12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

VIDEO: Chef known for recipes rich in butter and sugar promotes new diabetes drug.
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Nearly 25 percent of Americans are thought to have prediabetes -- a condition of slightly elevated blood sugar levels that often develops into diabetes within 10 years -- but only 4 percent of people know it. What's worse, of those who are aware, less than half really tried to reduce their risk by losing weight, eating less, and exercising more.

These are just a few of the good-for-you habits that can reverse prediabetes and ensure you never get the real thing, which can mean a lifetime of drugs and blood sugar monitoring, an increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other scary health threats. Read on for 12 simple tricks everyone can start today.

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12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Nudge the Scale

Shedding even 10 pounds can significantly slash your risk.

Even extremely overweight people were 70 percent less likely to develop diabetes when they lost just 5 percent of their weight -- even if they didn't exercise. If you weigh 175 pounds, that's a little less than 9 pounds! Use our calorie calculator to see how many calories you consume -- and how many you need to shave off your diet -- if you want to lose a little.

12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Pick the Right Appetizer

Eating greens with a vinaigrette before a starchy entrée may help control your blood sugar levels.

In an Arizona State University study, people with type 2 diabetes or a precursor condition called insulin resistance had lower blood sugar levels if they consumed about 2 tablespoons of vinegar just before a high-carb meal. "Vinegar contains acetic acid, which may inactivate certain starch-digesting enzymes, slowing carbohydrate digestion," said lead researcher Carol Johnston. In fact, vinegar's effects may be similar to those of the blood sugar -- lowering medication acarbose (Precose).

Before you eat that fettuccine, enjoy a salad with this dressing: Whisk 3 tablespoons vinegar, 2 tablespoons flaxseed oil, 1 clove garlic (crushed), 1/4 teaspoon honey, 3 tablespoons yogurt, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. (Makes four 2-tablespoon servings.)

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Ditch Your Car

Walk as much as you can every day. You'll be healthier -- even if you don't lose any weight

People in a Finnish study who exercised the most -- up to 4 hours a week, or about 35 minutes a day -- dropped their risk of diabetes by 80 percent, even if they didn't lose any weight. This pattern holds up in study after study: The famed Nurses' Health Study, for example, found that women who worked up a sweat more than once a week reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 30 percent. And Chinese researchers determined that people with high blood sugar who engaged in moderate exercise (and made other lifestyle changes) were 40 percent less likely to develop full-blown diabetes.

Why is walking so wonderful? Studies show that exercise helps your body utilize the hormone insulin more efficiently by increasing the number of insulin receptors on your cells. Insulin helps blood sugar move into cells, where it needs to go to provide energy and nutrition. Otherwise it just sloshes around in your bloodstream, gumming up blood vessel walls and eventually causing serious health problems.

12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Be a Cereal Connoisseur

Selecting the right cereal can help you slim down and steady blood sugar.

A higher whole grain intake is also linked to lower rates of breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke -- and cereal is one of the best sources of these lifesaving grains, if you know what to shop for.

Look for the words high fiber on the box; that ensures at least 5 g per serving. But don't stop there. Check the label; in some brands, the benefits of fiber are overshadowed by the addition of refined grains, added sugar, or cholesterol-raising fats.

Where that fiber comes from matters too, so check the ingredient list to find out exactly what those flakes or squares are made from. Millet, amaranth, quinoa, and oats are always whole grain, but if you don't see whole in front of wheat, corn, barley, or rice, these grains have been refined and aren't as healthy.

And watch out for for hidden sugar. The "total sugars" listing doesn't distinguish between added and naturally occurring sugars; the best way to tell is scan the ingredients again. The following terms represent added sugars: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sugar, and sucrose. Skip cereals that list any of these within the first three ingredients (which are listed by weight).

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12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Indulge Your Coffee Cravings

If you're a coffee fan, keep on sipping. The beverage may keep diabetes at bay.

After they studied 126,210 women and men, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that big-time coffee drinkers -- those who downed more than 6 daily cups -- had a 29 to 54 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes during the 18-year study. Sipping 4 to 5 cups cut risk about 29 percent; 1 to 3 cups per day had little effect.

Decaf coffee offered no protection. But caffeine in other forms -- tea, soda, chocolate -- did. Researchers suspect that caffeine may help by boosting metabolism. And coffee, the major caffeine source in the study, also contains potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants that help cells absorb sugar.

But before you become a VIP at Dunkin Donuts, remember that a medium chain-store cuppa is about 14 to 16 ounces -- right there, that's 2 "cups" by standard measures.

12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Ditch the Drive-Thru

You might get away with an occasional fast-food splurge, but become a regular "fast feeder" and your risk of diabetes skyrockets.

That's what University of Minnesota scientists found after they studied 3,000 people, ages 18 to 30, for 15 years. At the start, everyone was at a normal weight. But those who ate fast food more than twice a week gained 10 more pounds and developed twice the rate of insulin resistance -- the two major risk factors for type 2 diabetes -- compared with those who indulged less than once a week.

In addition to the jumbo portions, many fast food meals are loaded with unhealthy trans fats and refined carbohydrates, which may raise diabetes risk even if your weight remains stable. A better bet: Keep a baggie of DIY trail mix in your purse at all times in case hunger pangs come on. Nuts are known blood sugar-lowerers.

12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Go Veggie More Often

Consider red meat a treat -- not something to eat every day.

Women who ate red meat at least 5 times a week had a 29 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate it less than once a week, found a 37,000-woman study at Brigham and Women's Hospital. And eating processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs at least 5 times a week raised type 2 diabetes risk by 43 percent, compared with eating them less than once a week. The culprits? Scientists suspect the cholesterol in red meat and the additives in processed meat are to blame.

Try these two delicious dishes for a filling, meat-free entree: Stuffed Peppers Provence-Style and Pasta Primavera. Both recipes are high in calcium and fiber, two of the powerful nutrients behind Prevention's Diabetes DTOUR Diet plan.

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12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Spice Up Your Life

Cinnamon may help rein in high blood sugar.

German researchers studied 65 adults with type 2 diabetes who then took a capsule containing the equivalent of 1 g of cinnamon powder or a placebo 3 times a day for 4 months. By the end, cinnamon reduced blood sugar by about 10 percent; the placebo users improved by only 4 percent.

Why? Compounds in cinnamon may activate enzymes that stimulate insulin receptors. The sweet spice has also been shown to help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, blood fats that may contribute to diabetes risk.

12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Unwind Every Day

Chronic stress can send blood sugar levels soaring.

When you're stressed, your body is primed to take action. This gearing up causes your heart to beat faster, your breath to quicken, and your stomach to knot. But it also triggers your blood sugar levels to skyrocket.

"Under stress, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, raising blood sugar levels to prepare you for action," says Richard Surwit,author of The Mind-Body Diabetes Revolution and chief of medical psychology at Duke University.

If your cells are insulin resistant, the sugar builds up in your blood, with nowhere to go -- leading to chronically high levels. The good news is, simple relaxation exercises and other stress management moves can help you gain control over blood sugar levels, according to a study conducted at Duke University. Try these proven relaxers:

Start your day with yoga, meditation, or a walk.

Take three deep, slow breaths before answering the phone, starting the car, serving the kids lunch, or any other activity.

Reclaim your Sundays as a day of rest or fun with your family, relaxing, worship, etc. Try to avoid spending the whole day on obligatory errands such as mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, or catching up on work.

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12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Get a Perfect Night's Rest

There's a sleep sweet spot when it comes to preventing diabetes.

A Yale University study of 1,709 men found that those who regularly got less than 6 hours of shut-eye doubled their diabetes risk; those who slept more than 8 hours tripled their odds. Previous studies have turned up similar findings in women. "When you sleep too little -- or too long because of sleep apnea -- your nervous system stays on alert," says lead researcher Dr. Klar Yaggi, an assistant professor of pulmonary medicine at Yale. This interferes with hormones that regulate blood sugar.

A Columbia University study found that sleeping less than 5 hours also doubled the risk of high blood pressure. For a good night's rest, avoid caffeine after noon, leave work at the office, and skip late-night TV. Oversleeping may be a sign of depression or a treatable sleep disorder, so talk with your doctor.

12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Keep Good Company

Diabetes is more likely to strike women who live alone.

Women who live alone are 2.5 times more likely to develop diabetes than women who live with a partner, other adults, or children, according to a study published in Diabetes Care. Researchers examined what role household status played in the progression of impaired glucose tolerance to diabetes among 461 women, ages 50 to 64, and found higher risk among women living alone.

But don't freak out if you live solo: Lifestyle factors could explain this finding. Women who lived alone were also more likely to smoke and less likely to have healthy dietary habits or consume alcohol.

12 Ways to Avoid Diabetes

Have a Blood Test

Many diabetes symptoms are silent, but a simple blood test can reveal whether sugar levels put you at risk for the condition.

People with prediabetes -- slightly elevated blood sugar levels, between 100 and 125 mg/dl -- often develop a full-blown case within 10 years. Knowing your blood sugar levels are a little high can put you on a track to steadying them -- with simple diet and exercise changes -- before diabetes sets in and medications may be necessary.

Everyone 45 and older should have their blood sugar levels tested. Younger people who have risk factors such as being overweight, a family history, and high cholesterol and blood pressure should ask a doctor about getting tested sooner. If results are normal, get tested again within 3 years. If you have prediabetes, blood sugar should be tested again in 1 to 2 years.

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