If you're a woman, chances are you worry about breast cancer. But did you know that twice as many women die of diabetes each year?
In fact, one in 10 women over the age of 20 is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes -- and because diabetes has no clear symptoms, many more have it without even knowing. Could you be one of them? Here's what you need to know about this killer disorder to help prevent it.
Why Is Diabetes Dangerous?
Diabetes wreaks havoc on your body by preventing it from using carbohydrates, its main source of energy. Normally, when you consume carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose and then produces a hormone called insulin to make the glucose into energy. But with diabetes, your body can't produce enough insulin, so the glucose builds up in your blood instead of becoming energy. This can lead to serious conditions, from blurred vision and gum disease, to kidney failure and coma.
What You Can Do Right Now
The good news is that you can help prevent diabetes. Make these smart lifestyle changes, and you'll decrease your risk significantly:
1. Brush and floss like your life depends on it.
It does! A new study shows that developing gum disease can actually increase your blood sugar and, consequently, your risk of developing diabetes. This makes flossing and brushing more important than ever -- especially if you have other risk factors.
2. Walk 30 minutes a day.
The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a major federal study, found that walking just half an hour a day reduces your chances of developing diabetes by 30 percent. "Even if you don't see big results on the scale, you're helping your insulin work better," says Amy Campbell, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Joslin Diabetes Center.
3. Opt for the "plate method."
To maintain your weight, Campbell suggests the "plate method," where you designate a space on your plate for every type of nutrient you need. At every meal, fill your plate half with vegetables, a quarter with healthy protein (i.e., chicken, lean meat or fish), a quarter with a whole-grain carbohydrate (e.g., brown rice or a whole-wheat roll), then add a piece of a fruit or a low-fat yogurt on the side, and you've done it!
4. Swap brown for white.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that opting for brown rice instead of white can reduce your diabetes risk by 16 percent. Choose another type of whole grain, such as barley, and you'll lower your risk by 36 percent!
5. Choose "whole" vs. "enriched."
Go directly to the ingredients list when evaluating foods at the grocery story, says Campbell. "Look for the word ‘whole' rather than ‘enriched' -- whole-wheat or whole-grain rye, for example," she says. Enriched products may sound healthy, but they are actually refined foods to which a few synthetic nutrients have been added to make up for the natural nutrients stripped during refining.
6. Learn to love salads.
Leafy greens do double duty when it comes to diabetes prevention. The magnesium in romaine, spinach and their dark-green brethren may help fight diabetes, but so does the vitamin D, says Campbell. Several studies show a link between low vitamin D levels and greater insulin resistance. Plus, eating plenty of high-volume produce makes you less likely to indulge in snack foods full of refined sugars.
7. Go nuts!
Eating 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or an ounce of nuts five or more times a week cuts your risk of diabetes by 20 to 30 percent, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
8. Know your risk.
Although anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, three factors increase your risk: age, family history and obesity. Also be aware of common symptoms, including the following:
Excessive thirst and urination Tingling sensations at the hands and feet Wounds that heal slowly Red, inflamed, bleeding gums Fatigue Blurred vision Increased number of vaginal yeast infections
If you are at risk or are concerned about any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, who can check your glucose levels and give you a proper diagnosis.
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