If current trends continue, one in three adults in the United States could have diabetes by 2050, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a scary statistic. But luckily we do know a thing or two about how to avoid the disease. And the preventative measures are actually pretty straightforward, doable, and sustainable. Here, I've rounded up six research-backed eating strategies that will help you ward off type 2 diabetes. Combine them with an active lifestyle, and you’ll be well on your way to remaining diabetes-free.
Eat breakfast (seriously)
You've heard it time and again, and it's true. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Here's another reason to fuel up in the a.m.: A meta-analysis published in Public Health Nutrition that involved more than 100,000 participants found that people who skipped breakfast had a 15% to 21% increased risk of getting a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, compared to individuals who ate breakfast regularly.
Of course, not all morning meals are created equal. To best manage your weight, regulate your blood glucose and insulin levels, and get the right mix of nutrients, I advise eating a balanced breakfast that contains there five components: vegetables, lean protein, good fat, a small portion of healthy carbs, and herbs and spices. That could mean throwing together a veggie, herb, and avocado omelet, paired with fresh fruit, for example. Or you could whip up a smoothie made with kale, pea protein powder, almond butter, frozen berries, ginger, and cinnamon.
Enjoy your coffee
Good news if you start your day with java: After assessing 28 previous studies that included more than one million participants, researchers found that downing six cups per day was tied to a 33% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to drinking no coffee at all. It didn't matter whether people drank caffeinated or decaf coffee. And the effects were seen in both men and women across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
But why exactly is a cup of Joe protective? Scientists say it likely has to do with coffee's natural components, like magnesium (more on the mineral below) and chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in animal research. If you're not currently in the habit of drinking six cups a day, you don't need to up your intake. But if you're already a coffee lover, don't feel guilty about sipping from your generously sized mug.
To boost the health benefits of your coffee, I recommend adding a plant-based milk, like almond or coconut milk, as well as a dash of ground cinnamon. The latter will add a sweet-like flavor so you can enjoy your coffee with less or no sugar. Plus, some research has shown that the tasty spice may help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, and lower cholesterol.
Reach for magnesium-rich foods
Most Americans don't get enough magnesium, which is unfortunate since it's crucial for your heart, muscle, and immune function. Plus, magnesium even plays a role in keeping type 2 diabetes at bay. In fact, research shows there's a 15% decrease in type 2 diabetes risk for each 100 mg per day increase in magnesium intake. That amount is equivalent to the magnesium content in four cups of cooked oatmeal, one cup of beans, ¼ cup of nuts, ½ cup of cooked spinach, or three bananas.
But rather than aiming for those specific portions each day, your best bet is to up your overall daily intake of magnesium-rich foods, including avocado, beets and beet greens, whole grains (such as brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, and millet), pulses, dried figs and plums, papaya, seeds (like pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower), and dark chocolate.
RELATED: 13 Foods That Are High in Magnesium
You've likely heard that sticking to a Mediterranean diet packs all kinds of health perks, like lowering your risk of cancer and keeping your heart healthy. And as it turns out, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the diet may help prevent type 2 diabetes as well.
In the study, men and women at high cardiovascular risk were randomly assigned to one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO); a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts; or a control diet, which was low in fat. The low-fat diet group had the greatest number of type 2 diabetes diagnoses during the study period (101 new-onset cases). Meanwhile 92 people in the nut group were diagnosed with type 2, and only 80 in the EVOO group.
To truly reap the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, be sure to stick with its traditional principles: a high monounsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio (in other words, more olive oil than butter); plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains (think quinoa and oats), and pulses (beans, lentils, and chickpeas); a moderate intake of red wine and dairy products; and minimal red meat and a healthy amount of fish.
RELATED: 22 Mediterranean Diet Recipes
Chow down on greens
You've heard the advice to eat your veggies umpteen times, but one particular variety may offer more protection against diabetes. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers discovered that consuming just one and a half extra servings of leafy greens each day (about one and a half cups) reduced a person's risk of type 2 by 14%.
To up your intake of this super veggie, try incorporating dark leafy greens into breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. Whip them into fruit smoothies. Add finely chopped kale to oatmeal along with berries or other fruit. Throw spinach in an omelet. Opt for salads over a sandwich for lunch, wrap salmon burgers in collard greens, snack on kale chips, and replace some of your starch portion (such as brown rice) with greens.
Drink in moderation
Contrary to what you might expect, totally cutting out alcohol may not be the best option when it comes to warding off diabetes. In a meta-analysis published in Diabetes Care, researchers found that, compared to the nondrinkers in the study, women who had 1.6 drinks per day, and men who had 1.8 drinks per day had a 40% and 13% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, respectively. However, on the flip side, heavy alcohol consumption (which was defined as 3.6 drinks per day for women, and 4.4 drinks per day for men) was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Remember, one standard drink is 5 ounces of wine (which is a little less than a single-serve yogurt container), 12 ounces of beer (with 5% alcohol), or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof distilled spirits. If you don't drink, don't start. But if you do imbibe, stick with moderate amounts to best protect your health.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.