9 Ways to Lower Your Family’s Risk of Diabetes
As a parent, you’re hardwired to want to do everything you can to help your kids and family thrive. That includes protecting them from some very real health threats, like diabetes. More than half of adults in Hispanic and Latinx communities are at risk for developing diabetes, which affects how the body regulates and uses glucose, resulting in too much sugar in the bloodstream. Now for the encouraging news: By adopting healthy habits with the people you love most, you can buck this trend and reduce the risk of diabetes, together.
Focus on Four Factors
“Four lifestyle pillars affect diabetes: nutrition, sleep, stress, and exercise,” explains Beverly Yates, a naturopathic doctor and diabetes expert in San Francisco and author of Heart Health for Black Women. Eating well, sleeping well, managing stress, and being active all matter. By focusing on these four areas and doing what you can to improve your lifestyle, it can help diabetes feel more manageable and less overwhelming for you and your family to navigate.
Eat Your Favorite Meals Together
If you love rice and beans, eat it. Craving tacos? Eat them, too. A lot of negative messaging out there suggests that certain ethnic foods have no place in a healthy diet, especially if diabetes is a concern. “I see this confusion often in this Hispanic community, but all foods can fit into a healthy diet,” says Melissa Hawthorne, R.D., a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Houston. Instead of eliminating family faves higher in sugar or fat, scale back to once or twice a week, watch portion size, and balance your plate with fresh vegetables.
Shop as a Family
Choosing nutritious, whole foods that fill you up and help you maintain a healthy weight is vital in your fight against diabetes. How to help kids develop a taste for healthy foods? Even picky eaters tend to be more willing to try new foods they helped pick out. Include kids in making your grocery list, says Sheila Perez-Colon, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist and diabetes expert in Miami. “Explain why you’re choosing fruits, vegetables and whole grains over sugary juices and processed snacks like chips and cookies,” says Dr. Perez-Colon. Then take them with you on your grocery outing so they can pick foods out themselves.
Cook Side by Side
Back home, let your kids lend a hand when you make dinner. Even preschoolers can mix ingredients, and early elementary schoolers can measure. Explain why you’re opting for grilling or air-frying the chicken instead of breading and frying, for instance. “Make it a priority to prepare vegetables in different ways, such as grilling with seasonings, rather than always serving them steamed, which can make them less appealing,” Dr. Perez-Colon says. Given a new spin, even peas might get the green light from your gang.
Add Color to Your Plates
Rather than focus on the foods your family will be eating less of, keep the attitude positive by focusing on all the beautiful fruits, veggies, and whole grains you’ll be enjoying more of. It switches the mindset from deprivation to abundance. If you live some place that allows you to grow a small garden, do it: Kids will dig seeing their dirt-to-dinner creations. “Exposure to different foods—fruits and vegetables, specifically—will help kids grow into healthier adults without having to give up their favorite dishes,” Hawthorne says. It’s all about balance!
Make It Easy to Eat Well
We all want to be able to grab and go, so make it easy to reach for the good stuff, by stocking your fridge with washed and cut fruits, veggies, and lean proteins. Keep a bowl of apples or oranges on the counter. As for ice cream, chips, cookies, sugary yogurts, and other packaged processed foods, your best bet may be to simply not buy them at all. “Having easy access to these foods will just make it more difficult to promote healthy eating choices,” says Dr. Perez-Colon. Make them an occasional treat when eating out, rather than a daily go-to, sabotaging your efforts.
Make Water Your Default Beverage
If your family often sips sugary juices or sodas at meals, you’re not alone. Lots of families do—but drinking too much sugar increases your risk of diabetes. Start swapping these beverages out for water (adding a squeeze of citrus can help to ease the switch). “Water is important for all functions of the body, such as maintaining hydration, having more energy, and feeling less fatigued,” Hawthorne says. “Drinking water also helps with the satiety throughout the day, which can also help with weight maintenance.”
Families That Play Together Stay Healthy Together
One excellent reason to tempt your kids (and yourself) off the couch: Regular exercise, combined with a healthy diet, can dramatically reduce your diabetes risk. Fortunately, it’s not all about organized sports or even hitting the gym. “Dancing, walking, jumping rope, or even helping out in the garden certainly count as physical exercise,” Dr. Yates says. “From an early age, make it a point to talk to your kids about the importance of exercising and making it fun so they won't fight it later.”
Make It Multigenerational
If you’re lucky enough to have parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents nearby (or under your roof), invite them to get moving, too. Train to walk or run a 5K as a family, or go on Sunday bike rides together in the park. Physical activity is good for your body, but it’s supposed to be fun, too. Exercising together helps your stay close as a family and it’s great for your kids to see that being active can be something to look forward to as a family, long into their future.
Diabetes and Weight Loss: National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. (2020). “Achieving Type 2 Diabetes Remission through Weight Loss.” niddk.nih.gov/health-information/professionals/diabetes-discoveries-practice/achieving-type-2-diabetes-remission-through-weight-loss
Hispanic Community and Exercise: Outdoor Industry Foundation. (2006). “The Hispanic Community and Outdoor Recreation.” develop.outdoorindustry.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ResearchHispanic.pdf
Hispanic Population and Diabetes: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the U.S.” cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf