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But there is good news: Diabetes isn’t inevitable. Dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, says making lifestyle changes can actually prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.
The goal is to reduce your carbohydrate intake by choosing more complex carbs and exercising to burn them off.
Here she explains what foods to avoid, what to eat instead, what to enjoy only in moderation — and tips for making changes.
What not to eat
Rethinking your diet to reduce the risk of diabetes doesn’t mean giving up the foods you love. It means eating less of them. The first rule is to cut down on simple carbohydrates like sugar, a quick-release carb.
Eliminate sweetened beverages. “They have no fat or protein to prevent the carbs from rocketing your blood sugar,” Zumpano explains.
Similarly, cut back on:
- Sweet tea.
- Fruit juices.
- Coffee drinks.
Next, look at foods that have added sugar:
- Jams and jellies.
- Baked goods.
Then cross off empty “white foods”:
- White rice.
- White bread.
- White pasta.
Make smart substitutes
“Begin choosing whole-grain breads and pastas, brown rice and wild rice. Focus on the first ingredient ‘whole’ and at least three grams of fiber per serving,” Zumpano says.
Experiment with other grains and starches:
- Sweet potatoes, yams or redskins.
“Limit your carb intake to about 1 cup (or two slices of bread) per meal,” Zumpano suggests.
What else to eat
Protein slows the rate that carbohydrates enter your bloodstream, keeping blood sugar levels steadier. Eating protein at every meal can help you feel full and reduce the urge to snack.
Healthy proteins include:
- Lean meats.
- Dried beans and peas.
- Part-skim cheese and cottage cheese.
- Nuts and seeds.
If you have cardiovascular disease, limit red meat and stick with skinless poultry and fish. “Load up on vegetables, particularly non-starchy veggies. The fiber in vegetables and legumes will help you feel full and satisfied,” Zumpano says.
Because fiber slows down digestion and absorption, you are less likely to get hungry between meals and reach for a sugary snack.
Enjoy in moderation
Fruit. Fruit is a natural source of sugar that you can enjoy in moderation. “Limit portion size to one cup or less at a time,” Zumpano says.
Choose lower-sugar fruits, such as berries and kiwi, most often. To slow the rate of glucose entering your bloodstream, pair fruit with a source of protein, such as a handful of nuts or seeds, 2 tablespoons of nut butter, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, a boiled egg or a cheese stick.
Alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are a form of carbohydrate and should be consumed in moderation.
“If you are going to drink, choose spirits with a no-calorie mixer, light beer, spritzers or dry wine. They contain the fewest carbs,” Zumpano says.
2 more tips:
Consider your meal times. When you eat is as important. “Don’t skip meals, or you will get hungry and tend to overeat later,” Zumpano says.
“Eating late at night is associated with elevated sugar levels in people with prediabetes, so we recommend you make lunch your largest meal and eat nothing starting three hours before bed.”
Make it easy on yourself. If you follow these guidelines, your blood sugar levels should drop, along with your weight. But making changes to lifelong eating habits can be difficult.
If you need help understanding exactly what you should and should not eat, take a close look at a Mediterranean-style diet. Following this type of eating plan is likely to put your blood sugar levels back on track. “There are plenty of books, articles and recipes for this healthy eating plan,” says Zumpano.
This article was adapted from Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor.