Diabetes Prevention: Eat to Beat Diabetes

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Diabetes Prevention: Eat to Beat Diabetes

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), about 34 million Americans — one in 10 — have diabetes. Another 88 million — one in three — have prediabetes. Of those who have prediabetes, 84% don’t know that they have it. Fortunately, while there is no guarantee that you won’t get diabetes, there are things that you can do to lower your risk.

How healthy eating can help fight diabetes

A big part of aiming to prevent diabetes is focusing on healthy habits — especially around eating and staying active. In major clinical trials, lifestyle changes have been shown to be successful in preventing type 2 diabetes. These lifestyle changes focus on losing weight and committing to a more active lifestyle. Making these changes can also help you avoid serious complications from diabetes, such as heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, and eye problems.

Shed some pounds

An eating plan that centers around healthy food choices, as well as eating habits, can do wonders for your health and may help you prevent diabetes at the same time. Losing some weight, if you’re overweight, is a key step in warding off diabetes. Here’s what that means for you:

  • Aim to lose between 5% to 10% of your body weight. You may need your calculator for this, but as an example, if you weigh 200 pounds, that means losing about 10 to 20 pounds. This amount of weight loss can lower your diabetes risk by almost 60%!
  • Weight loss makes it easier for the body to use insulin; this, in turn, helps cells take up glucose in the blood to be used for energy. And that means less glucose in the blood and less stress on the pancreas to pump out more and more insulin.
  • A first step in losing weight is to start tracking your food intake every day, either with pen and paper or using a smartphone app. This helps you see where you might make some changes to your food portions and/or food choices.
  • If you need help with weight loss, consider working with a dietitian or joining a program or support group. You might consider trying a diabetes prevention program which can help you lose weight, become active, and get support. Find a program near you on the website of the CDC.

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Choose healthy foods

Eating healthfully is important for everyone. But it’s especially important if your goal is to beat diabetes. A healthy eating plan doesn’t mean that you must give up your favorite foods altogether, but it does mean focusing on eating more of some foods and less of others. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Eat more low-carb vegetables. Make a point to include vegetables at your meals and even at snack time. Low-carb veggies include peppers, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, and lettuce.
  • Eat lower-carb fruits. You can still eat any type of fruit, but it helps to choose those that have less carb, such as berries, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, and peaches.
  • Eat whole grains. Yes, they have carbohydrate, but eating whole grains was shown to lower type 2 diabetes risk in men by 34%. Whole grains also help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and colon cancer. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, steel-cut oats, quinoa, barley, spelt, and rye. Even popcorn is a whole grain.
  • Eat leaner protein foods. Poultry, fish, lean cuts of meat, eggs, beans, and tofu are good protein foods to include at meals. Eat less of fatty cuts of meat, sausages, hot dogs, and luncheon meats.
  • Eat heart-healthy fats. Cook with vegetables oils, such as canola oils, safflower oil, corn oil, or olive oil, rather than butter, margarine, shortening, or lard. Other healthy fats are avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds.
  • User lower-fat dairy foods. You don’t have to go completely fat free, but try low-fat milk and plain, unsweetened yogurt rather than whole milk versions.
  • Eat fewer refined and processed foods, such as fast foods, chips, and cookies.
  • Choose healthy drinks. Sugary drinks have been shown to increase diabetes risk. Soda, juice, sweetened teas, and sweetened sports or energy drinks are examples of sugary drinks. Instead, go for water, seltzer water, unsweetened tea, and sugar-free sports drinks. Also, limit alcohol to one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men (a drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1 1/2 ounces of distilled spirits (gin, rum, vodka).

Watch portions

Focusing on better food choices is part of the equation when it comes to weight loss and diabetes prevention. The other part is controlling how much you eat. Suggested tips are to:

  • Use the plate method. Aim for half of your plate to be vegetables, a quarter to be a whole-grain or starchy vegetable (like a potato), and the other quarter a lean protein.
  • Keep protein servings to about 3 to 5 ounces (using a food scale can help with this).
  • Become a label reader. Look at the serving size on food packages and containers so that you know how many calories and carbs you’re getting.
  • Weigh and measure your foods, at least for a while. A food scale and measuring cups are handy to have in your kitchen.
  • Eat regular meals during the day so that you don’t get too hungry. If you have a long span of time between meals, plan to eat a healthy snack that combines a carb food with a protein or fat food. An example is a small apple with a small handful of almonds.
  • Portion out snack foods. If you enjoy snacking, forgo eating straight from the box or bag. Instead, portion out your crackers, nuts, popcorn, etc. into baggies to help you control portions.
  • Slow down your eating pace. Eating slowly gives your brain time to register that your stomach is full (this usually takes at least 20 minutes).

It can seem overwhelming to make changes to what you eat and to lose weight. Changes don’t happen overnight. Tackle one or two of the above steps rather than trying to completely overhaul your diet or your eating habits. Again, if you need help or support, reach out to a dietitian or consider joining a diabetes prevention program, where you’ll be with others who also want to beat diabetes!

Want to learn more about eating well? Read “Strategies for Healthy Eating,” “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” and “Top Tips for Healthier Eating.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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