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Are you at risk for diabetes?

March 22, 2016

Pre-diabetes, a warning sign that your body’s blood sugar is elevated, is extremely common.  In 2012, 1 in 3 people were pre-diabetic—that’s 86 million Americans!

Pre-diabetes is characterized by traits such as being overweight; older than 45 years and not physically active—which is a large segment of the aging population.  Couple that with a family history of diabetes and you may find yourself in that pre-diabetic range.  The problem is that you won’t know it and you can’t feel it because there are no symptoms. Knowing that 15-30% with pre-diabetes will develop diabetes in 5 years, it is important to catch it early and so something about it. 

The good news is that you can find out if you are at risk.  Tuesday, March 22 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day, a day to assess your risk. Simply take a seven question quiz to find out if you are 1 of 3 the Americans at risk for diabetes. 

Did you find out you are at risk?  Now what?  Work with your physician to identify your risk and begin to reverse pre-diabetes with lifestyle changes.  Up to 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes is preventable by lifestyle modification.  By making healthier food choices and becoming more physically active, you can improve your blood sugar values and avoid diabetes altogether. 

Losing weight will improve insulin sensitivity.  Begin by choosing the right carbs and eliminating sugar laden foods like sweetened beverages—and that’s not just soda. Most people never even consider the liquid favored creamers added to coffee, which can easily deliver over 15 grams of sugar --- and that’s only in 1 cup!  Look carefully at your carb choices.  Be cautious of portions and opt for brown rice over white and whole grain bread or pasta over white, refined flours. 

Change your dietary pattern to focus on whole grains, dry beans, lentils, vegetables and fruits.  Researchers are now identifying nutrients within food choices that may be helpful in improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugars.  

People with a diet higher in magnesium have a lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes.  It is best to get magnesium from foods because high magnesium foods also have other beneficial nutrients, like fiber, that help to regulate insulin. Magnesium in supplement form (greater than 350 mg) causes stomach cramping and diarrhea. 

Magnesium rich foods: Pumpkins seed kernels, Halibut, Almonds, Cashews, Spinach, Swiss chard, Lima or black beans, Yellowfin tuna, Dark chocolate, Beet greens, Okra, Oat bran or oatmeal, Kidney or pinto beans, Navy or Great Northern beans, Garbanzo beans, Low‐fat plain yogurt, Tofu.

Preliminary evidence shows that Vitamin D may improve insulin sensitivity.  Talk with your physician and have your Vitamin D level checked.  If deficient, you may need a supplement to get levels into a normal range.  Common dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, like salmon, and fortified foods like milk and cereal. 

Other blood sugar friendly foods are high in soluble fiber.  The fiber slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream.  Dried beans, lentils, oats and barley are high in soluble fiber. 

Coffee is linked to reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.  Researchers believe specific compounds in coffee are responsible for the decrease in risk.  Be careful—don’t start downing cups of coffee, since caffeine can cause anxiety and increased heart rate.  And of course, you should choose coffee that isn’t loaded with sugar.   

Many people have heard that cinnamon will improve blood sugar levels but the jury is still out.  According to the American Diabetes Association, “There is not enough evidence from research to claim that including cinnamon in your daily diet will help regulate blood glucose, so it is not recommended for that purpose at this time.”

There is some evidence that cinnamon may, in fact, lower blood sugar levels, but the problem lies in knowing the appropriate variety, source and concentration. Some cinnamon may contain active compounds that impact blood sugars, while others elicit no effect at all.  The FDA does not regulate the active ingredients in herbal products, so there is no way of knowing if the cinnamon you purchase is going to make a difference.  The bottom line-- it won’t hurt to use cinnamon in your oatmeal or cooking. Just steer clear of cinnamon supplements or large doses as there is concern that it may injure your liver, especially when taken with other medications.   

Lastly, keep an eye on blueberries.  While blueberries are well known for their antioxidant value and cancer-preventing properties, they may also improve insulin sensitivity by protecting the beta cells on the pancreas.  Throw some blueberries in your cinnamon laced oatmeal with a cup of coffee and feel confident to start your day with blood sugars moving in the right direction!

There are many additional resources you can tap if you are worried you may be on the path to diabetes, or if you have already received a diagnosis of diabetes. Diabetes Prevention Program is an evidence-based program to help people successfully make lifestyle changes to prevent diabetes. The program is available across the country and at many local YMCA chapters. The Healthy U Fitness Center at Orlando Health provides resources for community members looking to improve exercise and nutrition and reduce diabetes risk. You can also utilize online websites such as and NEDP or for information on the go.