Six diet changes to cut your risk of diabetes

One out of three U.S. adults have prediabetes, which puts them on the road to type 2 diabetes. Nine out of ten of them don’t know it. Could you be one of them?

Head to toe

The good news: A healthy diet and moderate exercise can cut the risk of diabetes in half, even for people whose risk is already high.

Even more good news: you can cut your risk of diabetes quickly.

“If you make a change in your diet or lifestyle today, you’re taking your foot off the accelerator, and that happens almost overnight,” says Walter Willett, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“If you exercise today, your insulin resistance goes down within hours. And if you keep up  daily exercise, within a day or two your risk of diabetes drops.”

Changing your diet might take longer to make a difference, but it’s a matter of weeks, not years. “Even if you’re right at the brink of diabetes, you can still rapidly reduce your risk,” says Willett.

Here are six changes you can make in your diet that lower your risk

These are based on long-term studies that track people’s habits and whether or not they develop diabetes.

Unhealthy carbs. “Cutting back on unhealthy carbohydrates—basically white flour and other refined starch, sugar, and potatoes—is helpful,” says Willett. In his recent study on 70,000 women, those who ate more starch and less fiber had a higher risk of diabetes.plate smarts

Sugar drinks. “There’s about a 25 percent increase in the risk of diabetes for each 12 oz. serving of sugar-sweetened beverages per day,” notes Willett. And only about half of that increased risk is due to weight gain. “It’s also probably due to the high amount of unhealthy carbohydrate that is gulped down in a few minutes.”

Meat. “Both processed and unprocessed red meat are related to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, consistently and quite strongly in all of our studies,” says Willett. “If you want to keep diabetes risk low, replace red meat with some beans, nuts or other plant sources of protein, or some dairy, poultry, or fish.”

Yogurt. “There is always hype about the benefits of dairy,” says Willett. “We need more studies, but so far it looks like yogurt—but not overall dairy—seems to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.”

Coffee. In Willett’s studies, each daily cup of coffee was linked to a 4 to 8 percent lower risk of diabetes. “It’s probably due to the flavonoids and antioxidants in coffee,” he notes, “because it looks like decaffeinated coffee has a similar benefit.”

Magnesium. People who consume more magnesium-rich foods—like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and whole grains—have a lower risk of progressing from prediabetes to diabetes, although something else about those people could account for their lower risk.walking

With diet changes like these and regular, moderate exercise to keep everyone at low risk, “we could prevent about 90 percent
of type 2 diabetes in the United States,” Willett says.

Sources: Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 102: 1543, 2015; Diabetes Care 33: 2477, 2010; Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 94: 1088, 2011; BMC Med. 12: 215, 2014; Circulation 133: 1645, 2016; Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 97: 155, 2013; 16 Diabetes Care 37: 419, 2014.

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3 Replies to “Six diet changes to cut your risk of diabetes”

  1. I am curious about the quality of our drinking water. Should we be drinking purer water or bottled water to help with the liver and kidneys work.

  2. Everyone at risk for diabetes should read this. In fact, everyone should read this to prevent any risk of diabetes.

  3. Contrary to the claims here, sugar-sweetened beverages are not causing the rise we’ve seen in obesity and obesity-related conditions like diabetes. This is evidenced by the fact that obesity rates continued to rise for years while soda consumption dropped steadily at the same time.

    With that said, America’s beverage companies are committed to being part of real solutions to public health challenges on a national scale through the Balance Calories Initiative, which aims to reduce sugar and calories consumed from beverages across America. We also support clear and understandable nutrition facts about foods and beverages and have voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of the bottles and cans we produce.

    Editor’s note: This is a statement from Americans for Food & Beverage Choice, an industry-sponsored group whose mission “is to spread awareness about regulations that would limit consumer choice.”

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