On the road to diabetes? Here’s your exit

This summer’s top horror story doesn’t feature Lord Voldemort, your tan line or watching the Houston Astros.

The villains: metabolic syndrome and prediabetes, two scary blood sugar problems rising faster than gas prices.

Don’t brush them off as “not my problem,” and don’t skip this column because it feels like a downer. There’s a feel-good twist at the end that could save your life.

Here’s the deal: There’s a very good chance that you or someone you know already has one of these silent conditions. But have you ever heard anyone but us docs talking about metabolic syndrome and prediabetes? Nope. So we’re making some noise. Both disorders put you on the expressway to type 2 diabetes.

Like ambitious socialites who’ve scored their own reality TV shows, prediabetes and metabolic syndrome have built huge followings: 79 million Americans and 6 million Canadians have prediabetes; almost as many more have metabolic syndrome (a cluster of problems that set you up for diabetes).

Finding out you have one of these conditions can be a shocker. But there’s an upside: It means there’s time to make the YOU-turn that’ll keep you from developing full-blown diabetes and its devastating consequences: heart attacks and strokes, nerve damage, vision loss, kidney failure and more.

Are you on the highway to the big “D”? A major tip-off is buying ever-bigger belts. Ask your doc for a fasting blood sugar test. If the results are 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter, chances are you’ve got prediabetes. If you’ve got any three of these — a waist over 35 inches for women, 39 inches for men; blood pressure higher than 129/84; high blood sugar; high triglycerides; low good cholesterol (HDL under 50) — you’ve got metabolic syndrome. If you’ve got even one of them, these six steps will slash your risk. Here’s where things start tasting good. We promise!

  1. Become a regular at your local farm stand. This alone can prevent diabetes! Chowing down on produce cuts your risk by 24 percent or more, thanks partly to all that blood-sugar-steadying fiber. New evidence shows that just having some tangy arugula, crunchy baby spinach or tender bok choy daily could lower your odds by 14 percent. The magnesium and polyphenols in leafy greens also help you stay sensitive to insulin — essential for blood sugar absorption.
  2. Switch your fancy coffee drink to sugarless, fat-free chai latte. Chugging just one sugar-loaded drink a day boosts diabetes risk 26 percent and metabolic syndrome 20 percent. Substituting an ice-cold glass of skim milk does the opposite: It cuts your risk 12 percent. Nonfat yogurt and cheese count, too; the calcium, vitamin D and minerals in dairy help your body process blood sugar.
  3. Gotta grill? Choose salmon or marinated chicken breasts. The nitrites and saturated fats in the processed meats that frequent grills (think hot dogs, knockwurst) boost diabetes risk 19 percent (and fuel cancer and heart troubles, too.) Great alternatives: skinless white-meat turkey, juicy Portobello “steaks,” veggie burgers or, rarely, burgers made with extra-lean, grass-fed beef. Marinate anything you grill for 15 minutes. It cuts up to 85 percent of HCAs, the cancer-causing compounds caused by high-heat grilling. Add any of these herbs to the marinade (all may decrease HCAs): rosemary, basil, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, thyme.
  4. Walk smarter. Daily exercise deters diabetes by helping your cells absorb blood sugar. Get a bigger bang by adding short spurts of speed here and there during your routine. Start with 15 seconds and work up to a couple of all-out minutes. Pushing yourself like this boosts insulin sensitivity. It burns more fat, too!
  5. Sprinkle chopped nuts on salads, asparagus, oatmeal, yogurt. The healthy fats in nuts can whack diabetes risk 21 percent. Nuts have lots of calories (14 walnut halves have 185), so either stick with a small handful or buy pre-chopped. A daily tablespoon of chopped walnuts will do ya, and it has just 47 calories.
  6. Go for more bliss, less stress. Don’t wait for vacations to tame tension. Both high anxiety and lack of sleep mess up blood sugar absorption. Getting fewer than six hours of Z’s a night doubles diabetes risk. So does having a high-stress job. Ease your angst by turning in earlier, exercising to blow off steam and finding a stress-reduction technique you love (we do yoga or meditate). It’ll put the “ahh” back in everyday life. You deserve it.

The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of “YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV. To submit questions, go to www.RealAge.com.

SF Examiner
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SF Examiner

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