Diet Changes to Reduce Risk for Diabetes

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Other than gestational (which occurs in pregnant women and usually disappears after giving birth), there are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes accounts for only 5 percent of all instances in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes is the most common, clocking in as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Type 2 diabetes is also the only one that's considered preventable. It generally develops later in life, sometimes as a consequence of lifestyle or other health factors.

So how does one prevent a diabetes diagnosis from happening? Diet is definitely a factor in the development of diabetes, though not the only factor. Other potential influences include age, genetics, family history, physical activity, mental health, income, hormonal conditions, and ethnicity. So even if your diet is perfectly engineered towards preventing the chronic disease, you still might be at risk. That being said, your diet does still play a role. Why not reduce your risk as much as you can?

A common recommendation for preventing diabetes is "eat healthy and lose weight." But that advice is extremely broad. What does that even mean? One person's interpretation of how to eat healthy could be entirely different from the next. And some tactics people might try in order to lose weight can be counterproductive and increase the risk of diabetes instead.

The dietary changes that help to reduce diabetes risk are actually quite simple. With a few simple changes to your daily eating habits, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing the disease. These small changes, all backed by science, are a good place to start.

Understand Blood Glucose

Blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, has to be constantly considered in people living with diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood glucose. The more insulin that is released, the more sugar will be removed from the blood and stored in the body. People with diabetes can be insulin resistant - meaning that the body will not respond to variations in blood sugar with an adequate insulin response. A good step to preventing insulin resistance is understanding what lifestyle habits could cause your blood sugar to fluctuate up and down. Blood sugar can increase from eating sugar, but also from other causes such as certain medications' side effects, lack of physical exercise, and stress. Blood sugar can decrease from exercising too much, skipping meals, and avoiding carbohydrates. A more thorough guide to what causes these fluctuations can be found on the American Diabetes Association's website.

Don't Try Fad Diets

You may think that a popular diet trend is a good idea to preventing diabetes because of weight loss - but many diets can do more harm than good. Not only will the diet probably not result in weight loss in the long run (they have a 95 percent failure rate across the board) but depending on the diet, it could increase your Type 2 diabetes risk. The keto diet, for example, was recently linked to insulin resistance in some studies. Intermittent fasting could also mess with your insulin response and increase your risk, studies say. Some diets claim to help reverse diabetes, too. But the bottom line here is to do your research and not be seduced by lofty claims of passing diet fads.

Eat More Whole Grains

Whole grains are found in foods like bread, brown rice, and whole grain pasta. These delicious foods are simple to prepare and contain healthy fiber and other nutrients. Studies have linked an increased intake of whole grains to a lowered risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Adding two servings of whole grains each day lowered diabetes risk by 21 percent in study participants.

Drink Water Throughout the Day

Staying hydrated is super important for your health. Start drinking enough water and you'll probably be able to feel the physical benefits pretty immediately. But focusing on water as your main source of hydration rather than another beverage could help to lower your risk of diabetes. Sugary beverages, which often include large amounts of added sugars, have been linked to a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. These drinks include soda, sweetened fruit juice, and sports drinks. If you sip these beverages once in a while, you'll probably be OK. The studies that link these sugary drinks to an increased risk are often examining the effects of drinking them every day.

Drink Coffee

Trying to quit your coffee addiction? You might not want to, once you learn all the benefits of this caffeinated drink. In one study, coffee (both caffeinated and decaf) has been linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes in women. Another study suggests that drinking lots of coffee could help reduce the risk. These studies were looking at consumption of black coffee, though - not the sugary Starbucks drinks you might be buying.

Cook With Olive Oil

Using olive oil in recipes is a tried and true way to add flavor and nutrition to your meal. Use olive oil to whip up your own vinaigrette, cook with olive oil over the stove, or drizzle some over your pasta. Whatever your method, adding more olive oil can help prevent Type 2 diabetes, according to studies. Researchers posit that this might be due to the healthy fats in the oil. These types of fats, called monounsaturated fats, are also found in foods such as almonds, cashews, canola oil, and avocados.

Snack on Nuts and Seeds

Research suggests that the healthy fats found in nuts and seeds can also help to reduce your Type 2 diabetes risk. So go nuts: Snack on trail mix, peanut butter with fruit, or sunflower seeds. These types of fats can do more than prevent diabetes. They have other surprising health benefits, too!

Eat More Vegetables

Adding more green vegetables to your day - no matter if they're in a salad, on top of pizza, or in a cozy bowl of soup - can reduce your risk of diabetes according to some studies. Here are 25 not-salad recipes that still have a ton of vegetables!

Eat Fruit Every Day

You might think that since fruit has sugar, it should be avoided or eaten in moderation to prevent diabetes. But that might not be true. Research shows that eating three servings of fruit per day could decrease your risk by 18 percent.

Be Aware of Trans Fats

Trans fats have been phased out of most foods, but you might still find them in some packaged baked goods, margarine, or fried food at restaurants. These foods can be delicious and enjoyed every now and then, but it definitely isn't going to help lower your chance of Type 2 diabetes if they're a regular part of your diet. Studies aren't totally conclusive on whether a diet high in trans fats increases your diabetes risk, but they suggest that it might.

Don't Eat Red Meat Every Day

It's hard to resist a grilled, juicy burger at a cookout or a thick cut of steak at a fancy restaurant. But eating red meat as your primary source of protein might do more harm than good. Studies show that for people who eat red meat every day, reducing red meat consumption reduces diabetes risk. Looking for other sources of protein to replace it with? Try seafood! The omega-3 fatty acids in many types of fish can help to reduce your diabetes risk.

Eat Breakfast When You Wake Up

Even if you don't feel super hungry when you wake up, eating something - even if it's something small - is probably a good idea. Studies show that people who eat breakfast regularly have a lower risk of developing diabetes. Eating a breakfast with a lot of carbohydrates and no protein might not keep you satisfied for very long, though. Consider eating a protein-rich meal before you leave for school or work. Add some healthy fats, too, to get your brain working better early in the morning!

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Don't worry, you don't have to stop drinking entirely if you don't want to. But if you're concerned about your risk of diabetes, take a step back and make sure your drinking isn't putting you at risk. Light to moderate drinking has been shown in some studies to slightly reduce your risk of diabetes significantly - even more so than quitting alcohol entirely. However, the research on heavy drinking isn't as clear. In some studies, heavy drinkers showed the same risk of diabetes as those who didn't drink at all. In others, each additional drink was shown to have a protective effect, implying that heavy drinking would be even more beneficial for diabetes prevention. But drinking heavily for the sake of avoiding diabetes is a really bad idea - there are many serious health consequences of excessive drinking that have nothing to do with diabetes, but can still be deadly.

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