Too sweet for comfort: Are you at risk for diabetes?

Understanding the risk factors for diabetes is key to prevention and management. Learn about them, how to reduce your risk, and improve your overall health.

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a condition where your blood glucose levels become too high due to the body’s inability to produce or use insulin effectively.

Glucose is the primary source of energy for your body, obtained from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps transport glucose from your blood into cells to produce energy.

When there is insufficient insulin or the body doesn’t use it effectively, glucose accumulates in the blood instead of being utilized by cells.

Diabetes risk factors

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 is caused by an immune system reaction where the body mistakenly attacks itself. The exact causes of this type of diabetes are not fully understood, but it’s believed that certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These risk factors include:

  • Having a family history of type 1 diabetes
  • Being of certain age groups, such as children, teens, or young adults
  • Being of certain races or ethnicities, with White people in the United States being more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than African American and Hispanic or Latino people

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that can affect anyone. It involves insulin resistance, where the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disease, including:

  • Having prediabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years or older
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds
  • Being from certain ethnic or racial groups, such as African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, or Asian American
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is also a risk factor for type 2 diabetes


Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing prediabetes, including:

  • Being overweight
  • 45 years or older
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically inactive
  • Javing a history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds
  • Being from certain ethnic or racial groups, such as African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, or Asian American

Gestational diabetes

If you’re pregnant, you’re at risk for gestational diabetes if you:

  • Had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Have given birth to a baby who weighed over 9 pounds
  • Are overweight
  • Are over 25 years old
  • Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Have a hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Belong to African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander ethnic groups

While gestational diabetes typically resolves after giving birth, it increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Additionally, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are at higher risk for obesity as children and adolescents, as well as for developing type 2 diabetes later on.

Monogenic diabetes

Monogenic diabetes is caused by a mutation in a single gene that affects insulin production, leading to high blood sugar levels. The risk factors for monogenic diabetes include:

  • Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with monogenic diabetes increases the risk of developing the condition
  • Typically develops in childhood or early adulthood
  • Being in certain ethnic groups, such as Ashkenazi Jews
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes during pregnancy may be at increased risk of developing monogenic diabetes later in life

How to prevent diabetes?

If you’re at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes due to factors such as excess weight or obesity, high cholesterol, or a family history of the disease, making lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your chances of developing it. Prevention is crucial, and it’s never too late to start taking action.

Lose extra weight

If you’re at an increased risk of developing diabetes because you’re overweight or obese, it’s important to make lifestyle changes to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

In a large study, participants were able to reduce their risk of developing diabetes by almost 60% by losing approximately 7% of their body weight through changes in exercise and diet. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with prediabetes lose at least 7% to 10% of their body weight to prevent disease progression.

To set a weight loss goal, talk to your doctor about reasonable short-term goals and expectations. It’s important to set achievable goals, such as losing weight of about 1 to 2 pounds a week, based on your current body weight.

Be physically active

Regular physical activity offers numerous benefits, including weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and increased insulin sensitivity. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight:

  • Aim to engage in moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week, such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling, or running, for a total of at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Incorporate resistance exercise into your routine at least 2-3 times per week to improve your strength, balance, and ability to maintain an active lifestyle. Resistance training involves various exercises, such as weightlifting, yoga, and calisthenics, among others.
  • Avoiding prolonged periods of inactivity. Break up long periods of sitting or sedentary behavior, such as working at a computer, to help regulate blood sugar levels. Try to stand up, move around, or do some light activity every 30 minutes.

Consume healthy plant-based foods

Incorporating plant-based foods into your diet provides essential vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fiber. Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for your body and can be found in sugars, starches, and fiber.

Fiber, or dietary roughage, is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that cannot be digested or absorbed by the body. Fiber-rich foods promote weight loss and reduce the risk of diabetes. You can include a variety of healthy, fiber-rich foods in your diet, such as:

  • Fruits like tomatoes, peppers, and tree fruits
  • Non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • Legumes like beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Whole grains like whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oats, and quinoa

Fiber provide several benefits, such as slowing the absorption of sugars and reducing blood sugar levels, interfering with the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol, managing risk factors that affect heart health (like blood pressure and inflammation), and increasing satiety to help you eat less.

To promote good health, avoid “bad carbohydrates” high in sugar but low in fiber and nutrients. These foods include white bread and pastries, white flour pasta, fruit juices, and processed foods that contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

Eat healthy fats

To maintain a healthy diet, it’s important to consume fatty foods in moderation, as they tend to be high in calories. Rather than avoiding fats altogether, focus on incorporating foods with unsaturated fats into your diet.

These “good fats” include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and have been shown to promote healthy blood cholesterol levels as well as good heart and vascular health. You can find these fats in sources such as:

  • Olive, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and canola oils
  • Nuts and seeds, including almonds, peanuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and cod

It’s important to limit your consumption of “bad fats,” also known as saturated fats, which are found in dairy products and meats. While these foods can still be a part of your diet, they should be consumed in moderation. To limit your intake of saturated fats, opt for low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of chicken and pork.

Final thoughts

Understanding the risk factors for diabetes and taking steps to prevent the onset of the disease is crucial for maintaining good health. By making lifestyle changes, individuals can reduce their risk of developing diabetes.

It’s never too late to make these changes and start working towards a healthier future. By taking proactive steps to prevent diabetes, individuals can improve their overall health and reduce their risk of complications from the disease. People with diabetes, on the other hand, can lower their risks of developing health complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease, or nerve damage.

If you haven’t had your blood glucose levels checked, it is crucial to promptly do so. Monitoring your blood sugar levels can help you manage your health and prevent serious complications related to diabetes.

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Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered, construed or interpreted as legal or professional advice, guidance or opinion.

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