How to prevent heart disease and diabetes

In breaking news this week, Paula Deen, the queen of southern cooking, confirmed her recent diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, a disease that is frequently a testament to the chronic health problems associated with a high-fat, high-calorie diet. The host of the popular Food Network show Paula’s Home Cooking also confirmed her deal to endorse a diabetes medication frompharmaceutical company Novartis. Deen’s curative approach using medication is typical of many Americans, but do you really need to wait until you’re plagued with health problems to finally change your lifestyle? Absolutely not. We turned to with Danine Fruge, associate medical director from Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami, Florida, to get the dish on the power of prevention when it comes to chronic illnesses. Fruge shares her thoughts on Deen and 10 ways to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Woman eating salad

Take your health seriously

Do you really want to start your day with a handful of pills or an injection for the rest of your life? That is often the case when it comes to treating chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Sure, medication can come to the rescue, but you don’t have to wait until you’ve developed a life-altering health condition to start taking care of your health. In fact, Fruge says simple lifestyle changes starting now can help keep you free of chronic disease.

“I’ve seen countless people control and even reverse the disease process, but medicine is only a Band-Aid,” the Pritikin expert says. “People need to be aggressive about modifying their lifestyles, diets and exercise regimens, because if people are rigorous about these changes, they can ward off the diseases – it’s a real option.”

Fruge doesn’t just talk the talk, she also walks the walk. She has helped countless Pritikin patients reap the benefits of a diet focused on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, along with modest amounts of nonfat dairy products and fish, to live a healthier and longer life.

Diabetes is no joke

Paula Deen’s high-fat and high-calorie diet isn’t too far from the typical Western diet and her curative approach is also the all-too-common scenario for many Americans. Heart disease ranks as the No. 1 killer in the US, and nearly 26 million Americans suffer from diabetes. Both diseases are preventable.

“Deen’s curative approach is an important first-step – kudos to Deen for taking her diagnosis seriously,” commends Fruge. “Too many people don’t get tested, and don’t get treated, yet diabetes is a serious disease.”

Despite the media storm poking fun at Deen’s diabetes-causing Southern dishes, Fruge stresses that “diabetes is not a joke.” She adds, “Nobody is perfect, but diabetes and the associated diseases are debilitating and can be life-threatening, so it’s very important to focus on being healthy with lifestyle choices, exercise and diet, and don’t give up.”

10 Tips to avoid heart disease and diabetes

Here are Fruge’s 10 lifestyle tips to adopt today to help prevent heart disease and diabetes.


Turn to super-size salads, bean-and-veggie soups, whole grains and fruit

Most diets require you to eat less, but Fruge actually suggests eating more. “Our participants at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida start every lunch and dinner with a very large salad full of leafy greens and other fresh vegetables, topped with our made-from-scratch, oil-free salad dressings,” Fruge explains. “Super-sizing actually makes good sense when applied to salads.”

Having a hard time believing dietary changes can protect your health? The results of the Pritikin Program speak for themselves. More than 100 studies in peer-reviewed medical journals have documented the program’s benefits in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Eliminate empty-calorie drinks

Water with lemon

Did you know that for the average American, one in every five calories consumed comes from a beverage? The problem is that liquid calories don’t do much to satisfy your hunger. “The Pritikin Program recommends cutting out sugar-dense soft drinks, 1 percent, 2 percent and whole milk, and even fruit juices. One glass of orange juice has twice the calories (100 to 110) of a whole orange (50) – or about the same as in a regular soft drink,” explains Fruge. “Rather than drinking fruit juice, eat your fruit. For the calories in one large glass of apple juice, you can enjoy an apple, an orange, and a slice of watermelon. These whole foods have a lot more ‘staying’ power than their liquid counterparts.”


Fill up on low-calorie, nutrient-dense fare

Losing weight is key to preventing or controlling Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Fruge suggests focusing more on calorie density and less on calorie counting. “Five hundred calories of low-calorie-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, salads and soups, which are bulked up by fiber and water, do a very good job of filling your stomach completely, which means your stomach then sends ‘you’ve had enough to eat’ signals to your brain,” says Fruge. “High-calorie-dense foods like cheeses, sugar-rich snacks and dry foods like crackers and dry cereals do just the opposite. They’re small in size (one bite of cheese has about the same calories as a big bunch of grapes), so they only begin to fill our stomachs and naturally leave us hunting around for more to eat.”


Be a healthy snacker


Think outside the package when it comes to snacks. “Every snack counts, and choosing healthier options like nonfat yogurt and fruit will keep you satiated and energized without packing on the pounds,” states Fruge. “Other superb low-calorie-dense snack options are baked potatoes (yes, potatoes!) topped with fresh salsa or nonfat sour cream and chives, corn on the cob, fresh veggies like carrots and red bell peppers and, of course, a big delicious apple or other fresh fruit.”


Sit less, walk more

Pedometer and running shoes

“We were meant to chase lunch, not order it,” Fruge points out. “And walking is one of the easiest ways to stay active: If you walk an extra mile a day, you’ll lose 10 pounds in a year. Buy a pedometer to track your step count.” Another health-promoting benefit of exercise is that is helps keep blood sugar under control with less insulin. “That is really important because the less insulin you’re pumping out, the less likely you’ll gain body fat, especially belly fat, a particularly dangerous form of fat that is linked with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Fruge adds.


Shake the salt habit

Did you know that many breads contain more salt, ounce for ounce, than French fries or potato chips? That’s a shock, but Fruge says huge amounts of salt have snuck into all kinds of foods on the supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. The danger is that too much salt can hurt your heart. “Almost all Americans will develop high blood pressure, which dramatically increases your risk of everything from dementia to cardiovascular events like strokes and heart attacks,” she warns. “When grocery shopping, here’s a simple rule: Buy foods in which the milligrams of sodium in a serving size do not exceed the calories.” For example, if a food product has 100 calories per serving, don’t buy it unless it has 100 milligrams or less of sodium.


Stop waiting, start weighting

Fruge is a strong advocate of weight lifting. “To rev up your metabolism and burn more calories even when you’re sitting, start lifting weights,” she advises. “The good news is that a mere 15 to 30 minutes two to three times a week, along with aerobic exercise, can change your body composition so that you’re losing body fat and gaining lean muscle.”


Go for lean protein

The Pritikin Plan reduces your intake of saturated fat, which will reduce your risk of heart disease. “Too much saturated fat, found in red meats and whole-milk dairy products, will raise your blood cholesterol,” explains Fruge. “Nuts are a healthier choice, but beware they’re also high-calorie-dense. The best fats for your heart are omega-3s, found in fish.”


Forget fast food

Fast food salad

Think twice before heading to the drive-through. “Fast-food restaurants are part feedlots and part salt licks,” jokes Fruge. “Two large orders of fries and two regular soft drinks provide enough calories to sustain a 135-pound person for an entire day without eating anything else. Of course, no one exists on just two orders of fries and two soft drinks in a typical day, which is exactly why 135-pound Americans are an endangered species.” If you do go to a fast-food restaurant, order healthier choices, such as green salads, yogurt and fruit, and oatmeal. However, Fruge warns, “if one whiff of French fries sends your healthy intentions out the door, don’t walk in the door.”


Control stress — don’t let it control you and your health

A healthy lifestyle isn’t just about diet and exercise. “The link between our emotions and health can’t be overstated,” says Fruge. “One study found that people who didn’t take annual vacations were 32 percent more likely to die of heart disease. Managing stress by getting enough sleep, making time for friends and loved ones, and trying techniques like meditation will help keep your heart and overall health in shape.”

More on diabetes

3 Tips for diabetes awareness
Diabetes tips: Exercise to manage the disease
Signs of diabetes and treatment options