Smart Food Choices to Help Prevent Diabetes

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Beyond the weight-control benefits of improving your diet, smart nutritional choices can also directly reduce your diabetes risk. Stick to an eating plan, such as the Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy. An analysis of data from the large PREDIMED clinical trial revealed that consuming a Mediterranean diet over several years substantially reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes among older adults who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

The evidence that any specific food might help reduce diabetes risk is much sketchier than that for overall dietary patterns or nutrients. Most studies examining this are observational, meaning they can’t prove causality; they can only show an association. But each of the following foods, which research has suggested may help reduce the risk of diabetes, has also been linked to other health benefits, so consider the findings one more reason to include them in your diet:

  • Yogurt. According to a 2014 study published in Diabetologia, people who ate about 20 ounces of yogurt per week were almost 30 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who did not eat yogurt.
  • Fruit (but not fruit juice). Fruit sometimes gets a bad rap because of its naturally occurring sugars, but that’s no reason to avoid it. In fact, certain fruits, including blueberries, grapes, and apples, have been linked to a lower risk of developing diabetes. In a 2013 study in BMJ, people who ate at least three servings a week of those fruits were up to 26 percent less likely to develop diabetes than people who rarely ate them. In contrast, drinking fruit juice has been found to increase diabetes risk.
  • Coffee. Numerous studies have found that people who regularly drink coffee-regular or decaf-have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, though it isn’t entirely clear why. One possibility is that the polyphenols (a type of antioxidant compound) in coffee may enhance insulin sensitivity and slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Another is that compounds in coffee may inhibit the formation of abnormal pancreatic proteins that contribute to diabetes.
  • Nuts. A 2014 Spanish study in the journal Diabetes Care found that people with prediabetes who ate two ounces of pistachios a day saw improvements in insulin levels, blood sugar, and other factors compared to people in a control group. The control group ate a similar diet with about the same number of calories but without pistachios. Other nuts, including walnuts and almonds, have also been linked to lower diabetes risk.
  • Cinnamon. A 2012 clinical trial in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that cinnamon added to cereal appeared to modify the normal increase in blood sugar. Other studies have not shown this effect, however. The research is too inconsistent and preliminary to recommend cinnamon supplements. Stick to adding cinnamon to food.
  • Lentils and other legumes (beans and peas). In 2017, another analysis of data from PREDIMED linked legume consumption to a lower incidence of diabetes among people at high risk for the disease as well as for cardiovascular disease. Those who consumed the most legumes (equal to about three servings a week)-and lentils in particular-had a 35 percent lower risk of developing diabetes over four years, compared with those who consumed the least.