In the U.S., 29.1 million people have diabetes – and 8.1 million of those don’t even know they have it. For National Diabetes Month, we talked with Bonnie Alexander, RD, an outpatient dietitian, about how to detect and prevent diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder that affects the way your body uses food for growth and energy. Because of problems with the way the body uses insulin, sugar, or glucose, builds up in the blood and passes out of the body in the urine without fulfilling its role as the body’s main source of food. Diabetes makes you more likely to develop other health issues like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

What are some of diabetes symptoms?

Diabetes signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Frequent thirst
  • Headache
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Blurred vision

What causes diabetes?

Diabetes can be caused by factors you can change like:

  • Diet,
  • Exercise and physical activity,
  • Whether you smoke,
  • Weight/obesity, and
  • Stress.

Other causes of diabetes are outside of your control.

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Age
  • Pancreatic insufficiency

Can you develop diabetes at any age?

Yes, diabetes can be developed at any age. Type 2 diabetes generally develops well into adulthood, while Type 1 diabetes is more commonly found at younger ages, ranging from youth into adulthood. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and blood sugar normally returns to normal postpartum, however, occasionally this may develop into type 2 diabetes.

What is your nutrition and lifestyle for people concerned about diabetes?

The best way to prevent or slow the progression of diabetes is leading a general healthy life, including:

  • Balanced diet,
  • Regular exercise,
  • Adequate sleep, and
  • Stress management.

Remember that moderation and variety are vital to a healthy diet. Aim for one to three servings of fruits per day and three to five servings of vegetables per day. Focus on healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, fatty fish and olive oil, as well as lean meats.

Exercise regularly, at least 3 times a week, combining both cardio and strength training exercises. Seeing your primary care doctor at least yearly is also key to prevention and management of diabetes.

Want to learn more about diabetes? Visit our FREE Diabetes Expo on Nov. 11, or find more diabetes and nutrition resources online.