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How does changing my diet lower my risk for type 2 diabetes?

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Research shows that being overweight or obese puts us at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The kind of food we eat and the timing of our meals can make a difference in our weight and blood sugar levels. For example, eating small frequent meals with half of the plate filled with non-starchy vegetables instead of loading up on white rice, bread and sweets will have a positive effect when it comes to diabetes prevention. It is important to balance out the amount of carbohydrate containing food throughout the day. Keep in mind a healthy lifestyle includes a healthy diet in conjunction with regular physical activity to significantly lower diabetes risk.

Studies show that people at high risk for diabetes may be able to prevent diabetes with weight loss, healthy eating and exercise.

One of the most famous studies that looked at the prevention of type 2 diabetes is called the Diabetes Prevention Plan study or DPP. Scientists studied whether changing lifestyle habits, such as choosing healthier foods and physical activity, or taking diabetes medication could delay or prevent type 2 diabetes in people at high risk for the disease. The study ended a year early, when scientists discovered some amazing results!

DPP study results:

  • People who lost about 7 percent of their body weight through eating well and increasing their physical activity (30 minutes a day five times a week) had a 58 percent lower incidence of diabetes than people who took a placebo (dummy pill).
  • People in the study who took the diabetes medication metformin had 31 percent lower incidence of diabetes than people who took a placebo.

Find out if you are at risk for prediabetes or diabetes at www.diabetes.org/risktest.

Clyde Mealy
Fitness Specialist

As mentioned, family history and being overweight are strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes. A lifestyle change that includes fat loss with moderate daily exercise of 30 minutes or more (walking or cycling) and working with your primary care physician along with a registered dietitian can yield positive results. These simple changes can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Change is inevitable and taking action is key for success.

Dr. William E. Brown, MD
Internist

The risk factors for type 2 diabetes are: family history, age over 45, race/ethnic background, metabolic syndrome, inactivity, history of diabetes in pregnancy as well as several other medical conditions.

While some of these risk factors can not be changed, the other 50 percent can. Improving ones diet has direct implications on preventing the metabolic syndrome and changing one's cholesterol profile thereby lowering ones risks for developing type 2 diabetes.

According to the American Heart Association, the metabolic syndrome should be diagnosed in anyone having: a waist greater than 40" in men or greater than 35" in women, triglycerides greater than 150, HDL less than 40 for men or less than 50 for women, blood pressure greater than 130/85 and a fasting blood sugar greater than 100. Triglycerides and HDL are components of the cholesterol profile. While it is recommended to keep triglycerides less than 150, the higher the HDL the better.

Eating a nutrient, protein and fiber rich diet deplete of excess carbohydrates, simple sugars, salt and saturated fats promotes weight loss, lowers blood pressure and improves your cholesterol profile. Combining dietary modification with a progressive exercise regimen enhances the effect, further improving blood pressure control, weight loss and insulin resistance. This is the mechanism whereby changing your diet lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Working with your physician and health coach to achieve a healthy weight along with healthy habits has proven time and time again to work with many individuals. Consuming balanced portion controlled meals 5 to 6 times daily every 3 hours along with adequate hydration and movement can help you achieve a healthy weight and healthy habits that help your body recover faster reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes. This writer has witnessed cases of individuals working with their physician and health coach over a short span of time follow a similar plan of action that ultimately reduced their medication needs, and/or allowed him or her to come off of it all together.

DISCLAIMER The information presented here is based on the writers personal research conducted over seven years of working in the fitness industry as a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer, and three years as a Certified Health Coach. If you are experiencing behaviors described in this discussion, consult your physician or qualified medical practitioner. Personal Fitness Coaches/Trainer’s and/or Certified Health Coaches are not a substitute for a physician or qualified medical practitioner.

Studies from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that having a body weight appropriate for your height and age by itself reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 60 to 70 percent. Eating a healthier diet reduced the risk by about 15 percent and not smoking lowered the risk by about 20 percent.

If you are overweight you can lose weight to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by doing the following:

  • Set a weight loss goal you can meet (check with your doctor before starting any weight loss plan).
  • Aim to lose about 5 to 7 percent of your current weight and keep it off.
  • Keep track of your daily food intake and physical activity in a logbook and review it daily.
  • For support, invite family and friends to get involved.
  • Keep healthier snacks, such as fruit and vegetables, at home and at work.
  • Pack healthier lunches for you and your family.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, brown rice, pasta or oatmeal.
  • Select lean meats and poultry.
  • Choose more fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds as protein sources.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Much research has shown that changing to a healthy diet can substantially lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. After many years of controversy, it appears that the most successful strategy is to follow a "Mediterranean diet," with nuts as one of the major sources of good dietary fats (omega-3 fats). Such a diet is plant-based with fresh (preferably organic) vegetables in abundant quantities and olive oil as the principal source of dietary fat. Dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts and red meat is eaten sparingly and infrequently. This type of diet is typically moderate in fat quantity, with fat comprising 25 to 35 percent of total daily calories and saturated (bad) fat less than 10 percent. This type of diet has been shown to prevent prediabetes and diabetes when it is combined with regular exercise. A recent study (Archives of Internal Medicine 2008) showed added benefits when nuts were added as a fat source.

Nuts (especially walnuts) have been shown to be high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have many benefits for people with diabetes or at risk for it. Nuts can be a great snack to incorporate into your diet. Many are high in monounsaturated fats, which lower bad LDL cholesterol while simultaneously raising good HDL cholesterol and can help insulin sensitivity. Nuts are also a concentrated source of protein, fats and fiber, which make them slower for your body to digest and very filling. For this reason, it appears that nuts help individuals maintain a healthy weight, rather than contributing to a person becoming overweight.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.