What does diabetes do?
The risk of type 2 diabetes increases if one is obese or overweight. 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 your 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 how much certain foods raise blood sugar levels. 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 whose diets had the highest glycemic loads were significantly more likely to develop diabetes.
People who closely followed the Mediterranean diet and ate foods with low glycemic loads, lowered their diabetes risk by 20%.
Most studies investigating the Mediterranean diet haven’t found an association between the 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 help lower your diabetes risk:
- Watch your weight. If you're overweight, losing 5 to 10% of your body weight (that would be just 10 to 20 pounds on a 200 pound frame) can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking increases diabetes risk and makes the complications 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!