By Claudia Gonzalez, MS, RD, LDN
Diabetes is one of the most serious and potentially life-threatening diseases among Americans. A 2012 report from the Center for Disease Control indicates that diabetes affects about 8.3 percent of the total US population (or 25.8 million people).
African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans are at particularly high risk for developing type 2 diabetes than any other groups. In addition, African American and Hispanic/Latino women are at a higher risk for gestational diabetes.
Why there are higher rates for some populations is not fully understood; however, heredity, obesity, physical inactivity, poverty, lack of access to health care, cultural attitudes and behaviors may increase the risk of developing diabetes type 2 in some groups more than in the rest of the population.
Susceptibility to diabetes in African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans may also be correlated to traditional diets. For centuries, African American cooking traditions have been based on dishes high in fat and calories while Hispanic/Latino Americans have abandoned in part their tradition of eating fresh fruits, vegetables and homemade meals.
Although there is no definitive reason for the rise of diabetes, there are steps that everyone, including minority populations, can take to control and/or to prevent type 2 diabetes, such as eating balanced diets and being active.
- A balanced diet includes protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The body needs all three to function properly, including people with diabetes.
- Carbohydrates can raise blood sugar levels more than fats and proteins, therefore, limiting highly refined carbohydrates like white pasta, bread, rice, candy, and snack foods can be beneficial. Eat grains and carbohydrates in the least-processed form.
- Slow-release carbs, also known as high-fiber complex carbohydrates should be chosen over refined ones.
- Low calorie sweeteners such as aspartame are a good alternative to regular sugar. According to the Mayo Clinic, artificial sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates and they add virtually no calories to the diet.
Claudia M. González MS. RDN. LDN is a registered dietitian in private practice in Miami, Florida. She provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.