The typical American diet leaves a lot to be desired. It’s heavy on calories, saturated fats, added sugars, fatty meats, baked goods, and highly processed grains.
This type of diet is linked to Type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems. In America, 84 million adults currently have prediabetes, the leading risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.
With frightening statistics like this, registered dietitian and nutritionist Jill Weisenberger says everyone should examine their diet and consider adopting some healthier eating habits to help prevent Type 2 diabetes and improve their overall health.
“There are many ways to build a wholesome and disease-fighting diet,” says Weisenberger.
Here are the foods you should include in your diabetes-prevention dietary pattern.
Legumes and pulses (beans, peas, lentils). Diets rich in legumes have beneficial effects on both short- and long-term fasting blood glucose levels.
Not only are they full of plant protein, but they also contain potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber, including a special type called “resistant starch.”
Resistant starches resist digestion in the small intestine. Instead, they travel to the colon, feeding beneficial gut bacteria that then produce short-chain fatty acids.
These acids seem to protect the colon cells, make the gut environment more suitable for the friendly bacteria and less suitable for their harmful cousins, and even improve the way our bodies respond to insulin.
Some common options to enjoy are soybeans, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, and pinto beans.
Nuts. Some studies show that when people with Type 2 diabetes consume nuts, their blood glucose levels improve. Many studies show that eating nuts also helps prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Nuts — such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts — provide unsaturated fats, vegetable protein, fiber, folate, magnesium, and a host of other vitamins and minerals. Nuts are calorie dense, however, so keep portion sizes in mind.
Yogurt. One large population study found that an increase of one serving of yogurt per day was associated with an 18% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It’s unclear how yogurt could influence health this way, but it may be related to its probiotics or unique nutritional profile.
Whole grains. Healthful patterns that include whole grains appear to be associated with less Type 2 diabetes. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, wheat berries, farro, whole rye, whole-grain corn and barley, oats, oatmeal, rolled oats, wild and brown rice, popcorn, and quinoa.
Herbs and spices. These flavor boosters provide the same types of disease-fighting phytonutrients that are in fruits and vegetables. Cinnamon in particular has been studied for its potential effects on blood glucose levels. Add some fresh or dried seasonings to oatmeal, cottage cheese, yogurt, and even coffee.
Vinegar. Research suggests that vinegar consumed with a high-carbohydrate meal improves both blood glucose and insulin levels. Sprinkle some on your salad, roasted vegetables, and other foods.
Berries. A Finnish study found that middle-aged and older men who consumed the most berries had a whopping 35% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Choose strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and others.
Fruits. Many people fear fruit because most of the carbohydrate in fruit is sugar. While carbohydrate raises blood glucose levels more than other nutrients, it is not true that fruit raises blood glucose more than other carb-containing foods.
“Fruits, along with other plant foods, contain so many disease-fighting, insulin-sensitizing compounds that it’s a bad idea to forgo them,” Weisenberger said.
Coffee and tea. Several studies link drinking coffee (decaffeinated or regular) to less risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
“Keep your coffee low-calorie and healthful by drinking it plain or with a splash of milk,” Weisenberger said. “A heavy hand with syrups, sugars, and cream will turn your coffee into quite a nutritional goof.”
Likewise, analysis suggest that the more tea an individual drinks, the greater the benefit, with as little as one cup per day dropping the risk of developing the disease by 3 percent.
Unsaturated fats. Switching to more healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats appears to boost insulin sensitivity. A Mediterranean-style diet is typically rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fats. A few sources of unsaturated fats include olive, canola, and peanut oils; tree nuts; peanuts; nut butters; avocados; and olives.
Weisenberger suggests using a list of foods that are associated with less risk of diabetes to create your weekly grocery list. It’s OK to gradually start introducing some of these foods into your diet. A complete diet overhaul rarely lasts, but one with gradual changes is more likely to stick.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, partnered with the American Diabetes Association to write Prediabetes: A Complete Guide: Your Lifestyle Reset to Stop Prediabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses. An internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert and certified health and wellness coach, she is the author of four books. www.jillweisenberger.com or www.diabetes.org