition director at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center, says people who are pre-diabetic can reduce the risk of diabetes by 55 percent if they adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a good diet and exercise.
This lifestyle change is even more effective in preventing the onset of diabetes than the use of medication.
Politi encourages people not to focus on losing massive amounts of weight.
Even moderate weight loss of 7 to 10 percent will dramatically improve your chances of preventing or delaying diabetes because it lowers your blood pressure and helps circulate inflammatory markers in the blood -- all key elements to controlling blood glucose levels.
Lowering your caloric consumption and eating whole, unprocessed foods will certainly help you lose weight, but certain foods have the ability to increase insulin sensitivity and lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol often associated with diabetes.
These foods include whole grains, alcohol, lower glycemic index carbohydrates, omega-3 fatty acids, coffee, nuts, and fiber.
Three servings of whole grains each day have been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes by as much as 21 percent (source). Other benefits of whole grains include:
Though it may seem counterintuitive to list alcohol in a list of foods promoting better health, moderate alcohol intake has been linked to an increase in insulin sensitivity and HDL-cholesterol levels (good cholesterol).
Be careful to limit how much you drink -- women should drink one alcohol drink per day and men should only have about two drinks per day.
While carbohydrates get a bad rap for making people fat, the right kind of carbs actually can have the opposite effect. High carbohydrate, low glycemic index diets decrease the amount of glucose in the blood after meals.
Try to substitute half of your daily carbohydrate intake with the following low glycemic index foods:
Other foods that have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity are omega-3 fatty acids, coffee, nuts, and fiber.
Saturated fat. There is a direct association between saturated fat and insulin resistance. So limit butter, beef, and high-fat cheese and stick to low-fat fare.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This sweetener is found in many processed, sugary foods and has been linked to the uptick in obesity in the last couple of decades. Cutting HFCS from your diet will help you lose weight and get your blood sugar under control.
Trans-fatty acids. Make sure to review nutrition labels and stay away from this kind of fat which has been shown to increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. It is often found in chips, French fries, frozen meals, and baked goods like muffins, donuts, and crackers.
To reduce your risk of diabetes, you need to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes, five days per week.
“Nothing has an instant effect on reducing diabetes like exercise -- it’s an insulin sensitizer that improves a person’s glucose tolerance,” notes Politi.
Even a modest amount of exercise improves glucose and lipid levels and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The most important step you can take after receiving test results that indicate high blood glucose levels or diabetic tendencies is to change your lifestyle.
It’s much harder to reverse full-blown diabetes than it is to prevent the disease in the first place. So, get moving, change your diet, and make lifestyle choices that will positively affect your future.
These tips were shared at a presentation Elisabetta Politi gave at the Teer House. For more Duke Medicine events, visit our events page.