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Preventing Diabetes

At present, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. The environmental triggers that are thought to generate the process that results in the destruction of the body’s insulin-producing cells are still under investigation.

Lifestyle changes

There is a lot of evidence that lifestyle changes (achieving a healthy body weight and moderate physical activity) can help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.

  • Obesity, particularly abdominal obesity, is linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. Weight loss improves insulin resistance and reduces hypertension. People who are overweight or obese should therefore be encouraged to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Physical activity is one of the main pillars in the prevention of diabetes. Increased physical activity is important in maintaining weight loss and is linked to reduced blood pressure, reduced resting heart rate, increased insulin sensitivity, improved body composition and psychological well-being.
  • A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for health. A healthy diet reduces risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
  • Smoking: a well-established risk factor for many chronic diseases, including diabetes and its complications. As well as other harmful effects, smoking increases abdominal fat accumulation and insulin resistance. All smokers should be encouraged to quit smoking. However, weight gain is common when quitting smoking and therefore dietary advice on avoiding weight gain should also be given (e.g. managing cravings and withdrawal symptoms by using short bouts of physical activity as a stress-relief activity, rather than eating snacks).
  • Stress and depression: There is evidence of a link between depression and both diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Sleeping patterns: Both short (<6h) and long (>9h) sleep durations may be associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation may impair the balance of hormones regulating food intake and energy balance. Long sleep durations may be a sign of sleep-disordered breathing or depression and should be treated appropriately. There is also a close association between obesity and obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSA), the most common form of sleep disordered breathing.

Healthy eating

Individuals can reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by:

  1. Choosing water or unsweetened coffee or tea instead of fruit juice, soda, and other sugar sweetened beverages.
  2. Eating at least three servings of vegetables every day, including green leafy vegetables such as palak, greens, etc.
  3. Eating up to three servings of fresh fruit every day.
  4. Choosing nuts, a piece of fresh fruit or sugar-free yoghurt for a snack.
  5. Limiting your alcohol intake to a maximum of two standard drinks per day.
  6. Choosing lean cuts of white meat, poultry and seafood instead of processed meat or red meat.
  7. Choosing peanut butter instead of chocolate spread or jam to spread on bread.
  8. Choosing whole-grain bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, whole grain pasta instead of refined pasta.
  9. Choosing unsaturated fats (olive oil or sunflower oil) instead of saturated fats (butter, ghee, animal fat, coconut oil or palm oil).
  10. Eating a healthy breakfast decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as it helps to control appetite and blood glucose concentrations in both adults and children. Skipping breakfast is also associated with weight gain.

Related Resources

  1. International Diabetes Foundation
  2. World Health Organisation


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