Paula Deen, the southern chef who offers deep-fried cheesecake and bacon cheeseburger meatloaf on her menu, has admitted that she has been suffering from Type II diabetes for the last three years.  While this probably does not surprise anyone who watches her show on the Food Network, it brings to light the influence of lifestyle on this common disease.

In Type II diabetes, cells become resistant to the effects of insulin and blood sugar levels are elevated.  The disorder currently affects nearly 20 percent of Americans.  Risks for diabetes include obesity, family history, and diets high in carbohydrates and processed foods.

In pregnancy, another type of diabetes may develop called gestational diabetes.  Like Type II diabetes, blood sugars are elevated due to the cells’ resistance to insulin.  However, insulin resistance is related to a hormone produced by the placenta, called human placental lactogen (hPL).  Women who are over 35, are overweight, or have a family history of diabetes are most likely to have gestational diabetes.  However there are some women who are simply more sensitive to the effects of hPL who also develop the condition.  While gestational diabetes resolves immediately after delivery, women have a 40 percent chance of developing diabetes later in life.

Gestational diabetes, like Type II, is treated initially with a low-carbohydrate diet.  Women are instructed to limit processed foods and carbs. This includes breads, pastries, rice, pasta, tortillas, and most desserts. All the good stuff. If ideal blood sugar levels cannot be attained, medications such as insulin are used. Dealing with diabetes is a full-time job during pregnancy – checking blood sugars 4 to 5 times per day, injecting insulin 3 to 5 times a day, and regular visits with your nutritionist and endocrinologist.

While gestational diabetes cannot always be prevented, there are steps a woman can take to decrease her chances of developing it. Most important is having an ideal body weight prior to pregnancy. Women should calculate their body mass index (BMI) and in cases of obesity, women should consider an aggressive weight loss program or gastric bypass surgery prior to conception. Once a woman is pregnant, she can maintain a low carbohydrate diet and exercise 4 to 5 times per week to prevent this condition.

The American Diabetic Association predicts that 33 percent of Americans born after 2000 will develop diabetes during their lifetime. Preventing gestational diabetes may help to keep these numbers down. That means encouraging young women to lead a healthy lifestyle before they have a baby.  And, of course, avoiding deep-fried cheesecake.