How to Prevent Diabetes

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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Diabetes occurs when your body has trouble metabolizing insulin or can’t produce enough. Roughly 90 to 95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; this form occurs when your body can’t use insulin properly, and glucose builds up to dangerous levels in the blood.

The good news is your risk of developing type 2 diabetes may be lowered with lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, and weight loss. If you’ve tried and failed to make changes before, remember that persistence is key, and even small changes can have a powerful impact. According to a Diabetes Prevention Program study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people at a high risk for developing type 2 diabetes who lost just 5 to 7% of their weight with diet or exercise were able to prevent or delay onset of the condition.

How to prevent diabetes with diet changes

Developing Type 2 diabetes is strongly correlated with obesity, so managing your weight and, if needed, losing excess pounds, is a crucial part of diabetes prevention.

The NIH offers these suggestions for preventing diabetes by making changes to your diet and food choices:

  • Portion control. You can use your dinner plate to help you eyeball reasonable portion sizes. Aim to fill your plate with half fruits and vegetables, and a quarter each of lean protein and grains.
  • Eat less meat. Limit meat portions to three ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards. Opt for leaner protein choices like chicken, turkey, and fish when possible.
  • Slow down your eating. It takes roughly 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full; by slowing down your eating, you’re less likely to overeat before your brain realizes you’ve had enough.
  • Season with spices instead of salt. Eating healthier doesn’t mean your food has to be flavorless. Instead of relying on the saltshaker, experiment with different spices to jazz up your meal, using a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to add interest.
  • Keep a food diary. Tracking what you eat and how often may open your eyes to unhealthy patterns. For example, you may notice you tend to eat more when you’re bored or watching TV.

How to prevent diabetes with exercise

Regular exercise is another big component of weight management and diabetes prevention. The National Institutes of Health recommends at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. In other words, if you’re trying to lower your risk for diabetes, get moving.

Here’s how you can prevent diabetes by staying active:

  • Find a type of activity you enjoy. You’re far more likely to stick with exercise if you like it. So if you find yourself bored by treadmills but enjoy nature, head outside and take advantage of the great outdoors. Look up parks or hiking trails near where you live.
  • Incorporate exercise into your everyday routine. Small changes can add up to make a big difference. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking instead of driving to local spots.
  • Make it a social activity. Many people find staying active more enjoyable when it’s done with a friend. So, instead of meeting someone for coffee, try going on a walk or hike together instead. Or, sign up for a dance or fitness class and meet new friends.
  • Find safe ways to exercise at home. If you have trouble leaving the house because of your health or lack of transportation, you can still find safe ways to stay active from home. Find workout videos online, or make even ordinary household chores a little more fun by turning on some music. If it’s safe for you to do so, you might try doing strengthening exercises from home.

Of course, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regime to make sure you’re doing activities that are safe for your health and situation.  Also, make sure your doctor approves significant changes in your diet.  This article provides general information, and is not a substitute for medical advice.  Only a licensed medical professional can diagnose and treat medical conditions such as diabetes.

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Sources

Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source: “Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes,” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/diabetes-prevention/preventing-diabetes-full-story/#intro

National Institutes of Health, “Small Steps, Big Rewards. Prevent Type 2 Diabetes Campaign Overview,” https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/ndep/partnership-community-outreach/campaigns/small-steps-big-rewards/Pages/smallstepsbigrewards.aspx

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