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What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is when the body’s blood glucose levels are too high and the body has a hard time with blood glucose regulation. Type 1 diabetes results from the body's inability to produce insulin in the pancreas and Type 2 diabetes is due to the body cells becoming resistant to insulin.

What causes diabetes?

Diabetes is caused by a variety of factors. Genetics play a role, especially in type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes develops when the body attacks the beta cells of the pancreas which produce insulin. Some environmental factors such as viruses or severe injury. 

Type 2 diabetes, which typically develops later in adulthood, is thought to have a wider variety of risk factors which, in addition to genetics, may be a result of diet, lifestyle, or environment, including a higher BMI, inactivity, high blood pressure, race, age, and even geographic location.

Can diabetes be reversed?

Once diabetes has developed, it cannot be reversed. Instead, it must be managed through lifestyle changes, insulin injections, and medication. However, most people with type 2 diabetes develop a condition known as prediabetes, which can be detected through a simple blood test.

If left untreated, prediabetes will usually turn into type 2 diabetes. But, if prediabetes is caught early enough and the patient can improve their diet, get more exercise, and lose weight (if necessary), diabetes can be prevented.  

How can I prevent diabetes?

Health professionals are still discovering the causes of diabetes, and what influences an individual’s chances of developing this disease. However, just because a person may have genes that increase their predisposition to developing diabetes does not necessarily mean that they will develop it. 

A variety of factors including weight, diet, and exercise influence our body’s growth into insulin resistance, which can cause diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and staying at a healthy BMI will help prevent prediabetes, the precursor to diabetes, from developing.

What can diabetics eat?

Diet plays a huge role in helping diabetics manage their health. Most people with diabetes are advised to stick to complex, rather than simple carbohydrates (think beans or whole grains rather than dishes made with processed white flour). That’s because simple carbs are digested quickly, and can cause rapid blood sugar spikes. In addition, fruits, vegetables, and other foods that are low in fat and calories and high in fiber are advised for people with diabetes.

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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