Eating to Prevent Diabetes

By Ellen Daley, MS, RD, CDE

A recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association reported almost half of all adults in the US have prediabetes or diabetes. There are certain factors that increase your risk for developing diabetes including:

  • Being overweight
  • Having a sedentary/inactive lifestyle
  • Family members with diabetes
  • Ethnic background including African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific islander.

Although these factors increase your risk of developing diabetes, you can make lifestyle changes that decrease your risk. A large study, The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) showed that losing just 5-7% of your current body weight and getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week will decrease your risk of developing diabetes by 58%.

Diabetes develops when your body can’t produce enough insulin or the insulin your body produces is not used effectively to turn the food you eat into fuel for your body. Exercise improves your insulin’s effectiveness and a healthy diet and weight loss can decrease the stress on insulin needs.

Recommendations are for 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, that breaks down to just 30 minutes 5 days a week. Moderate exercise can include brisk walking, bike riding, swimming, and strength training. Find an exercise you enjoy.

To lose weight, start by decreasing the serving size of foods you currently eat. Try using a smaller plate and don’t go back for seconds. When eating out, share a meal or take half home. Reduce or eliminate calorie-containing beverages that don’t offer any nutrition including regular soda, fruit punch, energy drinks, sweet tea, and lemonade. Instead drink water, infused water, carbonated water, or diet drinks with less than 10 calories per 8 ounce serving.

Work to create a balanced plate. Most people eat too many grain foods like rice, pasta and bread and not enough fruits, vegetables and dairy. Check out to see recommended serving sizes and see what a balanced plate looks like. To make a healthy plate, start by filling half of the plate with fruits and vegetables then fill ¼ of the plate with a healthy protein source and ¼ with a grain food. Add a dairy serving at least 3 times a day.