Prevent Diabetes in 9 Steps

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

Medically reviewed in February 2021

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Change Your Life, Prevent Diabetes

Finding out you have borderline diabetes or prediabetes can be a shocker. But there's an upside: It means there's time to make the U-turn that'll keep you from developing full-blown diabetes and its devastating consequences, including heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, vision loss, kidney failure and even limb amputation (it's the grisly truth—diabetes messes with circulation, so small injuries may refuse to heal). Making small lifestyle changes can make a big difference to your health and prevent the Big D. Let's get started!

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Become a Regular at the Farmers' Market

Making fresh produce the main focus of your meals can cut your diabetes risk by 24 percent or more, thanks in part to all the fiber, which steadies blood sugar. In fact, just adding to your diet some greens, such as arugula or baby spinach, could lower your odds by 14 percent. The magnesium and polyphenols in leafy greens help you stay sensitive to insulin—essential for blood sugar absorption. Enjoy citrus year-round, too. Tangerines and grapefruit contain helpful compounds called naringenin and nobiletin. Try these delicious, diabetes-friendly recipes.

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Put Meat in Its Place

If you're like most people, a meat-based main course takes up half of your dinner plate. To side-step diabetes, adjust that approach. As we said earlier, at least half your plate should be produce. The other half can be divided between protein, such as lean chicken, and high-fiber starches, such as whole-wheat pasta or potatoes with the skin. Find out why you might want to nix meat altogether.

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Keep the Fiber Coming

As you revisit your meals, focus on foods your body digests slowly so blood sugar is released into your bloodstream gradually. Here are some good examples: beans, such as kidney and pinto, are a low-fat, nutritious source of protein, plus they're also high in fiber. Whole grains are nutrient-rich, high in fiber, and low on the glycemic index so they don't rush into your bloodstream at warp speed. Fruits and veggies are also high in fiber and typically low-cal so eat up.

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Skip Processed Meats

The nitrites and saturated fats in processed meats (hot dogs, knockwurst, bacon, sausage) boost diabetes risk by 19% (and fuel cancer and heart troubles, too.) Great alternatives: skinless white-meat turkey, juicy portobello "steaks," marinated salmon or chicken breasts, veggie burgers or—if you've gotta—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. You don't have to join a gym (unless you want to!), just get your body moving—and your heart pumping—for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Exercise ramps up fat burning and improves insulin sensitivity, which helps your body use glucose efficiently. So, make time in your schedule to run, bike or even dance. Just be sure you get a mix of strength, stamina, and flexibility into your exercise routine. Try our Do-Anywhere Workout Plan.

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Snack on Nuts

When you're looking for something to nosh on, refuel with a handful of nuts. The healthful fats in nuts can whack diabetes risk 21 percent. A little lean protein or some healthful fats helps your body absorb and use blood sugar more effectively. Since nuts have lots of calories (14 walnut halves have 185), either stick with a small handful or buy them prechopped. Try sprinkling them on salads, squash, asparagus, oatmeal and yogurt.

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Reduce Stress

Don't wait for vacations to tame tension. Both high anxiety and lack of sleep mess up the absorption of blood sugar. Getting less than six hours of ZZZs a night doubles diabetes risk, as does a high-stress job. Ease your angst by turning in earlier, exercising to blow off steam, and finding a stress-reduction technique you love. Meditation and yoga work well for lots of people. Either will put the ahhhhh back in your life. You deserve it.

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Cut Down on Sugar

Switch your fancy coffee drink for sugarless chai latte (nonfat, of course). Chugging just one sugar-loaded drink a day boosts diabetes risk 26 percent and metabolic syndrome 20 percent. Substituting an ice-cold glass of fat-free milk does the opposite: it cuts your risk 12 percent. Fat-free yogurt and cheese count, too. The calcium, vitamin D and minerals in dairy help your body process blood sugar.

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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 family history, age and ethnic background. 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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