“How’s your blood sugar?” While this isn’t your typical greeting, November is a great time to become mindful of the primary source of energy that flows through your body: sugar. Why? Because it’s National Diabetes Month.
Why should this matter to you now?
Blood sugar (aka glucose) is an essential fuel for your brain and muscles. You need it to think clearly, study, and move around. And it has to be maintained in a healthy range—neither too high nor too low. When your body can’t balance your blood sugar very well, you can end up with levels that spike too high for too long. This can have a lot of long-term consequences, like vision loss, kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke. Uncontrolled blood sugar can also lead to diabetes, no matter your age.
Who is at risk for diabetes?
Diabetes and prediabetes (“before” diabetes—when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis) can happen to anyone, whether you’re younger, older, or even during an otherwise completely healthy pregnancy.
You might be surprised to learn that a whopping 90 percent of people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 25 percent of people with diagnosable diabetes don’t know they have it either.
There are a few types of diabetes:
- Type 1 is genetically inherited and is also called juvenile.
- Type 2 was originally called adult-onset diabetes but is now becoming increasingly common among young people—even children. In recent years, more and more people under the age of 20 are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The rate of type 2 diabetes diagnoses in the under-20 crowd is increasing faster than those being diagnosed with type 1.
- A third type is gestational diabetes, and it can happen to any pregnant person—no matter how healthy they are.
Risk factors and symptoms of diabetes
Diabetes doesn’t manifest overnight. There are many risk factors to keep in mind. These include:
- having excess weight
- having a parent or sibling with diabetes
- being physically active less than three times per week
- if you’ve ever had gestational diabetes
Some of the typical signs and symptoms of diabetes include fatigue, blurred vision, thirst, nausea, or frequent urination. Talk to your doctor to see if you should get a simple blood sugar test to check for prediabetes or diabetes.
How to reduce your risk of diabetes
Boosting healthy habits can help cut your risk of diabetes in half. The CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program recommends eating healthy, getting more physical activity (at least 30 minutes per day), and losing even 5–7 percent of your body weight if you have excess weight.
The best part about making these dietary and lifestyle changes is that they also reduce your risk of other diseases, like heart disease and some cancers, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
A good tip for us all: Watch your sugar and starch intake
A key tip to help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels is to pay attention to the amount of sugars and starches in your diet. Avoid sugary beverages like soda, fruit juice, and energy drinks, and limit foods made with refined starches like white bread, white rice, and pastries. Eat more foods like lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains with fiber. These won’t cause dramatic spikes in your blood sugar.
Diabetes is not inevitable. You can take action now to build healthy habits and significantly reduce your risk down the road. Use National Diabetes Month to become aware of the role that optimal blood sugar plays in your health. It can help you kick-start a healthier you.
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