Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which acts like a key, allowing sugar into cells so it can be used for energy. According to the CDC, people with type 2 diabetes have cells that don’t respond normally to insulin, called insulin resistance. As a result, the pancreas continues to make insulin to try to get a response. Eventually the pancreas can’t keep up, leading to a rise in blood glucose levels, which is the beginning stages of prediabetes. And if this continues, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed. This is different from type 1 diabetes, where there is no insulin production at all.
It is important to note that while some risk factors are unavoidable, like being 45 years old or older, having a close relative with diabetes, or if you are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, or American Indian, you do have the ability to control other risk factors such as your activity level or diet . While many people are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, you have the power to prevent the onset of the disease through lifestyle changes. According to Harvard Health, about 9 in 10 cases of diabetes in the U.S. can be avoided by making lifestyle changes.
It is often preached that one of the most powerful tools in preventing type 2 diabetes is through diet and exercise, and in many cases, weight loss. However, small diet changes may be just as powerful in reducing your risk of getting type 2 diabetes and help improve your overall health in the process!
1. Increase Water Intake:
Sugary drinks, such as soda, cause a sharp increase in blood glucose levels which lead to a quick release of insulin into the bloodstream. This increases the risk for type 2 diabetes overtime by contributing to insulin resistance. A recent study showed that for every additional 12-ounce serving of sugary beverages that people drank each day, their risk of type 2 diabetes rose 25%.
Therefore, to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, it is recommended to swap those sugary drinks for healthier options like water, unsweetened coffee or tea. Besides contributing to insulin resistance, these drinks often lead to weight gain, and lead to other health related problems such as chronic inflammation and high triglycerides.
2. Reduce Refined Sugar and Grains
Refined sugars are often found in sweets and are made by extracting the natural sugar from foods like corn and sugarcane, which are then processed and added to products to boost flavor. Refined grains are often found in ultra-processed foods and undergo a similar process.
High consumption of these foods can lead to insulin resistance over time by frequently creating the need for a fast release of insulin, so reducing your consumption can make a drastic difference in reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes. Natural sugars and whole grains are recommended instead because they typically contain more nutrients like fiber, which is broken down more slowly, ultimately helping to reduce your risk of diabetes.
3. Substitute That Red Meat
Recent research shows that eating red meats or processed red meats may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It was found that "eating just one 3-ounce serving of red meat daily—say, a steak that’s about the size of a deck of cards—increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20%.”
A simple switch to a healthier protein source, like fish or poultry, nuts, beans, and whole grains can reduce your risk by up to 35%. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty significant way to reduce my risk of getting type 2 diabetes!
4. Increase Fiber Intake Through Plant-Based Foods
There are many benefits to incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet, including additional vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and most importantly, dietary fiber.
Dietary fiber is believed to decrease your risk of diabetes because it slows the absorption of sugars and carbs, affects absorption of fat and cholesterol, and reduces appetite by making you feel fuller longer throughout the day.
An easy way to incorporate more dietary fiber is to increase your consumption of plant-based foods, which are also packed with several essential nutrients.
Non-starchy vegetables: leafy greens, broccoli
Whole grains like whole-wheat pasta, breads, whole oats, and quinoa
5. Reduce Alcohol Consumption
It may be surprising, but even moderate amounts of alcohol (1 drink for women and 2 for men) can negatively affect the efficiency of insulin uptake in cells, leading to insulin resistance.
Harvard Health makes the following recommendation: “If you already drink alcohol, the key is to keep your consumption in the moderate range, as higher amounts of alcohol could increase diabetes risk. If you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no need to start—you can get the same benefits by losing weight, exercising more, and changing your eating patterns.”
While you may be predisposed to some risk associated with type 2 diabetes, you have the power to prevent its onset by making certain lifestyle changes. By making a small adjustment in your diet, such as substituting red meat for chicken once a week, you could significantly reduce your risk for getting type 2 diabetes and become healthier in the process!
Written by: Jessica Beavers, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern