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9 doctor-approved ways to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes

Dr Sandro Demaio

6 minute read
Dr Sandro Demaio standing in front of a windowCredit: Cath Muscat

More than 1.2 million Australians over the age of 18 now live with type 2 diabetes – a chronic disease where our body becomes resistant to insulin, or gradually stops producing enough.

Insulin is an important hormone that controls the removal of sugar from our blood and allows the efficient transport of that sugar into our cells for use as energy. When insulin is not being produced, or our body is not able to respond to insulin efficiently, sugar is left in the bloodstream resulting in high blood sugar levels and a shortage of energy to power our cells. This can lead to feelings of tiredness, persistent hunger despite eating, mood swings, headaches and dizziness. Long-term raised sugar levels can damage our kidneys, eyes, nerves, blood vessels and more.

Type 2 diabetes is most common among those of us aged over 45, but it’s now becoming more common in younger adults and even children. So, how do you know if you’re at risk?

The five key risk factors to be aware of are:

  • A family history of type 2 diabetes and/or heart disease, particularly in close relatives and at a young age
  • Being overweight
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having high blood fats or cholesterol, or low levels of healthy blood fats
  • Having high blood pressure

Excluding genetic and age-related drivers of the disease, many of the other contributing factors for type 2 diabetes are modifiable – meaning we can all make small changes at home or work to reduce our risk.

A girl eating a green apple on the street

Here are my nine quick tips for reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and improving your overall health and wellbeing.

1. Know the symptoms of type 2 diabetes

The hallmark early symptoms of type 2 diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent or increased urination (especially at night), excessive hunger, fatigue, blurry vision or sores or cuts that won’t heal. If you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, get in touch with your GP. Diagnosing diabetes earlier leaves you in a better position to manage the disease and avoid nasty complications.

2. Talk about your risk of type 2 diabetes with your GP

It’s always a good idea to ask your GP about your risk of diabetes – particularly if you have a family history or some of the other above risk factors. Regular monitoring by your medical practitioner puts you in the best position to avoid type 2 diabetes entirely, or slow its progression should you start to experience early signs and symptoms.

3. Keep active, everyday

Doing some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes each day is an effective way of reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If you can manage it, 60 minutes is even better! Whether it’s a brisk walk, some gardening or a swim in the local pool, regular physical activity doesn’t just reduce your risk, but also helps you maintain a healthy weight, keeps your body strong and protects your mental wellbeing.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Ensuring your weight is in the “healthy” range is an important part of reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. In particular, ensuring you avoid a build-up of weight around your waistline, where extra fat is particularly dangerous to your health. Enjoying a balanced, diverse diet and exercising regularly to maintain your weight will reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as other chronic diseases.

5. Eat a deliciously balanced diet

By eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruit, dairy and some lean meat, you minimise your disease risk and provide your body with the adequate nutrition it needs to function optimally. Combine it with olive oil as a healthy staple for almost all cooking.

A woman carrying a bowl of salad to a dining table

6. Know your sugar limits

Science suggests excessive sugar consumption is linked to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. In particular, it’s linked to the consumption of ‘free sugars’, referring to sugar added to foods or concentrated through juicing or drying. Free sugars are harmful to your health when consumed at higher levels than what is recommended. If you’re an adult male, guidelines state you should consume no more than 25g of free sugars per day – around six teaspoons total – and for an adult woman, it is a little less again.

7. Keep an eye out for sugar by any other name

Sugar can be lurking in food products under an alias so it’s important to get to know sugar by its many other names. These include sucrose, fructose syrup, golden syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice, agave syrup, invert sugar, malt syrup or molasses to name a few. While they’re not labelled as sugar, these alternative sweeteners still trigger very similar effects in your body when you consume them, meaning they can still contribute to weight gain and your risk of type 2 diabetes.

8. Quit sugary drinks

This includes carbonated drinks, flavoured milk and energy drinks with added sugars, as well as cordials and fruit juices. These drinks provide little or no nutritional value and are a major source of calories with just one 600ml bottle of sugary drink containing up to 16 teaspoons of sugar. That’s more than double the recommended daily intake! Ditching the sugary drinks is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk.

9. Avoid processed foods high in fat and salt

As type 2 diabetes is associated with high blood fats or cholesterol as well as high blood pressure, it is important to avoid foods loaded in saturated fat like cream, processed meats, pastries and sweet biscuits, avoid trans fats altogether and reduce salt to less than 5g total per day.

For more health, wellbeing and nutrition tips, check out The Check Up's dedicated Healthy Living section.

The tips throughout this article serve as broad advice and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of type 2 diabetes or want to learn more about your risk, make an appointment to speak to your medical practitioner to receive advice and management options based on your personal situation.

Co-host of the ABC TV series ‘Ask the Doctor’, author of 30 scientific papers and ‘The Doctor’s Diet’ (a cookbook based on science), Dr Sandro Demaio is an Aussie medical doctor and global expert on non-communicable diseases.

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