The Sweet Life In America: Diabetes and Heart Disease
It should be no surprise type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic in the U.S. and other countries which have adopted a Western lifestyle. Our processed and convenience foods are saturated with trans fats and high fructose corn syrup (sugar), sucrose (sugar), maltodextrin (sugar), dextrose (sugar), not to mention sugar (sugar) and on and on. We Americans love our sugar-laden, fat-laden foods (deep fried Twinkie anyone?). Sometimes we are getting sugar in places we would not expect. For instance, have you read the ingredients label of your mayonnaise? How about your whole grain bread? It’s almost like you can’t get away from it.
It has become easier to find and avoid fats in foods due to labeling laws, and most of us would love to cut back on sugar as well, but it is ubiquitous and overwhelming. It seems to be in everything including the dressings we put on our healthy salad, the protein-packed peanut butter we spread on our whole grain artisan bread, the granola we mix in with our Greek yogurt – the Greek yogurt itself! It is well known obesity is a major contributing factor to the development of diabetes, especially for those genetically predisposed to the disease. All these trans fats and empty sugar calories, along with increasingly sedentary lifestyles are, quite simply, making us fat and sick.
How big of a health problem is diabetes in the US overall? In 2015, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population, had diabetes. Of those 1.25 million American children and adults had type 1 diabetes. Additionally, 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with it every year. The most concerning statistic, however, is the estimation that about 193,000 of those diagnosed are under the age of 20. Unless something changes drastically, the numbers will just keep growing exponentially; and as those with diabetes age, even if their diabetes is controlled, there is another even more deadly risk.
Diabetes is a serious health problem, but would it surprise you to learn most people over 65 with this disease do not die from it? Instead, 68% of them die from some form of heart disease (and 16% die of stroke). The good news is diabetes is controllable and usually diagnosed before a cardiac incident occurs. Unfortunately, the physical conditions which lead to type 2 diabetes are the usual suspects on the heart disease hit parade as well. You will find conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking on both risk factor lists. Even if you have your diabetes under control, if all those other factors are still in play, you are a prime candidate for a heart attack. In addition, heart attacks in people with diabetes are more serious and more likely to result in death.
The GREAT news is that all those common factors which contribute to both type 2 diabetes and heart disease are mostly within your control! Yes, genetics can play a part in disposition to diabetes, and type 1 diabetes is entirely genetic, so taking responsibility for your own health is crucial if diabetes runs in your family. Maintain a healthy weight, move around a little more, stop smoking (if you smoke), and make smart food choices. You don’t have to go full paleo or vegan, but take some time to read those darn labels the government makes food companies put on their products. Nutrition labels are your friend! They help you stay away from trans fats, and high doses of sugar and salt. The best advice in the grocery store is to fill the majority of your cart mostly with foods which don’t need a nutrition label at all because they are in their natural state – fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish.
Finally, with the prevalence of diabetes and cardiac arrest in the U.S., take a few hours out of your life every couple of years and prepare yourself for a potential cardiac emergency by taking a class in CPR/AED use. If one of your friends or loved ones has diabetes this is especially important. If you have diabetes, encourage friends and family members to take the course with you. You never know, you may save their life or they may save yours.