Diabetes or pre-diabetes affects 1 out of every 3 people in North Carolina. We live in a part of the country where heritage and traditions are strong. The southern diet is one part of southern culture that has not changed dramatically over time. However, because of changes in the economy, technology, and transportation, people today are much less active than our ancestors were. That mismatch makes people more likely to develop obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes can cause serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure resulting in dialysis, and infections. The longer you have diabetes and the higher your blood sugars, the more likely you are to develop those problems.
The best way to prevent or delay getting diabetes is to make lifestyle changes including your diet and exercise routine. Losing 5-7% of your body weight decreases your risk of diabetes by 50%. If you already have diabetes, these same lifestyle changes can help control your blood sugars and prevent you from needing more and more medicines that have side effects and cost a lot. Every 30 mg/dL drop in your blood sugar decreases your risk of having diabetic complications by about 25%.
Here are some tips:
- Switch from drinking soda or juice to a no calorie drink.
- Fill ½ of your plate with vegetables (avoiding starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, peas and beans), ¼ with a lean meat, and (if you must) the last ¼ with a starch (such as 1 roll or piece of bread, small portion of rice or pasta).
- Buy frozen or fresh vegetables instead of canned vegetables if you can.
- Read labels to look at the recommended serving size and the number of carbohydrates in that serving.
- Increase your activity level. While it is recommended that you get 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week, every increase in activity will help. Park farther away from where you are going, walk to the mailbox and back after meals, find an exercise partner to help encourage you to exercise.
A patient came to me 7 years after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In addition to her diabetes, she was obese and had high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. She was on 3 medications for her diabetes and 2 medications for her blood pressure. Her average blood sugar was 250, well above the goal average blood sugar of 125mg/dL. She made some changes: rather than eating out, she brought her lunch with her to work daily, no longer ate the cookies and candy that were offered at work, and she and her daughter made a date to walk 4 days weekly. She lost 17 pounds, dropped her average blood sugar to 125 and her blood pressure by 20 points, and was taken off 2 medications.
If you have questions regarding your risk of diabetes or how to better control your diabetes, you should see an endocrinologist who can help create a personalized plan for you.
Dr. Hilary Thomas is a member of the Western Carolina Medical Society and is a board-certified in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism practicing at Asheville Endocrinology Consultants.