Looking for a diabetes prevention action plan? You don't have to change your life a lot, just a little, to make a big difference for you and your family.
In 2018, more than 34 million Americans had diabetes — that is 10.5% of the population, according to the American Diabetes Association.
But you absolutely can prevent or at least delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, which accounts for the vast majority of cases, said Sandra Arévalo, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Diabetes Educators and coordinator of the diabetes management programs at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
“All of these tips need to be like a commercial — you hear it and you hear it and you hear it until it sticks with you, like a jingle, so that people start knowing and especially doing what they need to do,” Arévalo told TODAY.
You may want to start by taking a risk test offered by the American Diabetes Association.
Then keep these eight tips in mind:
1. Lose a bit of weight
If you’re overweight or obese, lose at least 10% of your weight — studies show that can delay the onset of diabetes and help you live longer, Arévalo said. If you weigh 180 pounds, for example, make it your goal to shed 18 pounds.
“It is doable,” she noted. “You can do it by yourself, or with the help of a diabetes educator, a dietician or with your doctor.”
One place to get help is the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program, with more than 200 locations across the country offering guidance in a small-group setting on how to eat healthier, move more and lose weight.
2. Cut down on all sweetened foods and beverages
That’s the No. 1 rule if you want to prevent diabetes, Arévalo said: “Diabetes is extra sugar in your blood, so obviously the more sugar you eat from foods and drinks, the more sugar you’re going to have.”
3. Eat smaller portions
It’s easier for your body to process food when the portions are more modest, so it’s better to eat small meals five to six times a day, rather than one or two large meals a day, Arévalo noted.
“With little meals, you’re burning the calories as you go,” she said.
4. Eat more fruits and vegetables
They are high in fiber, and fiber helps to clean your system and control blood sugar, Arévalo said.
Go for beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and don’t forget to include whole grains in your diet — switch from white bread to whole wheat bread, and from white rice to brown rice.
5. Drink lots of water
Drink at least eight cups of water a day. If you don’t like plain water, add some lemon or infuse it with orange wedges, berries or mint to give it some flavor. Just don’t add sugary drink mixes or reach for cola.
“We definitely need the water because that’s the purest thing we can drink,” Arévalo said. “If your hands are sticky, do you wash them with Coke or with water? It’s the same thing with your blood — it’s very sticky, so you need the purest thing to clean it.”
6. Eat on a regular schedule
It’ll help your body create a rhythm to better manage the insulin and the sugars. For example, you may want to eat modest meals every three hours or so: breakfast at 8 a.m., a snack at 11 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., snack at 4 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m.
“Exercise is vital — I call it natural medicine for sugar,” Arévalo said. “Every time we’re exercising, our cells open their doors to let the glucose from the blood enter the sugar and process it into energy."
The recommendation is easy: a total of 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. You don’t need to go crazy or join a gym — a fast-paced walk for half an hour will do. You can even break it up into several sessions, if you prefer: 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch and 10 minutes on your way home, Arévalo noted.
8. Manage your stress
There’s a mind-body connection in diabetes. When you’re stressed, your blood sugars rise because your body releases certain stress hormones that cause your liver to produce more glucose, the American Psychological Association notes.
Find ways to cope with the drama in your life. It’s different for each person, so just think about the things that help you relax: it could be reading, listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk, playing with your dog, dancing or talking to a friend.
“It’s important to release all that stress, especially when the stress is accumulating over time and your sugars get worse and worse,” Arévalo said.