Diabetes mellitus (DM) is the seventh leading cause of death in people living in the United States, and the leading cause of kidney failure, non-traumatic lower limb amputations, and new cases of blindness. It is also the major cause of heart disease and stroke.
Type 1 DM is caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger the disease. But, Type 2 DM is caused by a combination of genetics, which we cannot control, and lifestyle factors which we can control.
These factors include a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and dietary patterns. Being overweight is a risk factor for developing Type 2 DM. Losing weight decreases this risk. In fact, in patients with established diabetes, losing weight will improve glycemic control. Other risk factors also exist. For instance, having a first-degree relative with DM increases your changes by two to three times. Being Asian, Hispanic, or African-American also increases risk.
The Food Factor
Eating too much sugar can increase the risk of Type 2 DM. In fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends limiting your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, sweet tea, energy and sport drinks, fruit drinks and punch, to prevent diabetes.
"Eating too much red and processed meat is also associated with increased risk," says Mirela Nicolescu, MD, an internal medicine physician with Primary Medical Group of Warwick, and on the medical staff at Kent Hospital. "On the other hand, eating a diet high in fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil decreases risk."
If you already have diabetes, it is still important to eat healthy. "Your diet should be low in fat, salt, and sugar, and high in fiber," Dr. Nicolescu says.
For better glycemic control, use meal planning to spread carbohydrates over four to six small meals a day and eat meals at the same time every day. The ADA recommends having about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, or three to four servings of carbohydrate-containing foods such as bread, potatoes, or pasta.
Note that while fruits are healthy because they are high in fiber, minerals, and vitamins, they are also rich in carbohydrates so planning meals and portion size is critical.
Increased Risk of Infection
People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing infections, specifically foot infections, urinary tract infections, fungal infections (such as skin, superficial, and soft tissue infections, necrotizing fasciitis, and malignant external otitis).
"The higher your serum glucose, the more the body's ability to defend against bacteria and viruses weakens," Dr. Nicolescu says. These individuals are more prone to getting a cold or another illness as well. Be sure to get a flu shot, because any illness makes it more difficult to control diabetes.
Dr. Nicolescu recommends that people with diabetes try the ADA's free "Living with Type 2 Diabetes" program. Enrolling gives one access to tasty and healthy recipes as well as a multitude of resources to help you learn more about the disease and stay motivated. Click here for more information.