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Diabetes Rate Rising in Central Florida: How to Reduce Your Risk

November 17, 2015

More than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. That equals about 9 percent of the population.

Here in Central Florida, diabetes is just as widespread. According to a 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment, diabetes is the top health issue in Orange County and ranks as one of the top five issues in both Osceola and Seminole counties.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of premature death in all three counties, mentioned in the same company as car accidents, breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Think about this for a second — having diabetes is just as dangerous to your health as a traumatic car wreck.

Diabetes also is the most prevalent chronic disease in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, affecting more than 200,000 people and leading to a steady increase in hospitalizations over the 4-year period experts tracked in the assessment. Nearly 10 percent of adults in both Orange and Osceola counties and 13.5 percent of adults in Seminole County have diabetes. And unfortunately, it’s not just adults who make up this population. The number of young children with diabetes continues to rise each year.

The trend is moving in the wrong direction, but that doesn’t mean it should continue going that way. You can do several things to minimize your risk for diabetes and to better manage the disease if you already have it. Here are some helpful tips.

Healthy Eating with Diabetes

Being overweight or obese is one of the main risk factors for diabetes. Regular exercise can reduce this risk and help with diabetes maintenance, but eating a healthy diet is just as important.

One of the best ways to control diabetes is a balanced diet. Even if you don’t have diabetes, the eating plan outlined below is healthy for everyone.

A diabetic diet is simply an eating plan that is high in nutrients, low in fat and added sugar and moderate in calories. However, if you are a diabetic you need to pay more attention to some of your food choices — most notably the carbohydrates you eat.

Choose high fiber, slow-release carbs

It’s best to limit highly refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and rice, as well as soda, candy, sugary cereals, and snack foods. Focus instead on high-fiber complex carbohydrates, also known as slow-release carbs. These carbs help keep blood sugar levels even because they are digested more slowly. They also provide lasting energy and help you stay full longer. Sweet potatoes, winter squash, quinoa, 100% whole grain oats, beans and lentils are all great slow-release carbs to add to your diet.

Be smart about sweets

Eating a diabetes-friendly diet doesn’t mean eliminating sugar altogether. You can still enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert occasionally. The key is moderation. If you want to eat sweets, you can:

  • Hold the carbs at your meal if you want dessert.
  • Add some healthy fat such as peanut butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt or nuts, which helps slow down digestion and reduce blood sugar spikes.
  • Eat sweets with a meal rather than as a stand-alone snack. When eaten on their own, sweets cause your blood sugar to spike, but if you eat them with other healthy foods your blood sugar may not rise as quickly.
Choose fats wisely

People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease, so it’s important to be smart about fats. Some fats are unhealthy and others have enormous health benefits. But all fats are high in calories, so you should always watch your portion sizes. Less wholesome fats are saturated fats and trans fats, including whole milk dairy products, red meat, and partially hydrogenated oils, which can have a negative impact on cholesterol levels.

Beneficial fats are unsaturated such as olive oil, nuts and avocados. To cut down on your fat intake even more, avoid frying, eat more fish, snack on fresh fruits and veggies rather than chips or crackers, use applesauce in place of oil or butter when baking, remove skin from poultry and trim any visible fat from meat before you cook it. Also try avocado on sandwiches instead of cheese.

Eat regularly

This might seem like bad advice, but it’s important to understand the science behind how our bodies work. Your body is better able to regulate blood sugar levels — and your weight — when you maintain a regular meal schedule. Aim for moderate and consistent portion sizes for each meal or snack.

Never skip breakfast. Eating breakfast every day will help you have energy and steady your blood sugar levels. Eat regular small meals about every four to five hours throughout the day. People tend to eat larger portions when they are overly hungry, so eating regularly will help you keep your portions in check.

Also, try to eat roughly the same amount of calories every day, rather than overeating one day or at one meal, then skimping on the next. Regulating the amount of calories you eat on a day-to-day basis has an impact on the regularity of your blood sugar levels.

If you are concerned about your risk for diabetes or are newly diagnosed, making these changes will be best for your long-term health. Seek guidance from a registered dietitian or your doctor and start making small dietary changes every day. Eventually, they’ll add up and lead to a lasting lifestyle change and better health.

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