Diabetes Network News | Published April 10, 2012 | Written by Heather Harpster, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

How are nutrition and diabetes prevention linked?

What you eat is not only important for diabetes management, but your diet can also play a role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including family history, race and age; however, a recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that being overweight (and in particular, obese) was the single most important risk factor contributing to the onset of type 2 diabetes. In fact, being obese makes you 20 to 40 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than someone with a healthy weight.

For the millions of Americans at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, there's good news: Simple dietary changes, along with increased physical activity, can decrease the risk of developing the disease. A study from the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) showed that reducing body weight by 5 - 10 percent (through 30 minutes of moderate physical activity coupled with a diet low in fat and calories) reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. Lifestyle changes worked particularly well for participants aged 60 and older, reducing their risk by 71 percent.

Here are a few simple dietary changes you and your family can make to help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Choose whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates. The bran and fiber found in whole grains make it more difficult for the body to break the starches down into glucose (sugar), which results in a lower, slower rise in blood glucose following a meal or snack. To get more fiber in your diet, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day; choose whole grain breads, cereals and pasta; and eat more beans, legumes and nuts.
  • Increase your intake of non-starchy vegetables. Vegetables are low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Add vegetables to your meals for both variety and nutrients; ideally, they should fill half your plate. Try to limit your intake of starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas, as these vegetables are higher in calories and have a greater impact on blood glucose.
  • Reduce your consumption of high-fat foods. Cutting back on the amount of high-fat foods you eat can help reduce body weight and insulin resistance. Try to include heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds and avocados in your diet. Try limiting the foods highest in saturated and trans fat, including fried and/or greasy foods, red meat, bacon, sausage, bologna, sour cream, whole milk, high-fat cheeses, ice cream, potato chips, packaged baked goods and any product that lists "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on the label. Choose lean cuts of meat and fish and low-fat dairy. Try to bake, broil, grill or steam foods rather than frying them.
  • Limit your intake of sugar and sweets. Increased intake of sugar and sweets not only contributes to weight gain but can also cause sustained spikes in blood glucose and insulin levels. So eat less candy, desserts and pastries. Avoid drinking fruit juices and sweetened beverages by opting for water and sugar-free beverages instead.
  • Eat at least three meals a day. Try to eat something every four to five hours throughout the day, and do not skip meals. This will help balance blood glucose levels throughout the day and help keep you from overeating in late afternoon and evening.

You can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes through such simple lifestyle changes as changing your diet, increasing your level of physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight. By taking these positive steps, you can live a healthier life that is diabetes-free.

For more information on diabetes prevention and how you can lower your risk of developing the disease, call 814.231.7194 or visit mountnittany.org.

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