Tips on Reducing Your Risk of Developing Diabetes

Just because African-Americans are at a higher risk for diabetes doesn't mean we can't do anything to prevent it.

Posted: 03/28/2011 08:15 AM EDT

Like so many African-Americans, type 2 diabetes runs in my family. I've had two grandparents who've had limbs amputated because of it. From those experiences, I realized that I don't want that to happen to me. But keeping it real, the statistics are depressing and sometimes it feels like poor health is our destiny.

Fifteen percent of all African-Americans who are 20 and older have diabetes; 25 percent of African-Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes; and 25 percent of African-American women over 55 have diabetes. Diabetes can lead to other serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputations, nerve damage and even death.

But the good news is that diabetes doesn't have to be our problem—there are lifestyle changes that we can all make in order to reduce our risk of developing the disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program offers up these prevention tips.  

Aim to lose at least 5 to 7 percent of your current weight—that’s 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person. Lose a small amount of weight by getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, five days a week and eating foods lower in calories and fat.

For support, team up with friends and family to help you lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. Ask your family and friends to help you stick to your program. Involve them in your activities. You can help each other move more, eat less and live a healthier life.

Make healthy food choices every day. Start with small changes, like ordering the smallest size meal instead of the larger, super-sized version at fast-food restaurants. Choose carbs that have lots of fiber such as fresh fruits and vegetables from every color of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, white, green, blue and purple. Eat calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese.

Make time to prepare and cook healthy foods. Freeze portions so you have healthy meals ready for days when you’re too tired or don’t have time to cook. Instead of fried chicken, try it grilled, baked or broiled. Use vegetable or canola oil when you choose to fry. For a main dish, try low-fat macaroni and cheese served with your favorite vegetable and a salad. A baked sweet potato topped with reduced-fat or fat-free sour cream is a good option for a side dish.

Cut down on food portion sizes. The portion size that you are used to eating may be equal to two or three standard servings—which equals double or triple the calories and fat! Portion sizes are often smaller than you think. Compare serving sizes to everyday objects. For example, one serving of cereal is about the size of a closed fist. Three ounces of lean meat or fish is about the size of a deck of cards.

Drink water instead of sweetened fruit drinks and soda. Find a water bottle you really like from your church, community organization or favorite sports team and drink water from it wherever and whenever you can. Drink a glass of water 10 minutes before your meal to take the edge off your hunger. (Related: Scientists Find New Tool in Fight Against Diabetes)

Increase your activity level by walking more often. Schedule “walking dates” with friends or family members throughout the week. Organize a walking group with your neighbors, coworkers or church members. Take your dog—or a friend’s dog—for a brisk walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator to your office. Deliver a message in person to a coworker instead of sending an email.

Test your risk for type 2 diabetes at the American Diabetes Association.

Related: Scientists Find New Tool in Fight Against Diabetes

(Photo: Georgetown Law School)