Bigger bellies boost disease risk -- even when you're not obese

Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes, and slashing that risk of course means losing weight. But while the numbers on the scale are important, there's another number that can be just as critical.

And that's your pants size.

Bigger waistlines usually mean bigger weights -- usually, but not always. Some people have a round-in-the-middle shape without actually being obese.

It's not just an unflattering figure. It's a dangerous one, and new research on 30,000 Europeans finds that overweight -- but not obese -- men with a waistline of 40 have a higher risk of diabetes than obese people with more moderate waistlines.

For overweight (but not obese) women, the risk shoots up when the waistline reaches 35.

The reason is simple: How your fat is distributed is just as important as how much you have. Fat that builds up around organs is a disease risk factor. And too much fat right in the belly -- the fat that causes waistlines to bulge -- can produce excess hormones, leading to insulin resistance, and ultimately diabetes.

In other words, getting into shape means not just losing weight, but making sure your body takes on the right shape as well.

But avoiding diabetes isn't just about the big changes, like the dietary makeover needed to shrink both pounds and waistlines. There are also smaller, easier steps you can take -- including simple nutrients you can add to your diet that can slash your risk.

Start with selenium.

That's the trace mineral found in Brazil nuts that can protect against certain cancers. And, as I told you just a few weeks ago, it can slash your risk of death by heart disease when combined with coenzyme Q10.

Now, new research finds this mineral can also help you to avoid diabetes. In a study of some 7,000 men and women tracked for decades, those who had the highest selenium levels had a 24 percent lower risk of getting the disease.

That's three of the world's leading killers -- cancer, heart disease, and diabetes -- slashed by this one mineral needed in only the tiniest doses.

Just don't go overboard with it. It's called a "trace" mineral for a reason, and too much of it is not a good thing.

On the other hand, many people can drink tea all day without suffering any ill effects -- and if that's you, you might already be enjoying a lower risk of diabetes without even realizing it: Four cups a day or more can slash the risk of the disease by 20 percent, according to the latest research.

Tea, especially green tea, is a great source of healthy polyphenols. Along with lowering your diabetes risk, a steady tea habit can help prevent cancer, dementia and heart disease, boost the immune system, ease depression and more.

Now, it's easy to get carried away with these studies. People read about a certain benefit, and then load up on those foods without making the other changes they need for good health.

But a handful of Brazil nuts or a couple of extra cups of tea won't keep disease at bay if you're eating processed foods and other junk the rest of the time. So, add these things to your diet if you wish -- but it's far more important that you have a healthy lifestyle in the first place.