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Most People Get Diabetes This Way, Experts Say

It's completely within your control.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Experts agree: Diabetes has become an American epidemic. Contrary to popular belief, diabetes isn't just something you're born with, and it doesn't just involve blood sugar. Diabetes affects the blood vessels, heart, brain, and circulation, and it can be debilitating or fatal. The type of diabetes that's skyrocketing is type 2 diabetes, which is directly caused by diet and lifestyle choices. This is how most people develop diabetes, it's completely within your control. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Is Diabetes?

Doctor with glucometer and insulin pen device talking to male patient at medical office in hospital.
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Diabetes is the body's inability to process sugar (a.k.a. glucose). When someone who doesn't have diabetes consumes sugar, the pancreas releases an enzyme called insulin, which converts that sugar into energy. In someone who had diabetes, the pancreas either doesn't produce insulin, or the body becomes resistant to insulin. Blood sugar then builds up in the arteries. That increases the risk of serious medical consequences like heart disease, dementia, blindness, poor circulation, even amputation.

2

Most People Get Diabetes This Way

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Experts say the biggest risk factor for type 2 diabetes is a diet high in processed foods and added sugar. (The body considers them to be the same difference: Once ingested, processed foods quickly break down into sugar.) When the body is swamped with sugar, it can become resistant to insulin.

A large 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine linked consumption of "ultra-processed" foods (think chicken nuggets, sugary cereals, and frozen dinners) to a higher risk of developing diabetes. Researchers followed 100,000 people for six years and found that those who ate the most ultra-processed foods (about 22% of their daily diet) had a higher risk for developing diabetes compared with people who ate the least ultra-processed food (11% of diet)—even after adjusting for other major risk factors like weight and exercise! For every 10-percentage-point increase in the amount of ultra-processed food eaten, diabetes risk rose 15%.

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3

One Habit to Quit Now

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It's especially important to limit or avoid beverages with added sugar, like sugar-sweetened sodas. "Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis," says the CDC.

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4

An Easy Way to Lower Your Diabetes Risk

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A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein (especially fatty fish, like salmon) and good fats (like avocados, nuts and olive oil), like the Mediterranean Diet, may reduce your risk of diabetes and other chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer. A 2020 review of studies published in the journal Nutrients concluded "there is consistent evidence regarding the inverse association between the adherence to a Mediterranean diet and incidence of type 2 diabetes."

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5

Another Important Risk Reducer

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To reduce your diabetes risk or manage diabetes, getting regular exercise is key. Exercise make muscles more sensitive to insulin and helps the body utilize insulin levels better. Even gentle movement, like walking, can help a lot. One study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that getting 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise (like walking) each day, combined with a low-fat diet, reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more
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