The typical American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Heavy on calories, saturated fats, added sugars, fatty meats, baked goods, and highly processed grains, it raises your disease risk to disastrous levels. Adhering to this pattern of consumption leads directly to type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems like heart disease and some types of cancer.
Eighty-four million American adults currently have prediabetes, the leading warning sign for diabetes. It is time that you examine your diet and consider adopting some healthier eating habits to help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve your overall health.
Many ways exist with no hard-and-fast rules to follow when building a wholesome and disease-fighting diet. Your best diet is made up of mostly nutrient-dense, health-boosting foods, and it should also offer enjoyable, satisfying, energizing, and sustainable fare.
Fortunately, certain foods and dietary factors create less risk of type 2 diabetes and better blood-glucose control. Even better, a healthful diet for diabetes prevention overlaps nicely with dietary strategies for the prevention or treatment of other common health problems such as obesity, stroke, heart disease, colon cancer, and others.
Fourteen Delicious Foods for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention
Even if your current diet is healthier than the typical American diet, you likely still have some room for improvements that can make a big difference in your health. My suggestions for foods you should include in your diabetes-prevention dietary pattern follow:
Legumes and Pulses (beans, peas, lentils).
You may already know that beans support a healthy heart, but they also keep blood sugar under control. Studies show that diets rich in legumes have beneficial effects on both short- and long-term fasting blood-glucose levels. They provide plant protein, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber, including a special type called resistant starch. Resistant starches do not break down in the small intestine. Instead, they travel intact to the colon, where they nourish the gut bacteria. In the process, those beneficial bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids that protect the colon cells, make the gut environment more suitable for friendly bacteria and less suitable for their harmful cousins, and even improve the way the body responds to insulin.
You may see both the words legumes and pulses used in the news; don’t let the choice of words confuse you. Just recognize the benefits of all these plant-rich proteins and seek them out. Some common options to enjoy include black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, and pinto beans.
Other Sources of Resistant Starch.
Legumes are not the only foods that contain this source of beneficial, nondigested carbohydrate. It can also be found in under-ripe or green bananas, uncooked oats (think muesli over cottage cheese or yogurt), brown rice, and potatoes and pasta that have been cooked and cooled (a great reason to enjoy a small serving of potato salad or pasta salad).
Some studies observing people with type 2 diabetes who consume nuts show that blood-glucose levels improve, as do measures of their heart health. Although not seen in all research, many studies show that eating nuts also helps prevent type 2 diabetes. In general, nuts provide unsaturated fats, vegetable protein, fiber, folate, magnesium, and a host of other vitamins and minerals. Almonds provide a good dose of vitamin E. Pistachios have lots of blood pressure–friendly potassium and lutein, an antioxidant. Walnuts offer omega-3 fatty acids, and peanuts tend to be easier on the budget than other nuts. Nuts are calorie-dense, however, so do keep portion sizes in mind.
Although research shows mixed results, many studies suggest that dairy foods have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes. Perhaps the strongest link is the association between yogurt and reduced risk of diabetes. One large-population study found that one additional serving of yogurt per day was associated with an 18 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It’s unclear how yogurt could influence health this way, but it may be related to probiotic content or the unique nutritional profile. Additionally, some studies also link yogurt to lower obesity risk.
Because whole grains abound in so many types and you can find so many ways to eat them, pinning down research that considers them as a group becomes confusing. However, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggests that regular consumption could be associated with less type 2 diabetes. Some examples of whole grains include: whole wheat, wheat berries, farro, freekeh, sorghum, amaranth, whole rye, oats, oatmeal, rolled oats, whole-grain corn, whole-grain barley, wild rice, brown rice, millet, popcorn, and quinoa.
Oats and Barley.
Oats are a whole grain and contain the soluble fiber, beta-glucan, that improves insulin action, lowers blood-glucose levels, and also sweeps cholesterol from your digestive tract before it can reach your bloodstream. Therefore, oats can help lower your risks for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Barley also contains cholesterol-lowering, insulin-sensitizing beta-glucan.
Herbs and Spices.
Plant-based flavor boosters provide the same types of disease-fighting phytonutrients contained in fruits and vegetables. Add taste with both fresh and dried seasonings. Cinnamon in particular has been studied for its potential effects on blood-glucose levels. Add some to oatmeal, cottage cheese, yogurt, and even coffee.
Research suggests that vinegar consumed with a high-carbohydrate meal improves both blood glucose and insulin levels. Sprinkle some on your salad, roasted vegetables, and other foods.
A Finnish study found that middle-aged and older men who consumed the most berries had a whopping 35-percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Enjoy a variety! Choose strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and others.
In general, eating fruit correlates to less chronic disease. Yet, many people fear fruit because of its carbohydrate content. Specifically, most of the carbohydrate in fruit is sugar, so it’s not surprising why many people worry. While carbohydrates do raise blood-glucose levels more than other nutrients, it is not true that fruit raises blood-glucose more than other carb-containing foods.
You must recognize that foods are much more than their macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) content. Avoiding carbohydrates because they raise blood glucose is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Fruits, along with other plant foods, contain so many disease-fighting, insulin-sensitizing compounds that you should think twice about ignoring them.
Several studies link drinking coffee (decaffeinated or regular) to less risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But remember to consider how you prepare and drink your coffee.
Unfiltered coffee, such as coffee made with a French press, contains cafestol and kahweol, compounds that raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Filtering your coffee with a paper filter removes these harmful compounds. Keep your coffee low-calorie and healthful by drinking it plain or with a splash of milk; a heavy hand with syrups, sugars, and cream turns your coffee into quite a nutritional goof.
Drinking tea can also shield you from type 2 diabetes. One analysis suggests that the benefits of drinking tea increase with increased consumption; as little as one cup per day drops the risk of developing the disease by 3 percent. Pay attention to what you put into your tea to avoid excess calories, added sugars, and saturated fats.
Avoiding trans fats has become a mantra. Research shows that when we replace these unhealthful fatty acids with either monounsaturated fats or wholesome sources of carbohydrates, our risk for heart disease drops. Switching appears to boost insulin sensitivity, too. A Mediterranean-style diet is typically rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fats. A few sources of unsaturated fats include the following: olive oil, tree nuts, avocados, and olives.
Consuming small amounts of alcohol is also linked to less type 2 diabetes. But alcohol in excess is linked to more, as well as many other problems. That’s why the American Diabetes Association and other organizations do not recommend drinking for the prevention of disease. If you do drink, you don’t need much! The benefits of drinking alcohol appear to occur with as little as one-half standard drink daily.
Use this list of foods as a starting point to create your weekly grocery list. It’s okay to gradually introduce these foods into your diet. A complete diet overhaul rarely lasts, but one with gradual changes often tends to stick.
Remember that a dietary pattern or an eating pattern to prevent type 2 diabetes boosts overall health, in general. Eat a variety of foods and food groups with an emphasis on whole, plant-based foods and you can’t go wrong. You’ll be taking big strides toward preventing type 2 diabetes and doing what’s right for your healthy future.