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Diet tips to prevent Type 2 diabetes

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Change your diet & avoid diabetes

Did you know diabetes is a leading cause of death in the US today? With two-thirds of the adult population -- and nearly one-fifth of children and adolescents -- considered overweight or obese, the incidence of diabetes is predicted to increase. In fact, experts estimate that one in three children who were born in 2000 will develop the disease. Changes in diet can go a long way in helping with weight loss as well as the prevention of diabetes. Diet and fitness expert for the CNN Health team, Dr Melina Jampolis shares her top diet tips to prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Overweight Teen eating cereal

What is diabetes?

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 24 percent of the US population has diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, is usually diagnosed in childhood and is the result of the body not being able to produce insulin, the hormone that converts sugar, starches and other foods into energy. Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, develops when the body does not produce enough insulin or the body's cells ignore the insulin available. This leads to high levels of glucose or sugar in the blood, which leads to diabetes-related complications. People born with Type 1 diabetes can manage the disease with insulin therapy and other treatments. The primary treatment for people who develop Type 2 diabetes is losing weight, exercise and diet.

The danger of diabetes

Before people develop Type 2 diabetes, they almost always have pre-diabetes, a condition characterized by blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Experts estimate that 57 million Americans have prediabetes -- and many don't even know it. Dr Jampolis, physician nutritionist and disease prevention specialist, says prediabetes is of particular concern with children.

"Prediabetes is what is really concerning as this is likely due mainly to weight. At the current rate of obesity in children, it is estimated that two in five children could become diabetic during their lifetime…and one in six overweight adolescents aged 12 to 19 already have pre-diabetes."

Many complications arise from diabetes, including heart disease, blindness, kidney problems, vascular disease, nerve damage and even depression. Left untreated, diabetes can be life-threatening.

Who is at risk for type 2 diabetes?

Family history and being overweight are strong risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes. Dr Jampolis warns that race can also put someone at higher risk. She says, "Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders." Age is another risk factor; your diabetes risk increases as you get older.

Tips to prevent type 2 diabetes

In addition to regular visits to your doctor, who can monitor your blood sugar levels and detect if you have pre-diabetes, following a healthy lifestyle can help you delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes. Dr Jampolis strongly advocates a high-fiber diet and regular physical activity, which are crucial for weight loss (a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes).

Here is her top 10 list of ways to ward off the disease:

  1. Lose weight.
  2. Exercise regularly including strength training (aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day).
  3. Eat five servings per day of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruit each day.
  4. Get plenty of fiber (aim for 25 grams per day).
  5. Replace unhealthy saturated fats like butter, cream and mayonnaise with healthy fats like nuts, avocado and olive oil.
  6. Make most of your grains whole grains.
  7. Limit sugary beverages including sodas, sports drinks and juices.
  8. Limit refined carbohydrates including sweets, candy, cookies,and crackers.
  9. Avoid trans fats as much as possible (avoid products with the words "partially hydrogenated" in ingredients list).
  10. Choose lean protein like skinless chicken and fish over higher fat meats and cheese whenever possible.

Managing Type 2 diabetes through diet

If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, Dr Jampolis' healthy lifestyle recommendations are the same. She says, "Try to include lean protein or healthy fat with each meal and snack, don't overdo carbohydrates at any meal (for example, don't have two servings of fruit, three servings of starch, and juice at one meal), go for a walk after larger meals whenever possible, and eat regularly throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes which can cause extreme hunger and often lead to overeating."

10 Foods to control Type 2 diabetes

Now that you know you're supposed to eat whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, are you curious what specific foods should be part of your diet? We asked Dr Jampolis for her top 10 food picks for managing Type 2 diabetes.

1. Post Shredded wheat. This cereal has no sugar, is high in fiber and an excellent source of whole grains. Dr Jampolis adds, "Whole grains can decrease your risk of diabetes significantly – up to 20 to 30 percent when three servings per day are consumed -- which is the amount in one bowl of shredded wheat!"

2. Fat free milk. Perfect with whole grain cereal, each serving of dairy decreases your risk of diabetes by four percent.

3. Edamame. Edamame, fresh soybeans, and other beans can decrease your risk of diabetes by up to 47 percent.

4. Peanuts. Full of monounsaturated fats, fiber, and protein, peanuts can keep blood sugar levels stable as well as help in reducing your risk of heart disease, which is often associated with diabetes

5. Broccoli. The powerful polyphenols in broccoli can help fight inflammation, which if not controlled could lead to diabetes.

6. Fish. Regular fish consumption (aim for twice a week) can decrease risk of diabetes by up to 25 percent. Just steer clear of fried fish!

7. Strawberries. These red berries are loaded with fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C, which research shows can decrease your risk of diabetes.

8. Sweet red peppers. Also an excellent source of vitamin C and antioxidants, sweet red peppers are deliciously low in calories and great on a salad, in a stir fry and sliced with hummus as a snack.

9. Walnuts. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts may help insulin work better. Sprinkle these tasty nuts on salads, in yogurt, or on oatmeal. "Just make sure to keep portions under control to prevent weight gain," Dr Jampolis advises.

10. Cinnamon. This warm and wonderful spice may help control blood sugar. Add it to whole grain muffins, yogurt and oatmeal, and even use it in sauces or chili.

Diet is essential in preventing and managing Type 2 diabetes. However, before making any drastic changes to your eating habits, talk to your doctor to make sure the diet you want to follow is right for you.

More on preventing and managing diabetes

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