If type 2 diabetes were an infectious disease, it is said we would be in the midst of an epidemic. This problematic disease is striking an ever-growing number of adults, and with the rising rates of childhood obesity, it has become more common in youth, especially among certain ethnic groups. The good news is that prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes are largely preventable. About 9 in 10 cases in the U.S. can be avoided by making lifestyle changes. These same changes can also lower the chances of developing heart disease and some cancers. In this article, we will look at diet as a means to prevent and regulate T2DM.
- How does what you eat affect you?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three American adults has prediabetes; that is 86 million people. Without intervention, up to one-third of them will go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five years
Is everything lost? Not at all! Lifestyle changes can help. While excess body fat is a recognized risk factor for diabetes (and weight loss is an important way to lower risk), specific diet patterns and foods seem to decrease or increase risk, independent of weight. The latest research suggests that diabetes risk (as well as the risk of heart disease and stroke) is largely influenced not by single nutrients but by specific foods and overall diet patterns.
Poor diet quality may influence weight and metabolic risk independent of calories: Different types of foods have different effects on satiety, glucose-insulin responses, liver fat synthesis, fat-cell function, craving and reward responses in the brain, and the creation of visceral fat.
- So, which foods lower the risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes?
We will discuss in some detail everyday food that might either aid in the prevention of diabetes or accelerate your progress towards it. When you are making the decision of what to eat, choose wisely.
- Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs
Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—so you need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat. Limit refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, packaged meals, and snack foods. Focus on high-fiber complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs. They are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin.
- Eat more plant foods.
Minimally processed plant foods such as fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and nuts/seeds are consistently linked to better cardio-metabolic outcomes, including decreased diabetes risk.
- How about proteins?
While they have been studied to different extents, meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy protein sources appear to impact diabetes risk differently.
In their 2011 meta-analysis, Pan and colleagues determined that red meat consumption, particularly processed red meat, is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and suggested that substituting one serving of nuts, low-fat dairy, and whole grains per day for one serving of red meat would lower diabetes risk by 16% to 35%.
4. Are fats bad for you?
Most research on fats typically looks at their impact on cardiovascular, not diabetes, risk, and fats’ association with diabetes risk is in need of clarification. Recent evidence suggests that the quality of fats consumed in the diet is more important than the total quantity of dietary fat. Some researchers point out that the source of fat is important, and possibly confounding, in studies looking at total fat intake and health effects. Although some results are controversial, it’s important to be aware of and keep an eye on emerging research. Some recent study findings include the following:
- A Mediterranean dietary pattern, which is relatively high in monounsaturated fats, may help prevent type 2 diabetes.
- High vegetable fat intake may decrease type 2 diabetes risk in females.
- Intake of high-fat, but not low-fat, dairy products is associated with a decrease in type 2 diabetes risk.
- EPA+DHA seems to provide neither harm nor benefits with regard to diabetes development. The omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) may be associated with modestly lower risk.10
Since fat is calorically dense (9 kcal/g as opposed to 4 kcal/g for protein or carbohydrate), it’s often the focus of weight-loss diets.
- Should you take beverages?
What to drink is a choice we make every day. It is important to get into healthy drinking habits.
- 100% fruit juices are generally considered safe, as long as the serving is kept to one a day.
- Both coffee (caffeinated and decaffeinated) and tea are associated with a lower risk of diabetes.
- There’s strong evidence that moderate alcohol use is associated with lower diabetes risk across diverse populations, but people who don’t currently drink alcohol shouldn’t be encouraged to do so, and drinkers should limit themselves to up to two drinks per day for men and one to 1.5 for women.
- So, In Summary…..
- Healthy fats from nuts, olive oil, fish oils, flax seeds, or avocados
- Fruits and vegetables—ideally fresh, the more colorful the better; whole fruit rather than juices
- High-fiber cereals and bread made from whole grains
- Fish and shellfish, organic chicken or turkey
- High-quality protein such as eggs, beans, low-fat dairy, and unsweetened yogurt
- Trans fats from partially hydrogenated or deep-fried foods
- Packaged and fast foods, especially those high in sugar, baked goods, sweets, chips, desserts
- White bread, sugary cereals, refined pasta or rice
- Processed meat and red meat
- Low-fat products that have replaced fat with added sugar, such as fat-free yogurt
- How to eat healthy on a normal diet
It is easier to adopt a healthy eating lifestyle than to go on a diet. A good dietary pattern to lower diabetes risk would limit red and processed meats, refined grains, sweets and Soda, and emphasize plant foods like whole grains, nuts, fruits, and leafy green vegetables. Evidence supports including coffee, tea, yogurt, vegetable fats, and possibly cheese.
Working with a dietary pattern instead of focusing on individual nutrients or “superfoods” (or vilifying particular food groups) allows greater flexibility for you. It lets you choose foods you like at times that are convenient for you.
Given the health advantages of plant foods like leafy greens and whole grains and their association with reduced diabetes risk, you should ensure your diet pattern includes a healthy serving of them at all times.
- Today’s dietician (2017): Diabetes Management & Nutrition Guide: Foods and Eating Patterns for Diabetes Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0717p40.shtml
- Harvard School of Public Health (2019): Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/disease-prevention/diabetes-prevention/preventing-diabetes-full-story/
- Health Guide (2018): The Diabetic Diet. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/the-diabetes-diet.htm