6 Dietary and Lifestyle Factors that Can Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Cathe Friedrich leading an exercise class during the Glassboro Road trip. Exercise is a great way to help prevent Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes Facts:

Type 2 diabetes is a growing epidemic and one strongly associated with obesity, so much so that scientists have now coined a new term “diabesity” for the growing number of Americans who are overweight or obese and have this common condition. Why should we be concerned about diabetes? The incidence of this chronic disease has risen 35% over the last 25 years. Here are a few frightening facts about type 2 diabetes:

·       It’s a silent disease. 1/3 of people don’t know they have it.

Diabetes is the #1 one cause of blindness in middle-aged people.

Deaths related to diabetes are expected to rise by 50% over the next decade.

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in children and teens too.

Type 2 diabetes responds to lifestyle measures, particularly weight loss.


Just as frightening are the complications associated with type 2 diabetes. Diabetics are at higher risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, peripheral artery disease, and some types of cancer. Of course, the best way to avoid the complications of type 2 diabetes is to prevent the disease in the first place – but is that possible?

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at some of the lifestyle factors that lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Based on the study, they discussed factors that can lower your odds of developing this disease. The good news? These lifestyle factors aren’t hard to incorporate into your life and doing so will reduce your risk of a number of health problems. Let’s look at some ways to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes through lifestyle that is backed by science.

Lose Weight

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. When you carry too much body fat, especially visceral body fat, insulin sensitivity is lower and you don’t clear glucose from your bloodstream quickly enough and your pancreas has to release more insulin to get glucose into cells. Over time, the pancreas can “burn out” from the stress of having to produce more insulin. We know the two health conditions, obesity and type 2 diabetes, often occur together.

The good news? You only need to lose about 5% of your body weight (assuming you’re overweight) to substantially lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Of course, it’s best to get as close to your ideal body weight as possible and to improve your body composition as well, more muscle and less fat. For that, you need strength training.


Regular physical activity improves insulin sensitivity and that lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Plus, strength training builds muscle tissue. That’s important since muscle serves as a depot for taking up glucose. Other than diet, exercising is the most important lifestyle change you can make to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Eat the Right Fats

While there’s still controversy about saturated fats, studies suggest that to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, you should lower your intake of saturated fats and eliminate trans-fat from your diet. Healthier options include long-chain omega-3s in fatty fish and monounsaturated fat in olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Why saturated fat? Some studies suggest that saturated fat worsens insulin resistance and that’s a negative for metabolic health. People who follow a Mediterranean diet, one that emphasizes these healthier fats, have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Don’t Smoke & Limit Alcohol Consumption

This study, as well as other studies, show not smoking and minimizing alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For men, two drinks a day is considered within the guidelines as is one drink per day for women – but look at the bigger picture. Consuming even small amounts of alcohol is linked with a higher risk of breast cancer in women based on some studies. In fact, not smoking and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink can lower your risk for a number of health problems.

Boost Intake of Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables – they’re a part of a healthy diet, including one to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits don’t cause large blood sugar and insulin spikes, the kind that are linked with insulin resistance. Plus, fruits and veggies are nutrient dense, high in fiber, and low in calories.

Of the fruits and vegetables available to you, leafy greens and berries are most strongly linked with a reduction in type 2 diabetes risk. Leafy greens are an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral linked with insulin sensitivity. Berries are lower in natural sugar than other fruits and are also a good source of fiber and polyphenols. According to some research, polyphenols may protect against complications of diabetes as well by reducing oxidative damage.

Eliminate Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates and foods with added sugar are ones that raise your blood sugar quickly and cause excessive release of insulin. Over time, this can lead to weight gain, increased belly fat, and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Plus, these foods are low in nutritional value and contain little natural fiber. In other words, they do nothing positive for your health and are also linked with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

The Bottom Line

As the study suggests, the more closely you adhere to these lifestyle factors, the lower your risk of type 2 diabetes will be. Of course, there’s a genetic component but lifestyle trumps genetics when it comes to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. You have more control over your health and your risk of health problems than you think. By making the appropriate lifestyle changes, you can slow the aging process and reduce your risk of health problems that cause premature aging, like diabetes. So, the next time you’re grocery shopping, keep these dietary factors in mind. Also, don’t forget to lace up your exercise shoes and get moving. It all counts toward your health



Joslin Diabetes Center. “Facts About Diabetes”
World Health Organization. “10 Facts about Diabetes”
Ann. Intern Med. 2011: 155: 292.
Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance. Eighth edition. McArdle, Katch, and Katch.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Fruits and Vegetables”
PharmaNutrition. Volume 1, Issue 4, October 2013, Pages 105-114.
N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Jun;967:329-35.


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