By Karen Eisenbraun, CHNC
Diabetes is a serious health condition that affects more than 34 million Americans. More than 90% of people with diabetes have a form known as type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes most often develops later in life but can also affect children and teens.
Diabetes is linked to serious health complications, including kidney disease, nerve damage, impaired wound healing, skin conditions, and eye damage. Severe cases can lead to blindness or limb amputation. Some long-term complications of diabetes can be life-threatening.
While type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition that cannot be cured, type 2 diabetes is linked to many different risk factors, some of which can be controlled. One of the first signs of type 2 diabetes is a condition called insulin resistance. As much as 50% of people with insulin resistance or prediabetes will eventually develop type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, you can make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of diabetes.
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Insulin resistance occurs when the body no longer responds well to insulin. A hormone produced by the pancreas, insulin is responsible for moving glucose, or sugar, from the food you eat into the liver, fat, and muscle cells, where it is stored for later use. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, it leads to high blood sugar, a condition known as hyperglycemia, which can become a serious health problem.
Insulin resistance often doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms, so it’s possible to be resistant to insulin for years without even knowing it. You are at greater risk of insulin resistance if you are overweight, have high triglycerides, or have high blood pressure. Some people with insulin resistance develop dark patches of skin on the neck or in the armpits.
If you think you are at risk of insulin resistance, talk to your doctor. There is no one test for insulin resistance, but your healthcare provider can monitor your blood sugar and check for symptoms of diabetes.
If you are starting to become resistant to insulin, you can make several lifestyle changes to improve your body’s response to insulin. Don’t wait until you are diagnosed with diabetes to begin adopting healthier habits. The earlier you start making changes, the better.
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Exercise burns off excess blood sugar, which can lower your blood glucose levels and improve your body’s insulin response over time.
If you are mostly sedentary, start getting more activity into your day. Choose an activity you enjoy, and try to do it at least three times a week. That could be walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, or even dancing. Moderate activity is best, but any activity is good. Get the family involved by playing a game outside while the weather is nice or taking a walk around the neighborhood in the evening.
Foods that are high in sugar will increase your blood sugar. This includes simple carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and baked goods. As much as possible, avoid foods with added sugars; instead, choose complex carbohydrates.
When you go grocery shopping, get in the habit of reading the nutrition facts panel and ingredients lists on the foods you buy. Many packaged foods are loaded with sugar. Check the ingredients for words such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, brown sugar, syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, cane sugar, and cane juice.
You can also look for foods made with sugar alcohols, which don’t impact blood sugar the same way that sugar does. Common sugar alcohols include xylitol, maltitol, and erythritol. Use caution with sugar alcohols because they can cause gastrointestinal distress in some people.
Choosing healthier foods may feel overwhelming at first, but eventually, you will find brands that you know you can trust.
Complex carbs, which include fruits and vegetables, have less of an impact on blood sugar. Make sure to get plenty of fresh plant foods in your diet. Ideally, every meal should include plant foods, protein, and a healthy source of fat. Instead of serving bread or rice with your dinner, choose another vegetable or a side salad. Including quality sources of protein and healthy fats in every meal will also help you avoid the energy crash that follows after you eat something high in sugar.
ScriptSave’s Grocery Guidance app can help you find healthier alternatives to some of the foods you buy most often. Simply scan the barcode on any food package to reveal its WellRx Health Index and discover “better for you” alternatives. Download the app on the App Store or Google Play to get started.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.