There’s a hidden sugar crisis that’s sweeping the country, and we’re not talking about what’s lurking in the nearest vending machine – although it does contribute to the problem. We’re talking about the 80 million North Americans with prediabetes, a condition that is characterized by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels.
Prediabetes is a risky condition: It doesn’t just put you in line for diabetes and all of its complications – which, of course, it does – but even before you develop full-blown diabetes, having slightly elevated blood glucose levels puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke, leg pain due to circulation problems, reduced kidney function and blood-vessel changes that can lead to vision loss and neuropathy (nerve damage), as well as sexual dysfunction and depression.
Unfortunately, only one in 10 people with prediabetes even knows they have it. And just a quarter of those folks are taking advantage of their big opportunity (knock, knock) to launch their own health rescue initiative before it’s too late.
Scary statistic: Once you’ve got prediabetes – find out by asking your doctor for a fasting blood sugar test or the A1c test that measures average glucose levels over a three-month period – odds are you’ll develop full-blown diabetes within nine to 10 years.
Amazing fact: While more than 65 percent of North Americans have genes that predispose them to Type 2 diabetes, it’s almost 100 percent preventable at the prediabetes stage and doesn’t have to happen.
Here’s how to move your blood sugar back into the healthy zone and sidestep the health risks of prediabetes:
1. Eat less beef: Simple, but it’s true – more beef on your plate equals more diabetes risk. Eating an extra three to four servings of red meat per week boosts your risk for developing diabetes by about 50 percent. A big, new study uncovered the connection by tracking the diets and health of 149,000 women and men for four years. The good news? Less beef equals less diabetes. Those who cut back even a little reduced their risk by 14 percent. What’s the connection? Could be the saturated fat, a Food Felon that blunts your body’s ability to absorb blood sugar, or simply that big servings of meat leave less room on your plate and in your stomach for diabetes-fighting goodies like whole grains, produce, fish and nuts.
2. Say “yes” to flavor: And “no” to the Food Felons. One of the most powerful ways to increase the health power of food is to give your diet a taste of the old one-two – knock out refined flour and added sugars and syrups, and fill in the gaps with naturally tasty stuff such as spices and seasonal fruit. It’s a great time for blueberries, blackberries and peaches. And indulge in the harvest of veggies like sun-ripened tomatoes and green beans. For good measure, add flavorful, fiber- and nutrient-filled whole grains like quinoa and quick-cooking barley.
What’s so bad about sugars and refined carbohydrates? Another powerful new report spotlights the connection: In countries where people consume more sugary foods, diabetes rates are higher. For every extra 150 calories’ worth of sweetener – the amount in a 12-ounce soda – consumed daily, diabetes prevalence jumped by 1 percent. Turns out these empty calories increase your diabetes risk even if you don’t overeat, by firing up inflammation and insulin resistance so that your body can’t easily use blood sugar.
3. Walk: Take a short walk after breakfast, lunch and dinner. Think you don’t have time for a daily walk? Turns out that fitting in a short stroll – about 15 minutes – soon after you eat keeps blood sugar levels low and steady for the next three hours. The movement encourages your muscles to use more sugar from your bloodstream. Try taking your partner, kids and/or pooch out for some foot-powered fun after dinner. Plenty of traditional cultures go for a walk after eating – like the Italian passeggiata. Get out there, and start livin’ the real dolce vita!
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of the “The Dr. Oz Show” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.