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Preventing Diabetes

The Bottom Line

Keeping weight in check, being active, and eating a healthy diet can prevent most cases of type 2 diabetes.

There’s good news and bad news about type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult onset diabetes. The bad news? It’s striking people at younger and younger ages, and rates are skyrocketing globally as the population grows heavier and gets less physical activity. The good news? It’s highly preventable.

Keeping weight in check and being physically active can help prevent most cases of the disease. Choosing a diet rich in whole grains and healthy fats adds even more protection—skip the refined grains and sugary soda. Limiting red meat—steak, hamburger, pork chops, and the like—and avoiding processed meat—bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats—can also help lower diabetes risk. Go for healthier protein sources instead, such as nuts, beans, poultry, and fish.

Here are five quick tips to help prevent diabetes:

1. Put exercise first—and put television last. Regular exercise by itself can cut diabetes risk. That it also helps keep weight in check adds even more benefit. Choose things you enjoy and do them every day. Too much television-watching ups diabetes risk—an increase of 20 percent for every 2 hours you watch. So trade some of your sit-time for fit-time.

2. Try to keep weight in check. Being a healthy weight is the best thing you can do to lower your risk of diabetes. Need to lose weight? Getting active and eating a healthy diet, with smaller portions, s-l-o-w-l-y are your best bets.

3. Choose healthy fats and proteins, and skip the red and processed meat. Sure, they’ve got long names, but a diet rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Canola oil and olive oil are great choices, as are the fats in avocados, nuts, and seeds. For protein, replace the steaks, chops, hot dogs, and bacon with nuts, beans, poultry, or fish.

4. Focus on plant foods. A diet high in whole grains can help lower the risk of diabetes and keep appetite in check. Choose a good variety of whole grain foods prepared in interesting ways, such as Mollie Katzen’s recipe for couscous-quinoa tabouli.

5. Cut back on refined carbs and sugary drinks. White bread, white rice, white pasta and potatoes cause fast and furious increases in blood sugar, as do sugary soft drinks, fruit punch, and fruit juice. Over time, eating lots of these refined carbohydrates and sugar may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.  To lower your risk—switch to whole grains and skip the sugar, especially the sugary drinks. Drink water, coffee or tea instead.

Read more about how you can prevent type 2 diabetes.

Watch the videos and download the presentations from the Prevention and Control of Diabetes forum

Explore the resources in the Diabetes Prevention Toolkit.

Read more about whole grains.

Read more about healthy beverages.

Read more about healthy fats.

Read more about healthy sources of protein.

Read more about staying active.

Check out healthy recipes for vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins.

Use Harvard’s new Healthy Eating Plate as a guide to a healthy diet that can help prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases.


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The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source is to provide timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The information does not mention brand names, nor does it endorse any particular products.