9 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes

Find out how you can help prevent diabetes by making simple lifestyle changes.

Updated on July 11, 2023

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Finding out you have borderline diabetes or prediabetes can be distressing. But there's an upside to receiving this news: It means there's time to make changes to your lifestyle. Adopting new, healthier habits can help keep you from developing type 2 diabetes and avoid its complications, which may include heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, and much more.  

Even small changes can make a big difference in your health. Here’s how to get started.

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Become a Produce Aisle Regular

Making fresh produce the main focus of your meals can cut your diabetes risk, thanks in part to the added fiber, which helps steady blood sugar. Adding greens to your diet, such as arugula, collard greens, kale, and spinach, is a healthy choice. So is focusing on whole, raw fruits rather than fruit juice or cooked fruits.

While starchy foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peas are typically okay to eat, try to limit your portions, as they contain the kind of carbs that raise blood sugar.

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Put Meat in Its Place

Numerous studies have found that eating a diet high in animal protein—especially red meat—puts you at greater risk for developing diabetes. Yet for many people, a meat-based main course takes up half of a typical dinner plate. 

To help lower diabetes risk, it’s wise to adjust that approach. Set aside at least half your plate for produce. The other half can be divided between a lean protein—such as poultry, fish, or a plant-based option like tofu—and high-fiber starches, such as whole-wheat pasta or brown rice. 

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Keep the Fiber Coming

As you revisit your meals, focus on fiber-rich foods. Your body can’t absorb fiber, so it doesn’t cause your blood sugar to rise like other kinds of carbs.

Whole grains are nutrient-rich, high in fiber, and help keep your blood sugar level. Avoid white rice and regular pasta, and instead opt for items like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat. Legumes, including lentils, peas, and garbanzo beans, are another great source of fiber, as are fruits and non-starchy veggies. Consider picking up leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, and fruits like apples, pears, and bananas on your next shopping trip. 

The best way to change your fiber intake is slowly—if you make a big change quickly, it could lead to short-term digestive problems. And always stay hydrated to help fiber move through your system.

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Skip Processed Meats

There’s no getting around it: Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage boost diabetes risk (and fuel cancer and heart troubles, too). Instead, look for unprocessed or minimally processed alternatives. These include legumes, poultry, fish, juicy portobello mushroom "steaks," veggie burgers or—if you have a craving for beef—burgers made with extra-lean, grass-fed beef.

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Move Your Body

One of the most effective ways to lower your risk of diabetes is to be physically active. Aim to get heart-healthy cardio exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, plus two additional sessions of strength training. Working out improves insulin sensitivity, which helps your body use glucose efficiently.

Handful of walnuts and conkers (chestnuts)
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Snack on Nuts

When you're looking for something to nosh on, refuel with a handful of nuts. A little lean protein and some healthful fats help your body absorb and use blood sugar more effectively. Since nuts have lots of calories (14 walnut halves have 185), stick with a small handful, or 1/4 cup. Try sprinkling them on salads, roasted vegetables, oatmeal, or yogurt.

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Reduce Stress

Don't wait for your next vacation to ease tension. Living with high levels of stress can affect your blood sugar levels. Getting poor or insufficient sleep on a regular basis also heightens diabetes risk. The two issues feed into each other, too: High stress can worsen sleep, while poor sleep can increase stress.

You can work on adjusting your daily habits to reduce stress levels. Try setting an earlier bedtime, exercising to help blow off steam, and finding a stress-reduction technique you love. Meditation and yoga work well for many people. 

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Cut Down on Sugar

Drinking just one can of soda each day adds about 40 extra grams of sugar to your diet. Other drinks, like fruit juices and gourmet coffee drinks, can also contain high amounts of the sweet stuff. 

To help lower your diabetes risk, try to limit or avoid consuming sugar-sweetened drinks—and keep an eye on your sugar intake in general. Cut back on processed foods such as breakfast cereal, chips, cookies, and white bread. Eat baked goods and other desserts in small portions, or just on special occasions. Choose healthy snacks whenever possible.

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Know the Risk Factors

Although healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way toward preventing diabetes, it's important to be aware of risk factors you can't change, such as your family history and age. Make sure you keep doing all that you can to protect yourself from diabetes and its complications, and remember: Even modest changes can have a big impact on lowering your risk.

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