Nutrition and type 2 diabetes prevention

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (, which is reprinted here. This week, Amanda Tauber weighs in on type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a growing concern. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 23.6 million Americans have the disease. However, only 17.9 million Americans have been diagnosed with it at this point. That leaves almost 6 million Americans walking around unaware.

Certain ethnic groups are more commonly affected, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Alaskan natives, American Indians and Pacific Islanders.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes results from the body's inability to break down the food we eat into a usable form of energy known as glucose. Glucose is the main form of energy for the body. Under normal circumstances, insulin helps glucose enter liver, fat and muscle cells, where it is stored for later use or used for energy. When someone has diabetes, the body is either not making enough insulin, or the muscle, liver and fat cells aren't able to use insulin as efficiently as they used to do. As a result, glucose levels in the blood become high.

If left unchecked or untreated, other health problems can follow. Type 2 diabetes is the leading cause of amputations, kidney disease and blindness in the United States. Having Type 2 diabetes is also linked to heart disease.

How does diet affect one's risk for developing diabetes?

Over time, eating foods high in fat and sugar, along with inactivity, can lead to weight gain. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Choose My Plate, the USDA's nutrition guidelines, provides excellent tools to assist people in making food choices for a healthful lifestyle. Some of the key concepts of MyPlate are to avoid oversize portions, to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables, to eat more whole grains, and to drink fat-free or 1-percent-fat dairy products. In addition, it's important to try to cut back on food high in solid fats, added sugars and salt.

Does exercise or lack of exercise affect a person's risk for developing diabetes?

Lack of exercise, leading to weight gain, can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition to helping to prevent weight gain, exercise also helps your body use insulin more effectively. Aim for 30 minutes of brisk activity a day. You can break up the activity into 10-minute intervals. One example is taking a brisk 10-minute walk to and from the parking lot, walking the dog for 10 minutes and then taking a 10-minute walk at lunchtime. Choose activities that are part of your daily routine.

Bottom line: There are lifestyle changes you can make to prevent type 2 diabetes: Follow a healthful diet to maintain or lose weight if needed, and fit 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine.

Learn more about type 2 diabetes at or

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