Minor Changes to Your Diet Could Help Prevent Diabetes

As obesity rates continue to rise, diabetes has become an epidemic. Luckily, there are a few simple dietary changes that can decrease your risk.

Type 2 Diabetes and Blood Glucose Levels

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in the United States and is a condition in which individuals are unable to process insulin properly or at all. Insulin is a hormone that helps our cells turn glucose into energy. If your body has too little insulin, glucose builds up in your blood, causing headaches, fatigue, and tissue and organ damage.

Thankfully, many people may be able to control or improve their type 2 diabetes without medications, and you can sometimes prevent or delay the onset of diabetes by changing aspects of your lifestyle. Studies show that a healthy diet is a key element in diabetes prevention and control.

Make Educated Decisions About Food

While food serves as fuel for our body, it also gives us joy. You don’t have to eliminate foods that you love, but it might be a good idea to eat them less. Studies show that a well-balanced, low fat, low sodium, high fiber diet can help you reduce or even avoid diabetes and diabetic medications. A healthy diet also helps combat other diabetes risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

While many diabetics count carbs, this can be difficult without help from a registered dietician. However, you can control your carbohydrate intake and food choices using portion control. At lunch or dinner, take a nine-inch plate, and portion your meal as follows:

  • 50% non-starchy vegetables
  • 25% lean protein
  • 25% grain or starchy food

You can also add a small glass of low fat or skim milk and a piece of fruit to your meal. On those occasions where you splurge on fatty, salty, and sugary foods, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, increase your activity level and return to your healthy routine at your next meal.

Eat High-Fiber Foods

Many people mistakenly believe that all carbohydrates are created equal. In fact, people with diabetes shouldn’t avoid carbs completely. Instead, choose high-value carbohydrates and high-fiber options. Unlike sugars, your body doesn’t break down fiber. While fiber helps with digestion, lowers cholesterol levels, and makes you feel full, it doesn’t add calories or increase your blood glucose levels.

Learning to read nutrition labels is key. When you look at a food’s nutritional label, you’ll notice that fiber is listed as a carbohydrate. If you’re counting carbs or considering your food choices, you should subtract fiber from a food’s total carb amount. 

Additionally, some starchy foods are better choices than others. Sweet potatoes, for example, have roughly the same amount of carbs as a white potato. However, sweet potatoes have more fiber, vitamin A, and beta carotene. They are also lower on the glycemic index and cause a slightly less dramatic spike in blood sugars. When you’re meal planning, look carefully at nutritional data and select options based on more than carb amounts.

Avoid Salty and Fatty Foods

Fat and salt do not increase your blood glucose. However, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease are linked to diabetes. Diabetics are two- to four-times more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke when compared to non-diabetics. Cutting back on salty, fatty foods can help improve your overall health and help you lose weight. 

Sugar Free and Low Fat Doesn’t Always Mean Low Carb

While grocery shopping, you might see “diabetic” or “sugar free” foods. However, many sugar-free products still contain sugar alcohols, flour, milk products, and other carb-heavy substances. Before you eat a sugar-free or “no sugar added” food, review its nutrition facts. 

Similarly, many low fat, prepared foods are loaded with sugar and salt. Fat makes food taste richer and more flavorful. In low-fat foods, manufacturers frequently increase salt and sugar amounts to compensate. For example, consider yogurt — a food many consider a healthy choice. However, according to the USDA, the sugar content in an eight-ounce container of yogurt can vary dramatically:

  • Plain, whole milk yogurt: 10.58 g of sugar
  • Plain, low fat yogurt: 15.98 g of sugar
  • Fruit-flavored, low-fat yogurt: 43.24 g of sugar

While the fat content in whole milk yogurt has more than twice the fat of a low-fat serving, it also delivers a quarter of the carbs.

When in doubt, check with a registered dietician. A dietician can help you formulate a plan that maximizes your carb intake with nutritionally dense and enjoyable foods. 

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Many Americans skip breakfast in the morning or opt for a cup of coffee instead. However, skipping breakfast can have a significant impact on your blood glucose levels. In a 2015 clinical study, researchers studied the blood glucose levels of a group of type 2 diabetes patients. The patients were given identical meal plans with one exception — on certain days, they were not given breakfast. On days when they skipped breakfast, their blood glucose levels were 37% higher after lunch and dinner. 

Eating breakfast can also help you make healthier food choices throughout the day, improve your attention span, and increase your energy levels. Rather than opting for a cup of coffee or a sugary baked good, choose a high-protein, low fat breakfast option. Simple, commuter-friendly choices might include whole grain toast with peanut butter, smoothies made with plain yogurt and unsweetened fruit, and oatmeal.

Other Ways to Combat Diabetes

Diet is only one part of a comprehensive diabetes plan. Additionally, you can work on controlling your weight, increasing your physical activity, seeking regular medical treatment, and following your doctors’ medication and treatment recommendations. Even small improvements can make a positive difference.


Jakubowicz, D. (2015, October). Fasting until noon triggers increased postprandial hyperglycemia and impaired insulin response after lunch and dinner in individuals with type 2 diabetes: a randomized clinical trial. Diabetes Care. Retrieved from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/38/10/1820

USDA food composition databases (2016, May). U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/