Tricks for avoiding diabetes
About 29 million Americans have diabetes, and 8 million of those people don’t even know it. Another 86 million people in the U.S. are estimated to have prediabetes, which is an elevated blood sugar that's not quite high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis (but probably headed in that direction). Both conditions can dramatically boost your risk of heart disease and stroke. But there's good news. While there's no magic food to prevent type 2 diabetes, there are wise food choices that, along with exercise, can help you avoid it. (Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease and healthy eating can't prevent it.) Even if you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, these foods (or food swaps) might help you control your blood sugar.
Focus on fiber
Not only does fiber keep blood sugar levels down, it can actually lessen spikes caused by other carbs. Expert organizations recommend 25 to 50 grams of fiber a day for people with diabetes, which is much higher than the 15 grams most Americans ingest.
How to reach your fiber quota? In addition to whole grains, like brown rice, oats, barley, and quinoa, focus on other foods that are high in fiber, such as beans and veggies.
"Combined with protein and whole grains they can add a lot of bulk to a meal without a lot of extra calories," says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet.
"They can also make a nice addition to soups and stews."
Sprinkle on the spices
It's not just the food you eat, but how you spice it that can affect your diabetes risk. A study on spices common in the famously healthy Mediterranean Diet found that virtually all of them—basil, cumin, oregano, parsley, and sage—can help lower blood sugar and boost insulin production, a double whammy when it comes to diabetes.
And when researchers from the University of Georgia tested 24 common herbs and spices, they found that their antioxidants could prevent tissue damage and inflammation caused by high blood sugar. Cloves and cinnamon, in particular, stood out.
Another reason to sprinkle on the spices? They're an excellent substitute for sodium, which is a prime culprit in raising blood pressure. People who have diabetes have a higher risk of high blood pressure, which can contribute to heart attacks and strokes, so cutting back on sodium is a good idea.
Eat brown rice instead of white
Whole grains are healthier than processed carbs when it comes to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. According to a landmark study of about 200,000 people, replacing just one-third of a daily serving of white rice with brown rice may lower your risk of diabetes by 16%. Other whole grains like whole wheat and barley might lower that risk even further, by up to 36%. Other studies have found that brown rice can help control blood sugar and insulin levels better than white rice.
Whole grains like brown rice have more fiber, minerals, and vitamins than refined grains. And one of the compounds that help rice grow may reduce nerve and blood vessel damage from existing diabetes. Soak dry rice in water overnight to awaken these compounds.
In addition to whole grains, experts recommend people reduce sugar and salt; choose healthy carbs over unhealthy ones (an apple instead of a donut); and eat leaner meats instead of those with more saturated fat (chicken or fish instead of red and processed meats) to reduce their risk.