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The #1 Source of Diabetes, According to Science

Here's what to watch for.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Health experts warn that diabetes has become a silent epidemic in the U.S.—and a silent killer. For the last two years, deaths from diabetes have hit record levels. It doesn't have to be this way. For many people, diabetes is preventable. Diabetes can lead to serious health complications like heart disease and stroke, so it's important to take steps to avoid developing the disease if possible. That includes avoiding the #1 root of diabetes. 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?

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Diabetes is the body's inability to process sugar (glucose). Normally, when a non-diabetic person consumes sugar, their pancreas releases an enzyme called insulin to help cells convert and use sugar for energy. In a diabetic person, the pancreas either doesn't make insulin, or the body becomes resistant to insulin. Blood sugar can builds up in blood vessels, causing damage. This can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness, even amputation.

Type 1 diabetes, once known as "juvenile diabetes," can develop at any age. But type 2 diabetes is the kind that has become epidemic in the United States—up to 95% of people with diabetes have this type—and it's directly connected to diet and lifestyle choices. Experts predict one in 10 people will have diabetes by the year 2045.

2

What Is The #1 Cause Of Diabetes?

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There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes, but one of the biggest is a poor diet high in processed foods and added sugar. They're closely related—many processed foods quickly break down into sugar. When the body is swamped with sugar, it can become resistant to insulin. The body isn't able to process glucose for energy, and serious health consequences can follow.

Eating this kind of diet increases your risk of being overweight or obese, a major contributor to diabetes. "You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are not physically active and are overweight or obese," says the National Institutes of Health. "Extra weight sometimes causes insulin resistance and is common in people with type 2 diabetes. The location of body fat also makes a difference. Extra belly fat is linked to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart and blood vessel disease." 

3

One Habit to Stop Now

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It's especially important to limit or avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas, juices and sports drinks. The average American consumes the equivalent of 17 teaspoons of sugar a day, mainly through sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks.

4

A Diet to Follow Instead

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"A lot of the foods we eat are diabetogenic. What that means is they increase your risk for insulin resistance and diabetes," says Aaron Hartman, MD, a board-certified functional medicine and integrative medicine doctor in Richmond, Virginia, and assistant clinical professor of family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. "Sugars are one diabetogenic food. Processed carbohydrates are another. The first rule of thumb if you want to prevent diabetes is to eat real food." 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) may reduce your risk of diabetes and other chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer. 

5

Exercise Is Also Key

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To reduce your diabetes risk or manage your diabetes, increasing your physical activity is important. Exercise builds muscle and makes them more sensitive to insulin, so the body utilizes it better. "For people who have diabetes—or almost any other disease, for that matter—the benefits of exercise can't be overstated," says Harvard Medical School. "Exercise lowers blood glucose levels and boosts your body's sensitivity to insulin, countering insulin resistance." Studies have found that all types of exercise help, but a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training is particularly effective in reducing insulin resistance. Experts recommend aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, including two sessions of resistance exercise. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of 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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