How Can I Eat Healthily To Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

Find out how eat healthily can help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes

March, 2021

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Scientists don’t know exactly why some people develop Type 2 diabetes but they do know some things make it more likely.

There are lots of things you can do to help reduce your risk. In fact, Diabetes UK estimates more than half of all cases of Type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed.

One of the most important things you can do is eat healthily, however, with so much conflicting information out there, it’s hard to know what to do.

How is Type 2 diabetes connected to weight?

Type 2 diabetes happens when someone stops producing insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that regulates levels of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. It turns the sugar in the carbohydrates we eat into energy. Without it, blood glucose levels can rise. Over time, this damages the blood vessels and the organs.

No one knows exactly why some people develop Type 2 diabetes and others don’t, but it is linked to being overweight or obese.

Scientists believe a build-up of fat inside the liver and the pancreas can stop the body making and using the right amount of insulin at the right time. They call this insulin resistance.

What are the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes?

Risk factors are things that make it more likely that you will develop a particular health condition. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include:

  • being overweight
  • being older than 40
  • having a parent, sibling, or child with Type 2 diabetes
  • being of South Asian or African Caribbean
  • having high blood pressure
  • smoking

What should I eat to help prevent Type 2 diabetes?

Losing weight can be an important part of reducing your Type 2 diabetes risk. There are lots of diets and conflicting advice out there. Health professionals believe the best approach to weight loss is a balanced, healthy diet, and physical activity.

You will also need to maintain a healthy weight. So, the important thing is to aim for sustainable change. Restrictive diets are hard to stick to, meaning many people give up. What’s more, they often put the weight back on afterwards.

The key is creating new eating habits that will stay with you for life – and knowing that you can treat yourself once in a while.

Some doctors recommend following the Mediterranean diet, which contains lots of fish, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, and whole grains.

Others suggest looking at the Eatwell Method to get an idea of what a balanced diet looks like. It says we should be aiming for one-third starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, bread, rice, or pasta, and one third fruit and vegetables. The rest should be made up of proteins, such as beans, pulses, eggs and lean meats, and dairy or dairy alternatives.

Top tips for healthy eating

It can all sound a bit overwhelming, but there are lots of simple things we can all do to make our diets healthier. It’s important to remember that small changes all add up.

You could try:

  • opting for fruit as a snack or adding an extra portion of vegetables to your dinner. All fruit and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes – but apples, grapes, berries, and green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale, are particularly good.
  • choosing sugar-free drinks. You could swap fizzy pop for sparkling water or stop taking sugar in your tea or coffee.
  • choosing high fibre carbohydrates. Simply swapping white bread, rice, and pasta, for wholemeal versions can help reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • eating plain or natural yoghurt instead of sweetened versions. You could always add a few berries or a chopped-up banana to increase your fruit intake, too.
  • cutting down on red and processed meats, which have been linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Instead, opt for fish, lean meats, like chicken and turkey, or pulses, such as beans and lentils.
  • watching your portion size. Some people find it helps to use a smaller plate or stop eating after every mouthful to check if they are full.
  • avoiding alcohol. Most people enjoy a drink sometimes, but it has been linked to Type 2 diabetes and can make it difficult to lose weight. Why not try having a few alcohol-free days every week?

What else do I need to know about diabetes prevention?

Other things you can do to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes include:

  • be physically active. The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, but you can try starting small. Aim for a 20-minute walk three times a week, for example, and then build up from there.
  • don’t smoke. Smokers are between 30% and 40% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. So, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. And if you do, talk to your GP about local smoking cessation services.