How to Prevent Diabetes

There are many myths and misconceptions about Type 2 diabetes - especially if you search the internet! If you are at a higher risk of developing diabetes or have been told by your GP that your blood glucose levels are higher than normal (prediabetes), it can feel daunting and overwhelming to deal with - but the good news is, we can reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes through making changes to our diet & lifestyle - but how can we do this?

Firstly - it’s important to clarify that we cannot reduce our risk of Type 1 diabetes which is an autoimmune condition and is not associated with your weight, diet or lifestyle. However, the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes - which affects around 90% of all people in the U.K living with diabetes, can be increased by both non-modifiable and modifiable factors, such as:
  • Our age - Your risk starts to increase after the age of 40 and grows with age
  • Our ethnicity - If you are South Asian, Black African or African-Caribbean, your risk will increase even at a younger age
  • Family history - If you have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
  • If you are already diagnosed with certain medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease or PCOS.
  • If you are overweight or obese

Sometimes we may not fall into any of these categories and our risk for type 2 diabetes may be increased for an unknown reason too, but these are the most common risk factors.

According to Diabetes UK, 13.6 million people in the UK are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, although by making changes to our diet and lifestyle, it is thought that 80% of cases can be delayed or prevented!

Weight loss - This is the single biggest thing we can do to reduce our risk of diabetes if we are overweight or obese. Research has shown that losing 5% of your bodyweight can reduce the risk by 50%! Storing more fat around the middle can also increase our risk (linked to genetics), so if you would like some support with losing weight, a dietitian or registered nutritionist can support you to create long-term changes.

Eating a healthy diet - Consuming a diet that ensures we’re getting at least 5-a-day of a variety of fruit and vegetables, prioritises lean proteins, higher fibre carbohydrates such as wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans and legumes, and limits ultra-processed foods and foods that are high in added sugars, salt and saturated fat can support a healthy weight and ensures we’re obtaining a variety of nutrients to meet our requirements.

Prioritising sleep - If we have a lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep - this can impact everything from our risk of type 2 diabetes, to our immune system. It’s recommended to obtain between 7-9 hours of good quality sleep a night. We can improve our sleep quality by having a regular bed-time/wake up routine, limiting screen time before bed and sleeping in a dark, cool room.

Reducing stress -  Stress stimulates the release of various hormones that can result in elevated (raised) blood glucose levels. This response is normal (consider the fight/flight response!) Although if you have been found to have higher blood glucose levels already then stress can cause this to rise even more. Everyone may have their own ways of managing stress - but identifying these and practicing them each week can help to prevent long-term (chronic) stress. This may be a short walk in nature, a phone call with friends/family, mindfulness and journaling or a warm bubble bath!

To find out more about your risk of Type 2 diabetes, you can take the Diabetes UK ‘Know your risk’ questionnaire to identify whether you could be at risk and what you can do about it.

By Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Specialist Dietitian at Ramsay Health Care

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