Can Your Eating Habits Prevent Diabetes?

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Published on April 01, 2021

Can Your Eating Habits Prevent Diabetes?

Photo of a salad bowl held in a man's handOver 34 million Americans have diabetes—that’s more than 10% of the U.S. population. Another 88 million have prediabetes, a condition that may lead to diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Foundation. Does that mean there’s a good chance you may develop diabetes at some point in your lifetime?

Some factors that increase the risk of developing diabetes are out of your control, such as your ethnic background, family history and age. But the good news is you have the power to modify other risk factors. “One major step you can take is related to your diet. The foods you eat or don’t eat, may have an effect on diabetes risk. So can being overweight—healthier eating habits may help you lose weight,” says Ghasak Mahmood MD, PIH Health internal medicine specialist.

These five eating habits may improve your chance of avoiding diabetes. Keep in mind that sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent diabetes—some people are just more prone to developing the disease than others. But these habits will keep you healthier overall, so they’re still worth embracing.

  1. Eat more green leafy vegetables. One important food group to include in your diet is green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale. A higher intake of green leafy vegetables has been associated with a significantly reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. So toss some greens into your smoothie and add them to sandwiches, soups or stews. Or just eat as a delicious side dish.
  2. Limit refined carbohydrates. Not all carbohydrates affect diabetes risk in the same way. Refined carbohydrates like table sugar, white bread and cookies, quickly raise blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables also contain fiber, which slows their impact on blood sugar. Over the long run, overconsumption of refined carbohydrates has been linked to the development of Type 2 diabetes. While there’s no need to completely eliminate carbohydrates from your diet, opt for complex carbs whenever possible.
  3. Choose fiber-rich foods. Naturally-occurring fiber is found in foods like vegetables, whole fruit (with the skin), whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds (especially chia and flax). These foods also tend to have lots of vitamins as well, which is good for your overall health. Among the many benefits of eating fiber-rich foods is that a higher fiber diet has been linked to a reduced incidence of diabetes.
  4. Get a daily dose of vitamin D. One of the most effective ways to get enough vitamin D is by being exposed to sunlight. You can also get vitamin D from foods such as salmon, fortified milk, fortified cereals and egg yolks. Since studies show that low vitamin D intake is linked to diabetes risk, include vitamin-D rich foods in your diet, spend time outdoors, and if necessary, talk to your doctor about whether you should take a vitamin D supplement (some people find it hard to get enough vitamin D naturally).
  5. Drink coffee or tea. Enjoying a cup of coffee or tea is not only a satisfying practice, but research shows it may help minimize your diabetes risk. Just be mindful of what you add to your beverage. Ingredients such as sugar, honey or the flavorings often available at coffee shops can wreak havoc on your blood sugar.

Adopting healthier eating habits is one step you can take in lowering your risk of diabetes. When combined with other lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly, losing weight and not smoking, you’ll not only lower diabetes risk but you can improve your health overall.

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