Diet and Diabetes

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With the current epidemic of obesity that is plaguing the United States, a concurrent epidemic of diabetes is tagging alongside, not only in adults but also among children, who have grown accustomed to eating supersized fast foods and spending too much time in front of TV and computer screens instead of playing outside and moving their bodies. Although one type of diabetes, insulin-dependent diabetes, is the result of the body's inability to produce adequate insulin to carry blood sugar into the cells, a second and more common type of diabetes, type 2 diabetes, commonly occurs in people who are overweight and underfit. These people need to lose weight, exercise more, and eat better-quality foods (or take medications). If not, the resulting high levels of blood glucose increase their risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation of limbs.

Many people think eating lots of sugar causes diabetes. Wrong. Being overweight and underfit are the bigger culprits. In a study of 3,200 people (average age in the 50s) who were overweight and had elevated blood glucose, both when fasting and after eating meals (a risk factor for diabetes), some of the subjects were given medicine (metformin) to lower their blood glucose. Others were instructed to exercise at least 150 minutes per week (five times a week for 30 minutes) and to lose weight (about 7 percent of their body weight, or about 11 pounds for a 160-pound person). And some were told to make no changes (these people made up the control group).

The subjects who became more active and lost a little bit of weight dramatically reduced their risk of developing diabetes—by 58 percent. In contrast, the group that took medicine experienced a 31 percent drop during the almost three-year study. The bottom line: Food and exercise are better than medicine! By getting active and staying active throughout your life, you'll greatly reduce your risk of developing adult-onset diabetes (as well as other diseases of aging) (Knowler et al. 2002). The best cure for diabetes is prevention. For more in-depth information about diabetes, see the resources in appendix A.

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