You may not have a family history of diabetes, but that doesn’t mean you should be in the dark about some of its lesser known causes.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children after it is determined that their bodies don’t produce enough insulin. Believe it or not, only 5 percent of the population is diagnosed as having Type 1 diabetes. The most common form of the disease is Type 2 — otherwise known as insulin resistance. It can occur at any age and even during pregnancy.
Most of us probably assume it’s a disease reserved solely for those of us who have a major sweet tooth and can’t quit candy. Consider that the first myth worth debunking. The truth of the matter, says Kristine Arthur, M.D., internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, is that there are many other lifestyle and diet choices that come into play when a patient is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
“Diabetes can be caused by a number of things including genetics,” Arthur says. “Some people can eat very well, control their weight and exercise, but still become diabetic due to family history. However, there are a number of lifestyle factors that play a big role in causing diabetes as well.”
Arthur clues us in to seven causes of diabetes you may not know about.
1. Being overweight. If you need another good reason to make your health and maintaining a normal weight and body mass index a priority, this should be it. Obesity puts someone at higher risk for developing diabetes, no matter how many times we hear that it’s possible to be overweight and in good shape. “People may say that they are obese but ‘healthy.’ This may be true today, but after years of carrying excess pounds, they are at higher risk for becoming insulin resistant and eventually diabetic,” Arthur says. “Even dropping 10 pounds can make a big difference.”
2. Eating too much fruit. Just as you were getting a hang of juicing, here comes a majorly disappointing fact: Fruit is loaded with sugar and most fruits contain no protein or healthy fat. “While fruit does have health benefits and important vitamins and nutrients, it should be eaten in moderation,” Arthur says. “The fiber is beneficial, but won’t negate the sugar content. People who drink a lot of juice need to be particularly careful because without the fiber, juice will spike blood sugar quickly — causing a subsequent rise in insulin. This is one reason why juicing can be unhealthy. If you want to juice, try using low sugar vegetable juices like kale, celery, cucumber, or parsley and be sure to eat protein as well.”
3. Eating artificial sweeteners. If natural sugar can cause diabetes, the solution must be to load up on “diet” foods to trick our bodies, right? Nope — artificially sweetened products can actually be worse than the real thing because they allow us to fool ourselves into thinking we can consume more of them. “Besides being chemicals, most artificial sweeteners actually make us crave more sugar and overeat,” Arthur says. “We are also finding that people who drink large amounts of diet soda are at higher risk for developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Using a small amount of regular sugar or honey is a better option. Additionally, many of the pastries labeled ‘sugar free’ still have quite a few calories and can lead to weight gain.”
4. Eating too many ‘healthy’ carbs. While it is good to replace white bread and white rice with whole wheat bread and brown rice, they are still not “freebies,” Arthur explains. Carbs made from whole wheat or that are considered healthier for you can have high carbohydrate counts and can cause high blood sugar and weight gain — just like the bad carbs you’re trying to avoid. “When picking foods like bread, rice, tortillas or pasta, it is better to pick whole grain/high fiber; however, it is very important to pay attention to the serving size and think of it more as a side dish instead of a meal,” Arthur says.
5. Depending on exercise alone. If you spend all of your free time in the gym, but use it as an excuse to eat whatever you want, you’re not doing your health any favors. “For some people who are extreme exercisers (think Olympic athletes), high carb meals are burned off quickly,” Arthur says. “For the rest of us, even if we spend an hour walking or make a trip to the gym every day, it is still vital to follow a careful, balanced diet. Studies do show that exercise is helpful to balance blood sugar levels and it is important to do; however, don’t ignore the nutrition aspect. Walking a few miles won’t necessarily undo the damage from overeating.”
6. Skipping meals. Skipping meals to maintain your weight can actually make you gain weight in the long run and wreak havoc on your blood sugar. “The best way to keep blood sugar and insulin balanced is to eat several small meals with snacks throughout the day,” Arthur says. “Try to balance protein and carbs at each meal or snack and add some healthy fats.”
7. Thinking diabetes is unavoidable. It’s disheartening to be told by your doctor that there is a good chance you’ll develop diabetes as a result of your diet or lifestyle — but Arthur cautions against giving up and resigning to a lifetime of insulin shots before absolutely necessary. “If you address the problem early, your doctor can sit down with you and make a plan,” Arthur says. “There is a good chance that making a change in your diet and lifestyle can prevent the progression to diabetes.”