How can I help prevent type 2 diabetes?

Emilia Klapp
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The Diabetes Prevention Program, a study that started in the late 1990s, found that people at risk for type 2 diabetes who lost a small amount of weight (about 10 to 20 pounds) and became physically active could prevent or delay its development. Participants in the study were physically active for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and ate fewer calories, less fat, and smaller portions.

You can help prevent type 2 diabetes by simply living a healthier lifestyle. With a healthy lifestyle you can dramatically reduce the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes.

In fact, studies by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that by engaging in physical activity, eating a healthier diet, maintaining an appropriate body weight, limiting alcohol consumption and not smoking you can cut your risk of diabetes by as much as 80 percent.

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Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

Type 2 diabetes (which used to be called adult-onset diabetes) is an epidemic in the United States. As we age, we are at an increased risk of diabetes, which now affects over 18 million adults—more than half of whom are women—in the United States. While genetics may play a role in who develops diabetes, research data from the long-term Nurses' Health Study suggests that 90 percent of type 2 diabetes in women is attributable to behavioral and lifestyle factors such as excess weight, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet.

But that's good news in terms of prevention. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a national clinical trial, found that just 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity and a 5 to 10 percent loss in body weight will reduce the risk of a person's developing diabetes by more than half. Two-thirds of the participants in this study were women of all ages and ethnic groups. In the study, everybody was told to eat less fat and exercise more, but one group received intensive training in how to diet, exercise and change other behaviors (e.g., how to shop for and cook healthier meals and overcome personal obstacles to losing weight). The results were so dramatic—coinciding as well with the findings of several other large-scale international studies—that the study was stopped one year early so the results could be reported to the public in 2002.

These are the most important dietary changes you can make to help prevent diabetes:

  • Balance how many calories you eat with how active you are.
  • Limiting portion sizes was one of the major ways that participants in the Diabetes Prevention Program were able to lose weight and reduce their risk of diabetes.
  • Eat whole grains and whole-grain products rather than highly processed carbohydrates.
  • Eat less saturated fat and avoid trans fats.
  • Learn how to read food labels and become a "fat detective"; foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats.
Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause

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Get a dental checkup and cleaning! Research has shown that periodontal (gum) disease can increase your risk of adult (type 2) diabetes by as much as seven times. Gum disease interferes with the body's ability to regulate blood sugar and is a major source of chronic low grade inflammation. A healthy mouth and healthy gums helps reduce this diabetes risk, as well as your risk for many other major diseases such as heart attack, stroke and cancer.

Although some causes of diabetes can be mitigated by a healthy diet and exercise, there are risk factors you can't change—like family history, age or ethnic background—but others you can change. Make sure you're doing all that you can to protect yourself from diabetes and its complications, and keep in mind that even modest changes can have a big impact on lowering your risk. Start with these three steps:

Move your body
Research shows that 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 or run a marathon (unless you want to!), just get your body moving—and your heart pumping—for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Maintain a healthy weight
When it comes to how to prevent diabetes, one of the most important steps you can take is to maintain a healthy weight. By keeping your body mass index (BMI) at less than 25 you can reduce risk of diabetes as well as other conditions, such as heart disease. Diabetes-prevention studies show that losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help prevent or delay diabetes. If your BMI is high, aim to nudge it closer to the 25 mark—it'll make a big difference in your health.

Get screened
Regular screening can identify the warning signs of diabetes at their earliest stages, which gives you the best chance of delaying or even preventing the onset of diabetes. Current guidelines recommend that regular screenings begin at age 45—unless you have additional risk factors that warrant screening at an earlier age. Talk to your doctor about the causes of diabetes, how you can prevent its onset and what type of diabetes screening schedule is appropriate for you.

Walking 30 minutes a day (at least five days a week) and losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can lower your type 2 diabetes risk by 58 percent, but if you have trouble sticking to that tried-and-true approach, here are some clever ways to prevent diabetes:

  1. Cut back on red meat. One palm-sized daily serving of red meat increases your diabetes risk 19 percent. Gobble down a hot dog, a sausage patty or two bacon strips daily and your risk soars 51 percent.
  2. Keep a food journal. Recording every bite you eat each day can double your weight loss, and that's a big part of the diabetes prevention plan.
  3. Get busy. Sex eases stress and increases self-esteem, and that helps you make healthier food and activity choices.
  4. Sip coffee. Three cups of Joe a day decreases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  5. Eat Greek. A Mediterranean diet (veggies, fruits, nuts, olive oil, seafood and not much dairy or meat) slashes your risk of type 2 diabetes by 83 percent.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body cannot or does not produce enough insulin to manage blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity, though people of average weight may also develop the disease.

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Research has also shown that weight-loss surgery may have more success in managing diabetes rather with than traditional medical therapies.

Maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you are overweight, can help prevent diabetes. Making healthy food choices and exercising regularly are also things one can do to help prevent diabetes. Exercising to a moderate degree for 30 minutes a day for five days a week can help against developing diabetes.

Exercise and weight loss can help prevent the onset of diabetes. Research shows that lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and frequent exercise, can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes. For example, losing 5 to 10 percent of one’s weight can decrease the chances of developing diabetes by as much as 58 percent. Getting 30 minutes of light exercise, such as walking, several times a week can also help prevent diabetes.

Millions of people do not even know they have diabetes. Routine medical care is crucial to catching high blood sugars early so you can start treatment as soon as possible.

Here are 3 simple steps that you can take to help prevent diabetes.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese makes your cells less sensitive to insulin, which increases your blood sugar (glucose). Being overweight not only makes you more likely to develop diabetes. It also increases your risk for other health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. The good news is losing just 7-10 pounds (about 5 to 7 percent of your weight) can help you gain control of your blood sugar levels.
  2. Exercise. Exercise can lower your blood sugar and make your cells more sensitive to insulin. The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times per week. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that brisk walking can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by up to 30 percent.
  3. Eat more fiber. Fiber slows down your body's ability to absorb carbohydrates. That can keep you feeling full, which can help with weight management. To maximize your fiber intake, consider swapping refined grains/starches for whole wheat bread or tortillas, whole wheat pasta, brown rice or oatmeal.

Other dietary changes that can help you prevent diabetes and its complications are:

  • eat more colorful vegetables
  • have an occasional meatless meal
  • avoid high sugar beverages
  • limit saturated fats

For more information about diabetes or to find out if you are at risk, check with your primary care doctor.

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A few simple lifestyle changes can lessen your chances of being diagnosed with diabetes or delay its onset.

Try making some of these changes:

  • Cut back on calories and saturated fat.
  • Lose weight, if you are overweight. Research shows that you can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes by more than half if you lose just 7 percent of your body weight. For someone who weighs 200 pounds, that weight loss translates to 15 pounds.
  • Exercise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity, such as brisk walking.
  • Get active. Aside from a formal exercise routine, take steps to be more active. Park in the spot farthest from the store entrance; take the steps instead of the elevator; pace rather than sit while you're talking on the phone; and if you work in an office, get up to talk to a coworker rather than sending email.

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If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, there is a silver lining. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented. If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, or are at risk for developing diabetes, you can significantly lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Studies show that people have delayed or prevented the onset of type 2 diabetes by losing 5-7 percent of their body weight through diet and exercise.

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Recent research has suggested that shedding some excess weight, exercising regularly and eating a balanced, high-fiber, healthy diet may be the best strategy to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A landmark study by the Diabetes Prevention Program of more than 3,000 individuals with prediabetes showed that those who made changes in their lifestyle, such as losing weight, exercising 2.5 hours a week, eating a plant-based, heart-healthy diet, and meeting with a health professional for ongoing support and education, were 58 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who did not partake in the intervention.

When it comes to winning the battle against diabetes, a healthful diet and lifestyle is the best game plan.

William Lee Dubois

Type-2 is a disease process with a genetic basis that requires a trigger. In the simplest possible terms, the underlying disease is your mother’s fault, but when you get it is up to you.

T-2 is triggered by age, weight, or a magic combination of the two. So if you are pre-disposed to get T-2, it will likely manifest when you are either old enough or heavy enough. The age of forty used to be the commonest age. Now that people are getting heavier earlier in life, we notice that the average age at diagnosis is getting younger and younger.

Neither age nor weight alone is enough to cause the diabetes, your body needs to be set up for it. A family history of diabetes is the best indicator of a likely pre-disposition, but lack of a family history of diabetes does not guarantee you are in the clear, as every human is a unique mix of genes from both sides of their family.

As to prevention: for the sake of argument, let’s assume you do have a family history. Frankly, you have a very good chance of getting diabetes. However, the healthier you keep your weight, the older you’ll be before it develops. This is much easier said than done, as the same genes that set you up for diabetes are the also the same ones that make it easy to put weight on and make it hard to keep weight off. Bummer.

So keeping trim is a real challenge for people with Type-2 genes, but making a good effort, and avoiding a lot of empty carbs (such as sodas, excessive sweets, and too many doughnuts and the like) can go a long way to helping push back or prevent the onset of diabetes. And the earlier you start the more likely you will succeed. When your blood sugar starts getting wacky is not the time to start thinking about your diet.

If you have diabetes, or are starting to develop it, your children are at risk too. Even if it is “too late” for you, getting your kids started on life-long healthy eating habits is the single best thing you can do for them.

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented through diet and exercise. When researchers tried to test the theory that physical activity and diet programs could prevent and/or control type 2 diabetes, they found that studies presented “strong evidence of effectiveness” of diet and exercise to prevent type 2 diabetes,and that the regimen was superior to the usual care given to people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Specifically, the recommendations were that people receive:

  • at least three months of working directly with qualified trainers
  • dedicated counseling, coaching and support
  • sessions on how to change diet and increase physical activity
  • sessions delivered in person or via email or online, or all of these

If you have type 2 diabetes or suspect you may be prediabetic, ask your doctor about an exercise and diet regimen based on these recommendations.

Some types of diabetes can be prevented. In this video, Carole Radney, RN, of Coliseum Medical Centers, discusses how patients at risk for diabetes can work to delay or prevent onset of the disease.

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Long-term healthy weight maintenance is the single best way to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Eat nutrient dense foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, proteins including lean meat, nuts, legumes, beans, soy or dairy and reduced saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Strive for physical activity daily in which you break a sweat for at least 30 minutes. If you are unsure if you are healthy enough for exercise, check with your doctor. As a rule you should be able to talk while you walk. If you are out of breath and unable to talk while exercising, decrease the intensity.

Making lifestyle changes like eating healthier, exercising and losing weight can help prevent type 2 diabetes. In this video, I will explain how simple changes can reduce your risks.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

To protect yourself against type 2 diabetes:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy female body mass index (BMI) should be less than 35.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fiber from whole grains, lean protein, and plenty fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods loaded with sugar and trans fats.
  • Exercise regularly. Get at least 20 minutes of cardio three times a week by brisk walking, biking, or using an elliptical trainer.
Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

You can help prevent type 2 diabetes with a three-pronged effort of maintaining a normal weight, exercising daily and eating a healthy diet.

Research has found that a 5 to 7 percent weight loss (that’s 10 to 14 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week, is more effective at delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes than medicine, according to a major study. Finally, eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meat, fish, beans and nonfat dairy products. Try for at least 20 grams of fiber a day. Avoid white sugar and other sweets. Keep fats to less than 30 percent of your total daily calories and saturated fat to less than 10 percent.

Talk to your doctor for more information about preventing diabetes.

Some people think diabetes is caused by eating sugar. But that is not true. Having diabetes is not your fault. Your chances of getting diabetes go way up if it runs in your family. If you're overweight and physically inactive, you also increase your chances of getting diabetes. Losing a small amount of weight, even 10 pounds, can make a difference. To delay or prevent diabetes, eating less than usual and being more physically active can help you lose weight.

Find out if you are at risk for prediabetes or diabetes at

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy weight; getting regular physical exercise and eating a healthy diet.

Even small changes can make a big difference. Researchers involved with the Diabetes Prevention Program study found that the combination of 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week or 150 minutes per week and a 7 percent reduction in body weight led to a 58 percent reduction in diabetes.

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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.