Is Diabetes Your Destiny?

Even if diabetes runs in your family, there’s a lot you can do to prevent it. Starting with your diet.

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My father, my mother's mother, and my brother were all affected by diabetes. Genetically, for me, that's like waiting to be summoned for jury duty; you know you may eventually be called, but you don't quite know when it will be your turn.

But if diabetes is going to tap at my door, I'm refusing to put out a welcome mat. An estimated 25.8 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, which arises when either the pancreas isn't producing enough insulin or the insulin produced isn't being used adequately, often called insulin resistance. Roughly 79 million American adults have pre-diabetes, where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to warrant a diagnosis. What's more, 7 million people don't even know they have the condition. These statistics are frightening, especially because type 2 diabetes—which used to be considered an adult disease—is increasingly affecting children.

There is good news though: Studies have shown that many people who have pre-diabetes can prevent or slow down the onset of full-blown diabetes by losing weight and adding regular physical activity into their routines. Below, 7 lifestyle keys to staving off the disease:

• Timing. When it comes to controlling your blood sugar, keep these two words in mind: balance and timing. Your diet is not like saving money in the bank; with money, you can save without spending and then spend it all on something you desire. But with food, you need to "spend" or space your calories regularly throughout the day, and not save them up by skimping on some meals and overdoing others. Proper timing of meals prevents overeating, which in turn will help you control your weight. Weight control is paramount when it comes to preventing and properly managing diabetes.

• Snacks. Don't wait too long between meals to eat. In general, there should not be more than four to five hours between meals and two to three hours between meals for a snack. You don't necessarily have to snack, but on days when you are more active, a between-meal pick-me-up could be necessary. Snacking on the right foods can prevent you from feeling light-headed or from overeating at mealtime.

• Combo. It's not the low-carb or high-protein diets that do the trick, diabetes prevention and control comes from a combo of all nutrients in proper proportions. Whenever you eat foods that contain carbs (bread, potato, rice, cereal, fruit) try to have them in concert with foods that contain protein and/or fat (lean meat, fish, poultry, low-fat cheese, eggs, egg whites, nut butter). These combinations will help "buffer" or slow down the way in which carbohydrates will be digested and absorbed, thereby preventing your blood sugar from soaring and causing damage to your body and mood.

• Fiber. Find fiber-rich foods daily. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals instead of refined types, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole-wheat pasta in place of white pasta. Be sure to include lots of vegetables, both cooked and raw, which will add fiber along with important vitamins and minerals. Check food labels for fiber content with the goal of getting 28 grams for women ages 50 and younger and 21 grams for those ages 51 and up. For men, it's 38 grams and 30 grams respectively. Fiber not only helps to improve blood sugar control, but it also helps reduce the risk of heart disease, a common diabetes sidekick. And if you're looking to lose weight, fiber promotes fullness and can be an effective weapon against hunger.

• Exercise. Physical activity will help you control blood sugar levels, burn calories, reduce the risk of heart disease, and give you a greater sense of well-being. You don't have to join a gym to get your body moving—dance, ride a bike with your kids, climb stairs … do something you'll enjoy. According to the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a clinical trial aimed at uncovering whether either diet and exercise or the diabetes drug Metformin could prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, those who exercised just 30 minutes per day five times a week and lost 7 percent of their body weight cut their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent. Exercise can also help your body become more sensitive to insulin, reduce your body weight, and lower your blood glucose levels.

Just because diabetes is part of your family's history doesn't mean you can't change your family's future. This is a perfect time to be a role model and show your family how eating together healthfully can help all of you … that's what you're destined to do!

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.