Keeping a stable weight can cut diabetes risk

Weight Management for Type 2 Diabetes

Keeping a stable weight can cut diabetes risk

Almost 30 million people in the United States are living with diabetes, and another 86 million have prediabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

That’s why maintaining a healthy weight has become such a national health issue.

The negative health consequences of being overweight are intricately connected to type 2 diabetes, both increasing your risk for developing it and adding to the challenge of controlling it.

“When you gain weight, particularly around your middle, you can become resistant to insulin,” says Laura Rooney, DNP, RN, BC-ADM, an assistant professor of nursing and director of the Healthy Eating and Lifestyles Program for people with diabetes at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. It moves the sugar from your bloodstream to your cells to use as energy. If you’re overweight, you’re more ly to develop type 2 diabetes because excess fat interferes with your body’s ability to use insulin properly.

The heavier you are, the more insulin your body has to make to keep your blood sugar under control. This puts stress on your pancreas, the organ that makes insulin. An overstressed pancreas can then break down, causing you to develop type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight also may lead to other serious health issues, including high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease. That’s why weight management is crucial for diabetes and your overall health, Rooney says.

The Benefits of Weight Management for Diabetes

You can reverse many risks of being overweight by losing just a few of the excess pounds you’re carrying.

If you have type 2 diabetes, losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help lower your blood sugar and blood pressure and improve your blood fats. “If you weigh 200 pounds for example, that means losing just 10 to 20 pounds,” Rooney says.

Losing weight may also reduce your reliance on diabetes medications to control your blood sugar, Rooney says, because “when you lose weight, your blood sugars will be more stable and you may be able to take less medication — or not need any medication.”

Work with your doctor to reach or maintain a healthy weight so your progress can be monitored. Even with weight loss and better blood sugar control, you should never stop taking your medications without consulting your doctor first, Rooney says.

Ideas to Maintain a Healthy Weight

A few strategic lifestyle changes can help with diabetes weight loss. Try these tips to make weight management for diabetes easier to attain:

Cut out drinks containing sugar.

“One of the first things you should do is eliminate all sugary drinks from your diet,” says Barbara Borcik, LDN, CDE, a certified diabetes educator with the Diabetes and Nutrition Center at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, Maryland.

That includes soda, juice, lemonade, sweet tea, and coffee with sugar. “By eliminating sugary drinks, you may reduce your intake by as many as 500 calories a day, which will help to facilitate weight loss and improve blood sugar control,” she says.

Eliminate “white foods” from your diet. If you cut white sugar, white bread, white flour, and white potatoes from your diet, you’ll drop the pounds, Borcik says.

Instead, build your diet around whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, only a quarter of your plate should be for starch, and the last quarter is for lean protein,” she says.

Don’t skip meals.

Skipping meals may seem a good way to cut back on calories, but this strategy actually backfires because you’ll be so ravenous when it’s time for the next meal that you’ll overeat — which is unhealthy for diabetes and ineffective for weight loss.

However, eating two large meals a day — breakfast and lunch — may be more effective for weight loss than eating the same number of calories in six smaller meals over the course of a day, according to a study published in the journal Diabetologia in May 2014.

Measure your portions. Portion control is a big part of weight management for diabetes. “Portion control may require the use of measuring cups and spoons or simply counting out a portion — 6 crackers or 15 grapes,” Borcik says.

  A box of high-fiber cereal might list “130 calories per serving,” but unless you use a measuring cup to pour out that ¾-cup, you may be eating twice the amount without realizing it. Another trick when filling your plate is to consider the size of your plate.

“Use a 9-inch plate, not a big dinner plate,” Borcik says. “That helps a lot with your diabetes weight loss.”

Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’ve eaten. “You’ll overeat if you eat too quickly,” Rooney says. Also pay attention to your food when you’re eating.

“If you do other activities while you’re eating — if you read or watch TV — you eat mindlessly,” she notes.

But when you focus on your meal and savor what you’re eating, you'll feel more satisfied and eat less.

Get enough sleep. Being overly tired can make you hungry, and you may find you have little self-control. A lack of sleep can also worsen diabetes, according to a study published in 2014 in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Strive to get eight hours of sleep every night so that you’re rested and more in control of your health.

Add exercise to your day. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least five days a week. It’s hard to lose weight with exercise alone, Borcik says, but if you exercise for an hour a day, you can burn an extra 200 to 300 calories and achieve your diabetes weight-loss goal faster.

Exercise also helps you maintain any weight-loss success you’ve had. If you’re just starting out, don’t plan to run a marathon, Borcik advises, adding that your starting point might just be 5 to 10 minutes a day — but the more you exercise, the more you’ll be able to do.

And before starting any exercise program, talk to your doctor about which activities are safe and most effective for you.

Also, with type 2 diabetes, it’s best to exercise after a meal or snack. “It’s not a good practice to exercise on an empty stomach,” Borcik says. Exercise usually causes your blood sugar to drop, but some vigorous exercises can cause your blood sugar to spike. Monitor your blood sugar before and after you exercise.

Better Weight Management for Diabetes

If you're overweight and have a family history of diabetes, it’s imperative that you lose even just a few pounds of that weight to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, work with your doctor and a diabetes educator on a weight management plan for your diabetes that will help you lose weight and keep your blood sugar under control.


3 Reasons It’s Harder For People With Type 2 Diabetes To Lose Weight

Keeping a stable weight can cut diabetes risk

Approximately 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.

¹ While obesity often contributes to the development of diabetes, the bigger driver of weight gain is the high insulin levels that are found well before the diagnosis of diabetes.

There are some good reasons why the standard advice of “eat less, exercise more” doesn’t deliver results for people living with type 2 diabetes.

Reason #1: With type 2 diabetes, insulin is high, and insulin is a fat-storage hormone²

Everyone has glucose, a type of sugar, in their blood at all times. Glucose is a source of energy that largely comes from eating carbohydrates. Simply put, when you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar rises.

Insulin is produced by your pancreas, and insulin has many functions in the body. One of insulin’s functions is to help get glucose the blood and into cells where it can be used.  In order to do this, insulin rises along with glucose.  So when you eat carbohydrates and glucose rises, the insulin is rising as well. Once in the cells, glucose is mostly used for energy.

If you have type 2 diabetes, this process doesn’t work well anymore: your body has become resistant to the signal of insulin, so the insulin isn’t as effective at moving the glucose your blood. That’s how you end up with high blood sugar levels after eating carbohydrates.

Having chronically elevated blood sugar levels is dangerous, so your body needs to do something about it.

Your body responds by making more and more insulin to try to get the job done. Recall now that insulin has many functions, not just to facilitate the removal of glucose from the blood. Insulin also works to promote the storage of fat and to block the release of fat from fat storage. So instead of losing weight, you just keep gaining, thanks to all that insulin.

If you’re most people with type 2 diabetes, you’ve been told to eat carbohydrates but eat fewer overall calories, and to eat small meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar steady; you’ve probably been advised to count your carbs and eat enough of them to keep your blood sugar up after taking medication to lower it—confusing, right?

What many find as a result is that they’re always hungry, always thinking about food and facing cravings. What’s at work is a survival instinct that even the strongest-willed person can’t withstand for long.

This is a situation where your physiology is fighting against you.

Even worse, those frequent small meals with carbohydrates create spikes in your blood sugar followed by drops in your blood sugar—a blood sugar roller-coaster that stimulates frequent hunger.

Reason #3: Type 2 diabetes medications can drive weight gain⁴

Remember how your body’s own insulin is a fat-storage hormone? That’s also true for insulin that has been prescribed to you, whether delivered by injection or by pump.

That’s why a common side effect of prescribed insulin is weight gain. Another class of medicine for type 2 diabetes, Sulfonylureas, work by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin.

And once again, more insulin in your body means more fat storage and more weight gain.

What’s the solution?

People living with type 2 diabetes are insulin resistant, meaning their tissues are not responding as they should to insulin. Insulin moves  sugar from your blood into your cells.

If your body does not respond to its own insulin, then your blood sugar will remain chronically elevated, and your body will produce more insulin.

The most direct solution is to decrease the source of high blood sugar itself—carbohydrate consumption.

In fact, insulin resistance can be fundamentally referred to as “carbohydrate intolerance” because when carbohydrates are consumed by someone who is insulin resistant, blood glucose is not lowered as effectively. So, by eating fewer carbohydrates, we both reduce the glucose load in the blood, and decrease the release of insulin.

Nutritional ketosis is a natural metabolic state in which your body adapts to burning fat over carbohydrates as its primary fuel. While carbohydrate consumption triggers spikes in blood sugar, fat consumption does not, making it a better source of fuel for people with insulin resistance.

In a clinical trial, patients lost an average of 12% of their starting body weight within six months by using a medically supervised treatment that included the employment of nutritional ketosis. In addition, 56% of patients with type 2 diabetes reduced their HbA1c to below diabetic levels.⁵

Read more about nutritional ketosis and how it can be an effective diabetes reversal method when paired with physician supervision here.

To learn more about how food affects blood sugar, watch my video series here:


Diabetes and Weight Loss

Keeping a stable weight can cut diabetes risk

  • Weight Loss Tips for Type 2 Diabetes
  • Diabetes and the Gym

There's no question about it. If you're overweight and have type 2 diabetes, you will lower your blood sugar, improve your health, and feel better if you lose some of your extra pounds.

You'll want to work closely with your doctor or diabetes educator, because your blood sugar, insulin, and medications will need special attention while you're losing weight.

If you drop even 10 or 15 pounds, that has health perks, such as:

  • Lower blood sugar
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better cholesterol levels
  • Less stress on your hips, knees, ankles, and feet
  • More energy
  • Brighter mood

Keep tight control over your blood sugar levels while you lose weight. You don't want to get high or low levels while you change your eating habits.

It’s generally safe for someone with diabetes to cut 500 calories a day. Trim from protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The USDA says that calories for adults should come from:

  • 45% to 55% carbs
  • 25% to 35% fat
  • 10% to 35% protein

Carbs have the biggest effect on blood sugar. Those that have fiber (whole-grain bread and vegetables, for example) are much better than eating sugary or starchy carbs, because they’re less ly to spike your blood sugar and quickly make it crash.

One of the many benefits of working out is that it helps keep your blood sugar in balance. You're also more ly to keep the pounds off if you're active.

If you're not active now, check in with your doctor first. She can let you know if there are any limits on what you can do.

Aim to get at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate aerobic exercise, brisk walking, to improve your health. You can split up the time any way you choose.

To help yourself lose weight you’ll need to do more physical activity. You should also do strength training at least twice a week. You can use weight machines at a gym, hand weights, or even your own body weight (think push-ups, lunges, and squats).

Physical activity burns both blood sugar and sugar stored in muscle and the liver. If you use insulin or other diabetes medicines, you should closely watch your blood sugar levels when you start exercising. Over time, as you exercise regularly and work with your doctor, you may be able to lower doses of medications and insulin.

Each type of exercise affects blood sugar differently.

Aerobic exercise — running or a treadmill workout — can lower your blood sugar immediately.

Weightlifting or working out hard for a long time may affect your blood sugar level many hours later. This can be a problem, especially if you're driving a car after your workout. It's one of the many reasons you should check your blood sugar before you get behind the wheel. It's also a good idea to carry snacks fruit, crackers, juice, and soda.


Cathy Nonas, RD, senior adviser, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Christine Gerbstadt, MD, MPH, RD, author, Doctor's Detox Diet: The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription; medical director, Mobile Medical Corp.

Luigi Meneghini, MD, Miami endocrinologist.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Taking Care of Your Diabetes at Special Times.”

Larry C. Deeb, MD, pediatric endocrinologist, Tallahassee, FL.

American Diabetes Association: “Healthy Weight Loss.”

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Diabetes and the Gym


Cut Your Risk of Diabetes By Losing Weight and Eating Healthier | Eat This Not That

Keeping a stable weight can cut diabetes risk

Sorry Mary Poppins; a spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down “in a most delightful way,” but if you swallow too much sugar you may end up with health complications that worsened because of your high sugar consumption. An example of that is type 2 diabetes.

Now while added sugar alone is not the only thing that can lead to a person to type 2 diabetes, studies have suggested a link between a high consumption of added sugar and high fructose corn syrup and the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

One study in particular, a 10-year review of diabetes rates of 175 countries published in the journal PlosOne, found that diabetes rates increased as sugar levels in a population's food supply rose, and decreased when sugar availability went down.

There's certainly no shortage of sugar in the American diet. The average person consumes about 20 teaspoons of added sugars every day, which translates into more than 66 pounds of sugar per person each year. (The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men.)

Added sugars are particularly dangerous because they leave us craving more. Research shows that excess sugar causes changes in people's brains similar to those in people addicted to drugs and alcohol. And the more you eat, the more weight you gain.

The good news is that breaking free of sugar's addictive grip is one of the best ways to both lose weight and avoid type 2 diabetes.

In a large, long-term study, people at risk for type 2 diabetes who lost just 7 percent of their body weight by eating fewer calories and exercising 150 minutes a week reduced their risk of developing the disease by 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What's more, participants who were 60 and older saw a 71 percent risk reduction.

“Researchers say even dropping just five percent of your bodyweight, around 8 pounds for a 175-pound woman, improves health,” says Jeff Csatari, author of The 14-Day No Sugar Diet.” “So you start reaping the benefits as soon as you start cutting out added sugars.”

You can get started now with 20 highly-doable ways to slash your diabetes risk.


Hop on a scale and calculate a goal weight by figuring out how much you need to lose to cut your diabetes risk in half or more. Find your weight and multiply it by 7 percent (.07).

That's how many pounds you need to lose. Subtract that from your current weight to get your goal weight. Example: Current weight = 200 pounds. 200 X .07 = 14 pounds to lose.

200 pounds – 14 pounds = 186 pounds (goal weight).


Humans are not good at estimating how much they eat. “Almost everyone consumes more than they think,” says registered dietician Martha McKittrick, a certified diabetes educator in New York City.

The only way to know for sure is to keep track with paper and pencil or an app. Try it for just one day. It'll be an eye-opening experience to learn where the bulk of your calories come from, and that many come from added sugars.

“The simple act of recording what you eat will make you eat less,” McKittrick says.


If you dump five scoops of sugar or a bunch of squirts of hazelnut sweetener into your morning coffee, you're drinking candy, not coffee. Learn to love the flavor of coffee unsweetened.

“I used to be a 'light, extra sugar' guy when I ordered,” says Csatari. “I started eliminating a pack of sugar every three days. In a week and a half I was drinking coffee black and lovin' it.

Your taste buds adapt.”


Make a habit of sprinkling cinnamon on your ground coffee before brewing, or add a shake or two of cinnamon to yogurt and hot cereal.

A 2003 study in the journal Diabetes Care showed that cinnamon might cause muscle and liver cells to respond more efficiently to insulin, helping you improve blood sugar balance and weight loss.

Other studies suggest that just ½ teaspoon of cinnamon a day for 20 days is enough to improve and lower blood sugar by up to 20 percent.


Here are three easy ways to cut back on carbs at lunchtime:
1. Try an open-faced sandwich. Pile it high with veggies; you won't miss the extra slice.2. Wrap a turkey burger in Bibb lettuce leaves.

3. Roll up deli roast beef slices in slices of Swiss cheese.

RELATED: These are the easy, at-home recipes that help you lose weight.

Tetiana Bykovets/Unsplash

Variety may be the spice of life, but it may not be so good when you're trying to lose weight. A study at the University of Texas Health Science Center in 2015 found that people who ate a more diverse diet tended to have larger waist circumferences than people whose meal plans were simpler. Call it the “buffet effect.

” Think about the last time you ate at a buffet. Did you fill your plate once with a reasonable amount of food, or did you go back a few times to sample a little of everything? Simplifying your diet not only can help trim calories, but it can help you eat healthier foods. Find a low-sugar cereal that you love and stick with it.

Pick the healthiest sandwich on the menu that you and make ordering easy every time.


Can't live without bread? Slash bread's impact on your blood sugar by choosing the right bread and topping it right. Toast bread that contains two grams of fiber or more, Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Bread.

Slather the toasted bread with protein-packed small curd cottage cheese and a half-cup of blackberries for an additional 4 grams of fiber.

The combo of fiber and protein will keep hunger at bay and keep blood sugar stable.


Kick off a meal with grapefruit. The citrus fruit is a good source of soluble fiber, which can lower the fat-storage hormone insulin, promote weight loss, and stabilize blood sugar.

In a study at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, researchers say overweight people who ate a half of a grapefruit before each meal lost an average of 3.5 pounds over the course of 12 weeks. To get the benefits of grapefruit, you need to eat the pulp and the pith, the soft, fibrous skin between the fruit and the peel.

The peel contains a lot of fiber, too. After washing the grapefruit, zest the peel and sprinkle it into vinaigrettes, marinades, baked goods, and iced tea.


Most people overestimate how many calories they burn during exercise, says Jim Cotta, former strength and conditioning coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and author of Men's Health Workout War.

“The best way to know for sure how many calories you are burning off is to either wear a heart-rate monitor that calculates calories burned or log your workouts into a system MyFitnessPal,” he says.


To keep yourself from overeating when dining at a restaurant, order hummus and pitas to share with the table.

A study in the journal Obesity found that people who ate a single serving a day of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), which form the basis of hummus dip, reported feeling 31 percent fuller than people who didn't eat chickpeas.

Packed with fiber and protein, garbanzos fill you up and break down slowly, so you'll ly eat less during your main meal.


Boil a dozen eggs on Sunday evening for a week's worth of inexpensive, portable snacks. Hard-boiled eggs are easy to cook ahead of time and they're rich in the best quality, satiating protein there is, recommends Chicago dietitian Christine M. Paulumbo.


Research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that vinegar taken before or after a high-carbohydrate meal reduces blood sugar.

The acetic acid content in vinegar deactivates an enzyme called amylase that turns starch into sugar. Vinegar also boosts the body's sensitivity to insulin.

But make sure you use white or apple cider vinegar. Balsamic vinegars tend to contain more sugar.


Tidiness is next to leanness. Keeping a clean, uncluttered kitchen leads to a healthier diet (and fewer ants), according to a study in the journal Environment and Behavior. Researchers say that people who have messy kitchen counters strewn with chip bags, cookie boxes, and cereal boxes tended to consume 40 percent more calories than people with tidy kitchens.


Combining two exercises that work different muscle groups into one move saves workout time and boosts calorie burn. Try this total-body combo, the goblet squat with pulse, from Cotta's book Men's Health Workout War. Grab one end of a dumbbell with both hands and hold it vertically at your chest.

Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, toes pointed outward slightly. Push your hips back and bend your knees as if sitting in a chair until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Pause and push the dumbbell in front of you so your arms are parallel with the floor when fully extended. Bring the weight back to your chest and stand up.

That's one rep. Do 6 to 8, and repeat for two more sets.


You can turbocharge the nutrition profile of even jarred pasta sauce while reducing spaghetti's impact on your blood sugar with a little doctoring. Chop fiber-rich broccoli and red bell pepper and zap them in a microwave for 20 seconds. Then dump the vegetables into the pasta sauce heating on the stove. Add some beans or peas, too.


If you crunchy snacks, celery can't be beat, “I love dipping celery sticks into fresh-ground natural peanut butter,” says Csatari. “It's my go-to afternoon snack.

” Celery has a high water content so it's a great low-calorie food, and it's rich in a powerful anti-diabetes nutrient called vitamin K.

Studies suggest that vitamin K may improve your sensitivity to insulin, helping you to metabolism blood sugar more efficiently.


When buying a packaged food at the grocery store, check the nutrition labels for sugar content. You can often find a less sugary swap on the same shelf. For example, say you're picking up some peach yogurt and you grab Yoplait's Original Harvest Peach.

A quick peek at the nutrition label shows you it contains 20 grams of sugars and 27 grams of carbohydrates. Now grab Siggi's Raspberry & Apple yogurt and compare: it contains no added sugars and only 4 total grams of natural sugars and 7 grams of carbs.

Comparison-shopping just takes a second but can have a huge impact on your effort to reduce added sugars in your diet.


Water, that is. It's the cheapest, easiest way to improve your health and lose weight. A study of 3,615 people conducted by the French National Research Institute found that people who drink very little water, a few glasses each day, were more ly to develop abnormally high blood sugar.

Shoot for at the very least 17 ounces more than you are drinking now. The researchers found that people who drank that amount of water or more per day were 28 percent less ly to develop high blood sugar than those who drank less. Keep a tumbler of ice water with you at your work desk.

Sip from it constantly.


You do that my spending more time shopping for fresh produce and less time in the packaged food aisles of the grocery store. “The best thing you can do for your belly is to give up processed foods,” says trainer Mark Langowsky.

A study in the journal Food Nutrition Research found that our bodies burn only 50 percent as many calories digesting processed foods as they do real foods.

“So it's eating twice as much, even if the calories are the same!” says Langowski.


Next time your extended family gathers for dinner, ask grand pop about his health. Knowing your parents' and grandparents' health history is a powerful weapon against type 2 diabetes because it can tip you off to being more susceptible to high blood sugar.

In a study involving more than 8,000 people published in the journal Diabetologia, researchers found that people with a family history of diabetes had a 26 percent increased risk of developing prediabetes, the precursor to the disease.

Knowing your risk level can make you more vigilant about cutting added sugars from your diet and losing weight.

Want to lose 10, 20, even 30 pounds—all without dieting?! Get your copy of Eat This, Not That: The Best (& Worst) Foods in America!, and learn how to indulge smarter and lose weight fast!


The Diabetes Diet –

Keeping a stable weight can cut diabetes risk

People with diabetes have nearly double the risk of heart disease and are at a greater risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression. But most cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable and some can even be reversed.

Taking steps to prevent or control diabetes doesn’t mean living in deprivation; it means eating a tasty, balanced diet that will also boost your energy and improve your mood.

You don’t have to give up sweets entirely or resign yourself to a lifetime of bland food.

Whether you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes, your nutritional needs are virtually the same as everyone else, so no special foods are necessary.

But you do need to pay attention to some of your food choices—most notably the carbohydrates you eat.

While following a Mediterranean or other heart-healthy diet can help with this, the most important thing you can do is to lose a little weight.

Losing just 5% to 10% of your total weight can help you lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Losing weight and eating healthier can also have a profound effect on your mood, energy, and sense of wellbeing.

Even if you’ve already developed diabetes, it’s not too late to make a positive change. By eating healthier, being more physically active, and losing weight, you can reduce your symptoms or even reverse diabetes.

The bottom line is that you have more control over your health than you may think.

The biggest risk for diabetes: belly fat

Being overweight or obese is the biggest risk factor for type 2 diabetes. However, your risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen as opposed to your hips and thighs. A lot of belly fat surrounds the abdominal organs and liver and is closely linked to insulin resistance. You are at an increased risk of developing diabetes if you are:

  • A woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more
  • A man with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more

Calories obtained from fructose (found in sugary beverages such as soda, energy and sports drinks, coffee drinks, and processed foods doughnuts, muffins, cereal, candy and granola bars) are more ly to add weight around your abdomen. Cutting back on sugary foods can mean a slimmer waistline as well as a lower risk of diabetes.

Planning a diabetes diet

A diabetic diet doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to give up all your favorite foods. The first step to making smarter choices is to separate the myths from the facts about eating to prevent or control diabetes.

Myths and facts about diabetes and diet
Myth: You must avoid sugar at all costs.

Fact: You can enjoy your favorite treats as long as you plan properly and limit hidden sugars. Dessert doesn’t have to be off limits, as long as it’s a part of a healthy meal plan.

Myth: You have to cut way down on carbs.

Fact: The type of carbohydrates you eat as well as serving size is key. Focus on whole grain carbs instead of starchy carbs since they’re high in fiber and digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more even.

Myth: You’ll need special diabetic meals.

Fact: The principles of healthy eating are the same—whether or not you’re diabetic. Expensive diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit.

Myth: A high-protein diet is best.

Fact: Studies have shown that eating too much protein, especially animal protein, may actually cause insulin resistance, a key factor in diabetes. A healthy diet includes protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Our bodies need all three to function properly. The key is a balanced diet.

As with any healthy eating program, a diabetic diet is more about your overall dietary pattern rather than obsessing over specific foods. Aim to eat more natural, unprocessed food and less packaged and convenience foods.

Eat more

  • Healthy fats from nuts, olive oil, fish oils, flax seeds, or avocados
  • Fruits and vegetables—ideally fresh, the more colorful the better; whole fruit rather than juices
  • High-fiber cereals and breads made from whole grains
  • Fish and shellfish, organic chicken or turkey
  • High-quality protein such as eggs, beans, low-fat dairy, and unsweetened yogurt

Eat less

  • Trans fats from partially hydrogenated or deep-fried foods
  • Packaged and fast foods, especially those high in sugar, baked goods, sweets, chips, desserts
  • White bread, sugary cereals, refined pastas or rice
  • Processed meat and red meat
  • Low-fat products that have replaced fat with added sugar, such as fat-free yogurt

Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs

Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—so you need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat.

Limit refined carbohydrates white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, packaged meals, and snack foods. Focus on high-fiber complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs.

They are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin.

What about the glycemic index?

High glycemic index (GI) foods spike your blood sugar rapidly, while low GI foods have the least effect on blood sugar. While the GI has long been promoted as a tool to help manage blood sugar, there are some notable drawbacks.

  • The true health benefits of using the GI remain unclear.
  • Having to refer to GI tables makes eating unnecessarily complicated.
  • The GI is not a measure of a food’s healthfulness.
  • Research suggests that by simply following the guidelines of the Mediterranean or other heart-healthy diets, you’ll not only lower your glycemic load but also improve the quality of your diet.
Choosing carbs that are packed with fiber (and don’t spike your blood sugar)
Instead of… Try these high-fiber options…
White rice Brown or wild rice, riced cauliflower
White potatoes (including fries and mashed potatoes) Sweet potatoes, yams, cauliflower mash
Regular pasta Whole-wheat pasta, spaghetti squash
White bread Whole-wheat or whole-grain bread
Sugary breakfast cereal High-fiber, low-sugar cereal
Instant oatmeal Steel-cut or rolled oats
Cornflakes Low-sugar bran flakes
Corn Peas or leafy greens

Be smart about sweets

Eating a diabetic diet doesn’t mean eliminating sugar altogether, but most of us, chances are you consume more sugar than is healthy. If you have diabetes, you can still enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert now and then. The key is moderation.

Reduce your cravings for sweets by slowly reduce the sugar in your diet a little at a time to give your taste buds time to adjust.

Hold the bread (or rice or pasta) if you want dessert. Eating sweets at a meal adds extra carbohydrates so cut back on the other carb-heavy foods at the same meal.

Add some healthy fat to your dessert. Fat slows down the digestive process, meaning blood sugar levels don’t spike as quickly. That doesn’t mean you should reach for the donuts, though. Think healthy fats, such as peanut butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt, or nuts.

Eat sweets with a meal, rather than as a stand-alone snack. When eaten on their own, sweets cause your blood sugar to spike. But if you eat them along with other healthy foods as part of your meal, your blood sugar won’t rise as rapidly.

When you eat dessert, truly savor each bite. How many times have you mindlessly eaten your way through a bag of cookies or a huge piece of cake? Can you really say that you enjoyed each bite? Make your indulgence count by eating slowly and paying attention to the flavors and textures. You’ll enjoy it more, plus you’re less ly to overeat.

Tricks for cutting down on sugar

Reduce soft drinks, soda and juice. For each 12 oz. serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage you drink a day, your risk for diabetes increases by about 15 percent. Try sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime instead. Cut down on creamers and sweeteners you add to tea and coffee.

Don’t replace saturated fat with sugar. Many of us replace saturated fat such as whole milk dairy with refined carbs, thinking we’re making a healthier choice. Low-fat doesn’t mean healthy when the fat has been replaced by added sugar.

Sweeten foods yourself. Buy unsweetened iced tea, plain yogurt, or unflavored oatmeal, for example, and add sweetener (or fruit) yourself. You’ll ly add far less sugar than the manufacturer.

Check labels and opt for low sugar products and use fresh or frozen ingredients instead of canned goods. Be especially aware of the sugar content of cereals and sugary drinks.

Avoid processed or packaged foods canned soups, frozen dinners, or low-fat meals that often contain hidden sugar. Prepare more meals at home.

Reducethe amount of sugar in recipes by ¼ to ⅓. You can boost sweetness with mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla extract instead of sugar.

Find healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Instead of ice cream, blend up frozen bananas for a creamy, frozen treat. Or enjoy a small chunk of dark chocolate, rather than a milk chocolate bar.

Start with half of the dessert you normally eat, and replace the other half with fruit.

Spot hidden sugar

Being smart about sweets is only part of the battle. Sugar is also hidden in many packaged foods, fast food meals, and grocery store staples such as bread, cereals, canned goods, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, and ketchup. The first step is to spot hidden sugar on food labels, which can take some sleuthing:

  • Manufacturers provide the total amount of sugar on their labels but do not have to differentiate between added sugar and sugar that is naturally in the food.
  • Added sugars are listed in the ingredients but aren’t always easily recognizable as such. While sugar, honey, or molasses are easy enough to spot, added sugar could also be listed as corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, cane crystals, invert sugar, or any kind of fructose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, or syrup.
  • While you’d expect sugary foods to have sugar listed near the top of their list of ingredients, manufacturers often use different types of added sugars which then appear scattered down the list. But all these little doses of different sweeteners can add up to a lot of extra sugar and empty calories!

Some fats are unhealthy and others have enormous health benefits, so it’s important to choose fats wisely.

Unhealthy fats. The most damaging fats are artificial trans fats, which make vegetable oils less ly to spoil. Avoid commercially-baked goods, packaged snack foods, fried food, and anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil in the ingredients, even if it claims to be trans fat-free.

Healthy fats. The healthiest fats are unsaturated fats, which come from fish and plant sources such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation and support brain and heart health. Good sources include salmon, tuna, and flaxseeds.

Saturated fats. Found mainly in tropical oils, red meat, and dairy, there’s no need to completely eliminate saturated fat from your diet—but rather, enjoy in moderation. The American Diabetes Association recommends consuming no more than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat.

Eat regularly and keep a food diary

It’s encouraging to know that you only have to lose 7% of your body weight to cut your risk of diabetes in half. And you don’t have to obsessively count calories or starve yourself to do it. Two of the most helpful strategies involve following a regular eating schedule and recording what you eat.

Eat at regularly set times

Your body is better able to regulate blood sugar levels—and your weight—when you maintain a regular meal schedule. Aim for moderate and consistent portion sizes for each meal.

Start your day off with a good breakfast. It will provide energy as well as steady blood sugar levels.

Eat regular small meals—up to 6 per day. Eating regularly will help you keep your portions in check.

Keep calorie intake the same. To regulate blood sugar levels, try to eat roughly the same amount every day, rather than overeating one day or at one meal, and then skimping the next.

Keep a food diary

A recent study found that people who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. Why? A written record helps you identify problem areas—such as your afternoon snack or your morning latte—where you’re getting more calories than you realized. It also increases your awareness of what, why, and how much you’re eating, which helps you cut back on mindless snacking.

Get more active

Exercise can help you manage your weight and may improve your insulin sensitivity. An easy way to start exercising is to walk for 30 minutes a day (or for three 10-minute sessions if that’s easier). You can also try swimming, biking, or any other moderate-intensity activity that has you working up a light sweat and breathing harder.

Next step…

Learn how to lose weight and keep it off. If your last diet attempt wasn’t a success, or life events have caused you to gain weight, don’t be discouraged. The key is to find a plan that works with your body’s individual needs so that you can avoid common diet pitfalls and find long-term, weight loss success.

Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Lawrence Robinson, and Melinda Smith, M.A. Last updated: November 2019.