Are you at risk for diabetes?

An estimated 40.9 million people in India are known to suffer from diabetes according to the International Diabetes Federation. By 2030, every fifth diabetic in the world will be an Indian. What puts us on the diabetes map? Is it in our genes? Or does it have to do with our lifestyle? Is there something you can do to cut your risks? Let’s find out.

Genetic factors

Insulin resistance: Indians are genetically more insulin resistant (decreased ability to use insulin to converting glucose, or sugar in blood into energy) than our European counterparts. As a result, we tend to have higher blood glucose levels.

Obesity: Obesity contributes to insulin resistance. For any given BMI (body mass index, an indicator of obesity), Indians have a higher waist to hip ratio compared to other ethnic groups. Referred to as the ‘Asian Indian phenotype’, this puts us at higher risk of diabetes.

Early development

Indians develop diabetes at a younger age (at least 10 to 20 years earlier) than the Western population. Even when compared to the Chinese and Japanese, the age at which Indians have a peak prevalence of diabetes is nearly 10 years younger. This gives ample time for the development of chronic complications of diabetes.


Sedentary habits: Affluent urban Indians often lead inactive lives, devoid of exercise or physical activity such as walking or climbing stairs. This causes obesity and increases the risk of developing diabetes.

Stress: Urban life, being stressful, can aggravate diabetes. Stressed individuals may be less likely to take care of their health, by neglecting the monitoring of blood glucose levels, and planning proper meals or exercise. They may also be more likely to frequently consume alcohol. Additionally, stress hormones may alter the blood glucose levels directly.

Smoking: Active smokers have 44 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. The association is stronger for heavier smokers. The exact reason why smoking increases the risk of diabetes is unknown.

Diet: Changing habits and lifestyles due to urbanization mean that we are consuming more calories than we are burning. We are also eating fewer complex carbohydrates, such as atta (whole wheat flour), and more refined carbohydrates such as maida (refined wheat flour) in the form of ready-to-eat noodles, pastas and pizzas. This results in the progress of the disease.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that women who consumed more rice (300 grams or more per day) were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes; this could be of significance since rice is a staple for most Indians.

What you can do

Blood sugar that is higher than normal, but not high enough to be termed diabetes, is termed as ‘prediabetes’. Unlike diabetes, prediabetes is reversible. Early detection and treatment of persons with prediabetic conditions is the key to prevent, or delay onset of diabetes.

An important way to cut your risk of diabetes is by reducing your weight. In Indians who are not obese per se, lifestyle modification and exercise are seen to be as effective methods in decreasing the risk of diabetes. Here’s what you can do:

Eat foods low in fat and calories such as:
· Non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots and green beans
· A handful of nuts at least five times a week
· Whole grain foods such as rotis and brown rice, over processed products such as bhature or white bread made of maida
· Non-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk, non-fat curd, or cholesterol free bread spreads

· Sugar-sweetened and carbonated drinks
· Avoid solid fats, instead, use liquid oils for cooking
· Avoid high calorie snacks such as chips, cookies, cakes, ice creams
· Avoid red meat; instead have fish
· Watch your portions
Keep active
· Walk or take the stairs when you can
· Exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week
· Take up yoga and meditation to alleviate stress

Quit smoking
Restrict your alcohol intake

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Also read:
Understanding the glycemic index
Can a Diabetic Eat Fruits?