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Latinas and Diabetes Awareness Month

Photograph by ThinkStock

If there was ever a time to start doing something good for your health, it is now. November is Diabetes Awareness Month and as Latinas, we are more at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes than the general population. In fact, Latinas are 17 times more likely to die from diabetes than non-Hispanic white women.

Although Latinos are more genetically predisposed to the disease, it is preventable. Type 2 Diabetes, the most common form of Diabetes, results from high blood sugar levels that can be dangerous. Risk factors include being overweight, having high blood pressure, and lack of exercise. I talked to Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, a registered dietician and certified personal trainer, about how to manage the disease if you have it or have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, or you want to prevent ever getting it.

The first thing to do is look at what you’re eating, Meléndez Klinger says. “We (Latinos) do consume a high number of carbohydrates in our diet.” But beware: Carbs turn into sugar and if you’re watching your blood sugars, you need to keep those carbs in check. That means watching the amount of rice on your plate and the number of tortillas eaten during a meal.

It doesn’t mean you can’t eat the foods that you love—but it means you may need to substitute some carbs with lean protein, vegetables, and lower sugar fruits like strawberries, Meléndez says. Many people think that a Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis is the end of the life that they’re used to, but it’s manageable. “We’re not cutting you off from cake, it’s that the piece of cake will be smaller.”

In addition to reducing portion size and eating less carb-heavy foods, it’s also important to reduce the amount of oil and salt in cooking—again, not cutting out entirely, but using less. It’s reported that two out of three people with Type 2 Diabetes also have high blood pressure. One snack that Meléndez Klinger says she loves is popcorn popped with very little oil and using a seasoning instead of salt or seasoning and very little salt. It’s satisfying, has fiber, and isn’t as bad for you as eating chips or cookies. The key is to make snacks and meals that are healthy for moms and their families.

Meléndez Klinger recommends planning out family meals ahead of time because cooking at home can be much healthier than eating in restaurants or picking up take-out meals. Going to the grocery store with a plan for the week can really help.

But realistically, it can be hard for busy moms to find the time to research healthy meals and prepare them at home. Add exercise to that and it can seem impossible. Meléndez Klinger tells her clients this: “If you’re not taking care of yourself, who will take care of those kids when you’re gone? Is this the life you want to have (potentially going) blind, no legs?" Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to nerve damage in limbs and other parts of the body.

Exercise is another important factor in controlling Type 2 Diabetes. The American lifestyle has become sedentary and instead of walking to the store or walking to work, we drive. We don’t even walk outside to get the newspaper anymore. Finding ways to move your body is very important and there is time in the day. “If you have time to watch TV, you have time to exercise,” Meléndez Klinger says.

She suggests putting a treadmill in front of the television (she bought one inexpensively at a garage sale), talking on the phone while on a walk, working on a computer standing up or getting up early before work to hit the gym.

The number of Latinos diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes is rising every day. It’s a serious issue for us and already, one in 10 Latinos have the disease.

“As Latina moms we always put ourselves in last place. It’s always trying to please our significant others.” Meléndez Klinger says. But with diabetes, moms have to start thinking about themselves and their health.

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