If diabetes runs in your family, you are more likely to have prediabetes and develop diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And if you have more than one relative with diabetes, you have an even higher risk of developing the disease, based on a study published in Diabetologia.
The good news is that your fate isn’t set in stone even though there is a diabetes diagnosis in the family. Being physically active, adopting a healthy diet, and losing weight are all things you can do to significantly lower your risk.
We assume you know what to do to get more exercise—walk more, run more, bike more, swim more, etc.—so read on to learn about the best eating habits to follow if you’d like to keep diabetes out of your future. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss The #1 Best Juice to Drive Every Day, Says Science.
A key eating habit for diabetes prevention is enriching your diet with more plant foods. “The big mistake people make is thinking they should avoid carbs, says certified diabetes care and education specialist Kim Rose, RDN, CDCES. “That’s a misconception.”
Skipping all carbs will undermine your efforts and can actually trigger blood sugar rushes when your cravings get the better of your willpower. “You need to space your carbs throughout the day, so you have a steady source of energy and eat quality complex carbohydrates high in fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds,” she says. “Aim for three grams of fiber or more per serving.”
A 2017 study in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology found that eating a plant-based diet of high fiber foods like beans, oats, sweet potatoes, fruits, and whole grains was more effective at improving blood sugar control than a traditional diabetes diet that focused on limiting sugars and carbs. Study participants who consumed an average of 40 grams of dietary fiber per day eating primarily plant-based foods saw the greatest success in improving insulin sensitivity.
Forget about sugars and carbs for a minute and let’s talk calories. Even when you get rid of the bun, a fast-food or sit-down-restaurant hamburger is high in calories and while it may not send your blood sugar soaring when you eat it, it could indirectly boost your diabetes risk. “Over time, excess calories can result in weight gain and weight gain can lead to insulin resistance,” warns Rose. So, make a habit of considering calories, not just carbs and sugars when you eat out.
Vitamin D is believed to help improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Studies have linked people who have low levels of vitamin D to being at greater risk for type 2 diabetes.
But adding D to your body isn’t as easy as drinking milk fortified with vitamin D and eating a lot of fatty fish. It’s hard to get vitamin D from food, which is why you might make a habit of eating your sardines outside at lunchtime on a sunny day to bring in the so-called “sunshine vitamin” into your skin.
A review in the medical journal Diabetes Spectrum points to research suggesting that 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure on the skin of the face, arms, back, or legs (without sunscreen) at least twice a week is what’s needed for vitamin D synthesis in adequate amounts to improve blood sugar control and decrease diabetes risk.
If you have a sweet tooth, you may make a habit of reaching for a cookie or a scoop of ice cream after dinner. (Related: Your Sweet Tooth May be Genetic.) The problem with those treats is they are full of simple carbohydrates that rush the bloodstream, spiking blood sugar and the release of insulin. That’s because these sweets don’t contain fiber. Fiber slows the absorption of those sugars, keeping blood sugar levels in check.
The good news is that you don’t have to fight your sugar cravings—just replace your typical dessert with a clean, sweet treat like fruit because it contains fiber and nutrients. Make it more candylike by freezing red seedless grapes, dipping bananas into dark chocolate, and freezing them, or cutting up watermelon into chunks and keeping them handy in the refrigerator.
When you add a healthy treat that’s sweet, you tend not to long for the snacks you’re eliminating, says registered dietitian nutritionist Grace A. Derocha, RDN, a national spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.