14 Foods for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention
The typical American diet leaves a lot to be desired. It’s heavy on calories, saturated fats, added sugars, fatty meats, baked goods, and highly processed grains. This type of diet is disastrous to your health and is even linked 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 risk factor for type 2 diabetes. With frightening statistics like this, everyone should examine their diet and consider adopting some healthier eating habits to help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve their overall health.
There are many ways to build a wholesome and disease-fighting diet. There are no hard and fast rules you must follow. Your best diet is the one that is made up of mostly nutrient-dense, health-boosting foods, and it should also be enjoyable, satisfying, energizing, and sustainable.
The good news is, certain foods and dietary factors are linked to less risk of type 2 diabetes and better blood glucose control. Even better news: 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 more.
Even if your current diet is healthier than the typical American diet, chances are good that you still have some room for improvements that could make a big difference in your health! Here are the foods, approved by the American Diabetes Association, you should include in your diabetes prevention dietary pattern.
Legumes and Pulses (beans, peas, lentils). You may already know that beans are good for the heart, but they are also good for diabetes and diabetes prevention. Studies show that diets rich in legumes have beneficial effects on both short- and long-term fasting blood glucose levels. Not only are they full of plant protein, they contain potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber, including a special type called “resistant starch.” Resistant starches resist digestion in the small intestine. Instead, they travel to the colon, where they feed our gut bacteria. In the process, the beneficial bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids that seem to protect the colon cells, make the gut environment more suitable for the friendly bacteria and less suitable for their harmful cousins, and even improve the way our bodies respond 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 know that all of these plant-rich proteins are good for you and are worth seeking out. Some common options to enjoy are soybeans, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, and pinto beans.”
Other Sources of Resistant Starches. Legumes are not the only foods with this source of beneficial nondigested carbohydrate. Under-ripe or green bananas contain it. So do 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).
Nuts. Some studies show that when people with type 2 diabetes consume nuts, their 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, even though they are packed with nutrition, too. Nuts are calorie-dense, however, so do keep portion sizes in mind.
Yogurt. Although studies are mixed, many suggest that dairy foods have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes. Perhaps the strongest link is the association between yogurt and less risk of diabetes. One large population study found that an increase of one 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 its probiotics or unique nutritional profile. Additionally, some studies also link yogurt to lower obesity risk.
Whole Grains. Because there are so many types of whole grains and so many ways to eat them, researching them as a group is confusing. However, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, healthful patterns that include whole grains appear to 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 glucan (beta-glucan). Beta-glucan improves insulin action and lowers blood glucose levels and also sweeps cholesterol from your digestive tract before it reaches your bloodstream. Therefore, oats may help lower your risks for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Barley also contains cholesterol-lowering, insulin-sensitizing beta-glucan.
Herbs and Spices. These flavor boosters provide the same types of disease-fighting phytonutrients that are 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. Top on oatmeal, cottage cheese, yogurt, and even coffee.
Vinegar. 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.
Berries. 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.
Fruits. In general, eating fruits is associated with 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 it is true that carbohydrate raises blood glucose levels more than other nutrients, it is not true that fruit raises blood glucose more than other carb-containing foods.
It’s important to recognize that foods are much more than their macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) content. Avoiding carbohydrate because it raises 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 it’s a bad idea to forgo them.
Coffee. Several studies link drinking coffee (decaffeinated or regular) to less risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But it’s important 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 will turn your coffee into quite a nutritional goof.
Tea. Drinking tea may also shield you from type 2 diabetes. One analysis suggests that the more tea an individual drinks, the greater the benefit, with as little as one cup per day dropping 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.
Unsaturated Fats. We hear a lot about avoiding trans fats and saturated fats for the sake of our hearts. Research shows that when we replace these unhealthful fatty acids with either unsaturated fats or wholesome sources of carbohydrates, our risk for heart disease drops. Switching to the more healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats 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, canola oil, peanut oil, tree nuts, peanuts, nut butters, avocados, and olives.
Alcohol. 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 that are associated with less risk of diabetes to create your weekly grocery list. It’s okay to gradually start introducing some of these foods into your diet. A complete diet overhaul rarely lasts, but one with gradual changes is more likely to stick.
Remember that a dietary pattern or an eating pattern to prevent type 2 diabetes is a general health-boosting diet. Build your diet around a variety of foods and food groups with an emphasis on whole plant 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.
For more about Weisenberger’s work, click on her byline (above).