The Top 10 Ways to Sustainably Prevent Diabetes

The health of the human body and the health of the planet are intricately connected. Diabetes has become an unquestionable global epidemic, with an entire generation of youth in developed and developing countries alike at risk of developing this dangerous disease. The rise of diabetes is connected to, and happening along with, climate change and environmental destruction that will also have deep negative effects on younger and future generations. Focusing on sustainable ways to prevent diabetes can help ensure the health of our children, and the health of the planet that we all depend upon. Here are the top 10 ways to sustainably prevent diabetes!

1. Eat diets based around whole foods, especially plants

The clearest path to preventing diabetes is to eat a diverse, balanced and healthful diet of whole foods. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and certain nuts and seeds have been connected to diabetes prevention. Furthermore, the most sustainable diets around the world are based on whole plant foods, and recent research on “sustainable global diets” has been published with similar findings.

2. Support the local food economy

By shopping at local farmers markets, farms, and cooperatives, or by joining a CSA (community sustained agriculture), one can prevent diabetes and ensure overall health. Health is promoted by eating more fresh, in-season and nutritious foods, all while supporting local economies and sustainable agricultural practices.

3. Healthy school food

In the United States, children consume up to 50% of their calories while at school. Diabetes prevention needs to start young, by following healthful and mindful dietary and lifestyle practices. The school is an enormously important place to both create awareness through education, and to take action through consuming healthful whole foods and being physically active. These objectives not only help to prevent diabetes and ensure overall health and future quality of life for individual children, but also help to strengthen families and communities. “Community-based Farm-to-School Programs” are one great sustainable and integrated solution for getting healthful food into schools while supporting the local food economy.

4. Limit Stress by practicing mindfulness exercises

Living an active and balanced life is a vital component to overall health. The mind and body are intricately connected, and one must take care of both in order to lead a long, productive and fulfilling life. Maintaining mental health is also critical to overall quality of life, and in both the prevention and management of diabetes. Stress, anxiety and depression has been connected to increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are also far more likely to suffer from these mental health conditions after being diagnosed. Practicing mindfulness exercises and daily physical activity has been shown repeatedly to help manage stress and depression, and promote mental balance and happiness.

5. Be physically active

Regular physical activity is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring proper fitness of the muscles, bones, nerves and tissues of the body. Different forms of deliberate physical exercises, such as running, bicycling, swimming, weight-lifting, and team sports, as well as consistent physical movement throughout the day, in the form of walking or physical exertion during work for example, are important factors in the prevention of many chronic diseases, especially type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  On the other hand, sedentary lifestyles in an increasingly urbanized and globalized world, are one of the biggest reasons for the rising global epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

6. Spend more time in nature, green spaces and fresh air

Spending time in nature promotes both physical and mental well-being, typically promoting physical activity and reduction of stress. Supporting the protection of natural spaces also helps preserve ecosystems and quality of life for humans and all other species. Air pollution has also been connected to certain forms of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Supporting regulations for limiting emissions from industry and transportation, and using more efficient technologies and vehicles, are clear ways to ensure air quality and prevent disease.

7. Drink more water, tea and coffee

Drinking healthy beverages is necessary for ensuring overall health. The rising consumption around the world of unhealthy beverages, namely sugar and artificially sweetened drinks, is one of the principle culprits and risk factors for the global epidemics of obesity and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Other drinks, such as 100% fruit juice, milk and alcohol, have both healthy and unhealthy properties, and should be consumed in moderation. People who consume water regularly in place of sweetened beverages are much less likely to gain weight and become obese. Beyond pure water, coffee (caffeinated and decaffeinated) and various types of teas provide numerous healthful benefits when unsweetened, including reducing risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

8. Stop snacking

According to Dr. Barry Popkin, creator of the “Nutrition Transition” paradigm, “Salty snacks, sugar-sweetened beverages and all the other foods consumed as snacks contain far too many calories, and are helping to fuel the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. We need to reduce the number of snacks if we can. If not, the other option is to consume water, unsweetened tea and coffee, and fruit and vegetables only for snacks.”

9. Don’t smoke

The diabetes-smoking connection is very well researched and confirmed at this point, such that smoking should be considered a major modifiable risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. In the United States, thankfully, active smoking is on the decline and laws are being put in place in many cities and states to protect innocent passive (“second-hand”) smokers from the dangers and unpleasantness of cigarette smoke. Nonetheless, smoking remains prevalent in many nations, and is actually increasing in rapidly urbanizing parts of the developing world. There are currently an estimated 1.1 billion smokers globally, and approximately 80% live in low-and-middle income countries.

10. Get a good night’s sleep

Getting “enough” sleep is a fundamental requirement of human function. It is also not just the number of hours of sleep, but the quality of that sleep, that ensures overall restfulness, relaxation and restoration, and the proper functioning of the circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune and nervous systems. Having problems with sleeping is considered a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

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