The Newest – and Cheapest – Diabetes Fighter

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This summer, there’s been lots of bad news about diabetes. Recent headlines have warned our sweet tooth is killing us and youth diabetes rates are soaring. Connecticut’s governor even signed a bill last week to offer diabetes training to school employees so they can better assist diabetic students.

But there’s also good news. Recent studies also show lifestyle changes can prevent type-2 diabetes and may help prevent stroke among people with prediabetes.

One study in particular caught my attention because it’s easy to act on – no need to rearrange your routine or spend more money.

The results of a study led by a Harvard-based doctor show that a selenium-rich diet could decrease your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 24 percent.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, is a lifelong metabolic disease that can cause a host of costly complications – including blindness, foot or leg amputation, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Some experts say the disease has become an American epidemic…

type 2 diabetes rate
The rate of type 2 diabetes, shown here in the number of cases per 1,000 people, has nearly tripled since 1980 (CDC.gov)

Fortunately, a selenium-rich diet is probably already sitting in your refrigerator and cupboards. All you have to do to decrease your diabetes risk is think for an extra second before you grab a snack.

What’s selenium?

Selenium is a mineral you can find on the periodic table of the elements. It’s also an antioxidant, which means it protects our cells from damage caused by exposure to air pollution, cigarette smoke, the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and other toxic realities that leave our cells vulnerable to diseases and cancers.

Where’s selenium?

Selenium occurs naturally in certain meats, fish, and grains. This list, which I compiled from data from the National Institutes of Health and Oregon State University, ranks top sources of selenium by how many micrograms they provide per serving. For reference, a 3-ounce serving of meat is no bigger than a deck of playing cards…

  • Brazil nuts, 1 ounce: 544 mcg
  • Tuna, light, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces: 68
  • Crab meat, 3 ounces: 41
  • Salmon, 3 ounces: 40
  • Halibut, 3 ounces: 40
  • Pork, 3 ounces: 35
  • Shrimp, 3 ounces: 34
  • Cod, cooked, 3 ounces: 32
  • Turkey, light meat, roasted, 3 ounces: 27
  • Egg bagel, 4 inch: 27
  • Chicken breast, meat only, roasted, 3 ounces: 24
  • Beef chuck roast, lean only, roasted, 3 ounces: 23
  • Sunflower seed kernels, dry roasted, 1 ounce: 23
  • Egg noodles, enriched, boiled, ½ cup: 19
  • Macaroni, enriched, boiled, ½ cup: 19
  • Ground beef, cooked, broiled, 3 ounces: 18
  • Egg, whole, hard-boiled, 1 large: 15
  • Chicken (light meat), 3 ounces: 13
  • Oatmeal, instant, fortified, cooked, 1 cup: 12
  • Cottage cheese, 2 percent, ½ cup: 11
  • Whole-wheat bread, commercially prepared, 1 slice: 11
  • Brown rice, long-grain, cooked, ½ cup: 10
  • White rice, enriched, long-grain, cooked, ½ cup: 6
  • White bread, commercially prepared, 1 slice: 6
  • Walnuts, black, dried, 1 ounce: 5
  • Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce: 4

Note that many of these items are kitchen staples. So to ensure yourself a selenium-rich diet, all you need is a little basic math. (To make it easier, start by printing this list and sticking it on your refrigerator for reference.)

The nonprofit Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences says adults need 55 mcg of selenium a day. Pregnant and lactating women need 60 or 70 mcg, respectively, and children only need 15 to 30 mcg.

No vitamins necessary

My favorite part of the selenium study – which followed 7,000 people for decades – is what lead author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian told the National Institutes of Health about his findings: “I wouldn’t suggest, based on the findings from this study, that people start taking selenium supplements.”

As Money Talks News has told you before, antioxidant studies in general indicate that synthetic supplements don’t offer the same health benefits as natural sources of antioxidants – food. Plus, supplements are just that: a supplement – not a shortcut – to an antioxidant-rich diet. In the case of selenium, the NIH adds that there are different types of the mineral, and supplements contain only one type.

So instead of worrying about (and paying for) a selenium supplement, simply remember to eat a mix of selenium-rich proteins and grains. You don’t have to overdo it. Just tweak your current diet. Your health, and your wallet, can only gain from a few extra antioxidants.

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