Eat to beat type 2 diabetes

If you have prediabetes, or have been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, managing what you eat can change your life today and in the future. A healthy diet, including fruits, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans and lean meats, can have a big impact on keeping your blood sugar at a healthy range.

Managing your weight does help to curb (pre)diabetes, but dramatic weight loss is not necessary. Losing 7 percent of your body weight will make a difference in your blood sugar levels. The recommended physical activity is 150 minutes per week – that’s less than 22 minutes each day.

Here are some basic guidelines to follow and, if you want extra support, check out the proven diabetes prevention programs offered by doctors and dietitians at Baptist Health.

1. Choose whole grains and whole grain products.
There is convincing evidence that diets rich in whole grains protect against diabetes, whereas diets rich in refined carbohydrates lead to increased risk. Whole grains don’t contain a magical nutrient that fights diabetes and improves health; it’s the entire package — elements intact and working together — that’s important. The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose. This leads to lower, slower increases in blood sugar and insulin, and a lower glycemic load. As a result, they put less stress on the body’s insulin-making machinery, and so may help prevent type-2 diabetes.

In contrast, white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes, donuts, bagels, and many breakfast cereals have what’s called a high glycemic index and glycemic load. That means they cause sustained spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn may lead to increased diabetes risk.

2. Choose fish 2 or 3 times per week.
Fish is a good source of protein, unsaturated fatty acids and, more specifically, omega 3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids help lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. It also helps keep your glucose levels within good range. Choose baked or grilled over fried fish that contains unhealthy oils.

3. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat.
The evidence is growing stronger that eating red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed red meat (bacon, hot dogs, deli meats) increases the risk of diabetes, even among people who consume only small amounts. The latest support comes from a “meta analysis,” or statistical summary, that combined findings from the long-running Nurses’ Health Study I and II and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study with those of six other long-term studies. The researchers looked at data from roughly 440,000 people, about 28,000 of whom developed diabetes during the course of the study. They found that eating just one daily 3-ounce serving of red meat — say, a steak that’s about the size of a deck of cards — increased the risk of type-2 diabetes by 20 percent. Eating even smaller amounts of processed red meat each day — just two slices of bacon, one hot dog, or the like — increased diabetes risk by 51 percent.

4. Skip the sugary drinks, and choose water instead.
Like refined grains, sugary beverages have a high glycemic load, and drinking more of this sugary stuff is associated with increased risk of diabetes.
Several studies show that children and adults who drink soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to gain weight than those who don’t, and that switching from these to water or unsweetened beverages can reduce weight. There is mounting evidence that sugary drinks contribute to chronic inflammation, high triglycerides, decreased “good” (HDL) cholesterol, and increased insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for diabetes.

5. Choose good fats instead of bad fats.
The types of fats in your diet can also affect the development of diabetes. Good fats, such as the polyunsaturated fats found in liquid vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds can help ward off type-2 diabetes. Trans fats do just the opposite. These bad fats are found in margarine, packaged baked goods, fried foods in most fast-food restaurants, and any product that lists “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on the label.
The good news from this study: Swapping out red meat or processed red meat for a healthier protein source, such as nuts, low-fat dairy, poultry, or fish, or for whole grains lowered diabetes risk by up to 35 percent. Not surprisingly, the greatest reductions in risk came from ditching processed red meat.

The dangers of diabetes
More than 24 million Americans have diabetes, and about 6 million people don’t even know they have the disease. If the growth of type-2 diabetes continues at its present rate, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the United States will grow to 48 million in 2050.

The consequences are serious. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure among adults. Diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart disease. And it’s the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., directly causing almost 70,000 deaths each year and contributing to thousands more.

The Good News

Type-2 diabetes is mostly preventable. About 9 cases in 10 could be avoided by taking several lifestyle-oriented steps: keeping weight under control, exercising more, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking. In fact, losing just 7 to 10 percent of your current weight can cut your chances of developing type-2 diabetes in half.

Baptist Health offers proven prevention programs to help everyone from expecting mothers to infants to older adults avoid and manage diabetes through a healthy lifestyle. For information on diabetes prevention classes and one-on-one nutrition counseling call 904.202.2140.


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  • Raquel Rivas says:

    Thanks for your comment! We’re glad you’ve found useful info. Diabetes is an epidemic that can be prevented. Please come back for more information on preventing chronic problems.

  • says:

    Thank you for this site; it’s going to be very helpful. Diabetes is prevalent in my family, and I want to avoid it if possible. Thank you for the assistance.