As you pick up your morning coffee en route to work, you contemplate a glossy iced donut in the display case. You know it’s not good for you, but you deserve a treat, right? But before you make a grab for those tempting baked goods, consider this: These seemingly harmless everyday diet decisions aren’t linked just to the obesity epidemic in the United States, but also to the worldwide rise in type 2 diabetes. It’s time to ditch some bad everyday habits — before a diabetes diagnosis forces you to. This isn’t just idle advice, either. A British study of nearly 4,000 people found that such lifestyle fixes were key to stabilizing blood sugar and reversing metabolic syndrome, a condition that leads to diabetes. So what are you waiting for? Here are some important changes you can make to trim your waistline and cut your diabetes risk.
Drinking our calories is a big reason Americans are overweight — that’s the conclusion Harvard researchers reached after reviewing 30 studies on sweet drink consumption. Think of fruit “ades” (lemonade and the like), sweet tea, and regular soda as liquid “empty calories” because they’re all sugar with no nutritional value and no sense of satiety. When you’re thirsty, drink water, advises Shannon Knapp, RD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator at the Cleveland Clinic Diabetes Center. Low-fat milk is another good choice. When you have a craving for fruit juice, make sure it’s 100 percent juice and stop at one-half cup.
Sure, you’re in a rush to get going in the morning. But we’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and when it comes to diabetes prevention, that’s especially true. Forgoing your morning meal not only tends to backfire, making you ravenous by late morning, but can also create the perfect storm for type 2 diabetes, says Ellen Calogeras, RD, LD, CDE, a diabetes educator with the Cleveland Clinic Diabetes Center. Starving yourself until lunch sets off a chain reaction that disrupts insulin levels and blood sugar control. And you’ll likely eat more later, according to a study by researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Take time to eat a simple, balanced meal for both blood sugar control and weight loss — eggs, nut butters, fresh fruit, yogurt, whole-wheat pita pockets, or whole-grain bread are good breakfast fixin’s.
If you’re eating to beat diabetes, the produce market is where you want to be. Lots of vegetables in your diet help with blood sugar control and weight loss, especially the non-starchy ones like spinach, squash, tomatoes, and broccoli. If you have diabetes or want to avoid it, focus on filling one-half of your plate with veggies, suggests the American Diabetes Association. “You’ll get the fiber you need to feel full, and your blood glucose will stay balanced,” says Margaret Shields, MEd, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator with the Washington University Diabetes Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
And when it comes to fruit, luscious blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries in particular are loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants. These tasty jewels reduce blood pressure and damaging inflammation and improve insulin resistance for good blood sugar control, suggests research in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry.
Skip the burgers and hold the fries! If you’ve always turned up your nose at fish, it’s time to give this great-tasting, lean source of protein a second look. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which cut risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, keep arteries healthy, and are good for preventing diabetes, too, according to the American Heart Association. Try to get two servings every week. Other good protein choices for your diet include chicken or turkey without the skin, tofu, eggs (especially the cholesterol-free whites), and no-fat Greek yogurt.
Is your plate a sea of white? Too much pasta, potatoes, and white bread will cause your blood sugar to spike and will pile on the pounds — a bad sequence of events if you want to prevent type 2 diabetes, says Shields. To keep portion sizes under control and speed weight loss, the American Diabetes Association advises that you limit the starchy carbs in your diet to one-quarter of your plate. Switch from white bread to whole-grain bread for better blood sugar balance, diabetes control, and weight loss.
It’s hours since dinner, and you find yourself back in the kitchen again. If you’re indulging in nighttime noshing on a regular basis, beware: This eating pattern causes blood sugar spikes and disrupts insulin secretion, a bad pattern if you want to prevent type 2 diabetes, according to research in the British Journal of Nutrition that looked at the effects of eating patterns on night workers. By having three balanced meals every day, you help stifle the urge to indulge at night and provide better control of your blood sugar, says Barb Klingler, RN, BSN, CDE, diabetes educator at the Washington University Diabetes Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. But if you must have a late snack, don’t even buy tempting chips, donuts, and other “trigger” foods that will derail weight loss, she adds. Instead, have healthy foods like carrots and hummus handy.
Is the butter on your toast as thick as the bread itself? Butter and other saturated fats have been linked to insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Vegetable-based oils, which contain monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, are a healthier alternative. Extra virgin olive oil, for instance, is heart-healthy and a good choice if you are at risk for diabetes. However, keep in mind that oil is very calorie-dense, and using too much in your cooking will lead to weight gain, says Calogeras. Olive oil sprays are a good option to aid weight loss.
Don’t just “wing it” in the supermarket. To prevent diabetes and achieve the weight loss you want, planning is critical, says Klingler. “Take time to create menus and keep a list of healthy food items you need from the store,” she says. “This will help you resist impulse buys and junk food.” She also suggests starting your grocery shopping in the produce section, where you should get most of your week’s purchases. “A diet high in veggies is the secret to good blood sugar control and kicking diabetes,” she says.
Are you eating your emotions? Feeling sad, hopeless, or even worthless can lead to overeating and weight gain, according to a Dutch study that evaluated weight loss (and lack of it) among 1,500 people. Another study from Jordan found that people who are depressed are also less likely to take the right steps to manage their blood sugar and diabetes. Talk to your doctor if you suspect depression so you can get the help you need, says Klingler. “When you’re not depressed, you take better care of yourself,” she says. You’re also more likely to keep blood sugar balanced, stick to your weight-loss efforts, and prevent diabetes.
If you can’t stop indulging in fattening foods, you may want to get to bed a little earlier. “When you get fewer than six hours sleep, you disrupt hormones that control blood glucose and hunger, and that can lead to weight gain,” Klingler explains. Missing out on your zzz’s has also been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, so it’s important to make sleep a priority. If you snore, tell your doctor because it could indicate sleep apnea, which also affects blood sugar and heart health and can lead to diabetes.