By Joel Fuhrman, MD
Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke.
It takes an enormous toll on the health of our population. And it accelerates aging; damaging the kidneys, cardiovascular system, eyes and nerve tissue, and increases cancer risk.
However, type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease — our food choices can either prevent or promote insulin resistance and resultant diabetes.
Prevention is possible when it comes to the devastating complications and premature deaths associated with diabetes. The primary cause of the parallel increases in obesity and diabetes is the nutrient-depleted American diet.
For diabetics and prediabetics especially, new research proves what moms having been telling their children through the ages, “eat your veggies, they’re good for you.”
See how to eat to prevent diabetes and how to eat if you have diabetes.
5 Best Foods to Reverse and Prevent Diabetes
Many conventional diabetes diets rely on meat or grains as the major calorie source. However, these strategies have serious drawbacks.
High-nutrient, low glycemic load (GL) foods are the optimal foods for diabetics. And these foods also help to prevent diabetes in the first place.
1. Green Vegetables
Nutrient-dense green vegetables – leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and other green vegetables – are the most important foods to focus on for diabetes prevention and reversal.
Higher green vegetable consumption is associated with lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and among diabetics, higher green vegetable intake is associated with lower HbA1c levels.
A recent meta-analysis found that greater leafy green intake was associated with a 14% decrease in risk of type 2 diabetes.
One study reported that each daily serving of leafy greens produces a 9% decrease in risk.
2. Non-Starchy Vegetables
Non-green, non-starchy vegetables like mushrooms, onions, garlic, eggplant, peppers, etc. are essential components of a diabetes prevention (or reversal) diet.
These foods have almost nonexistent effects on blood glucose and have tons of fiber and phytochemicals.
Lentils, beans, and other legumes are the ideal carbohydrate source.
They’re low in glycemic load due to their moderate protein and abundant fiber and resistant starch, carbohydrates that are not broken down in the small intestine.
This reduces the amount of calories from the beans; plus, resistant starch goes through fermentation by bacteria in the colon, forming products that protect against colon cancer.
Accordingly, bean and legume consumption is associated with reduced risk of both diabetes and colon cancer.
4. Nuts and Seeds
Low in glycemic load, nuts and seeds promote weight loss, and have anti-inflammatory effects that may prevent the development of insulin resistance.
The Nurses’ Health Study found a 27% reduced risk of diabetes in nurses who ate five or more servings of nuts per week.
Among nurses who already had diabetes, this same quantity reduced the risk of heart disease by 47%. (1, 2)
5. Fresh Fruit
Rich in fiber and antioxidants, fruits are a nutrient-dense choice for satisfying sweet cravings.
Eating three servings of fresh fruit each day is associated with an 18% decrease in risk of diabetes.5
For those who are already diabetic, I recommend sticking to low sugar fruits like berries, kiwi, oranges, and melon to minimize glycemic effects.
6 Worst Foods for Diabetics and for Preventing Diabetes
Some of the worst foods for diabetes – the foods that elevate blood sugar, reduce insulin sensitivity and increase type 2 diabetes risk – are the foods that are most common in the standard American diet.
1. Added Sugars
Diabetes is characterized by abnormally elevated blood glucose levels. So it’s wise to avoid foods that cause dangerously high spikes in blood glucose. These are primarily refined foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, devoid of fiber that slows the absorption of glucose in the blood.
Fruit juices and sugary processed foods and desserts have similar effects. These foods promote hyperglycemia and insulin resistance. And they promote the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in the body.
AGEs alter the normal, healthy function of cellular proteins, stiffen the blood vessels, accelerate aging, and promote diabetes complications.
2. Refined Grains (White Rice and White Flour Products)
Carbohydrates like white rice, white pasta, and white bread are missing the fiber from the original grain. So they raise blood glucose higher and faster than their intact, unprocessed counterparts.
In a six-year study of 65,000 women, those with diets high in refined carbohydrates from white bread, white rice, and pasta were 2.5 times as likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate lower-glycemic-load foods, such as intact whole grains and whole wheat bread.
An analysis of four prospective studies on white rice consumption and diabetes found that each daily serving of white rice increased the risk of diabetes by 11%.
In addition to the glucose-raising effects, cooked starchy foods also contain AGEs, which promote aging and diabetes complications.
3. Fried Foods
Potato chips, French fries, doughnuts, and other fried starches start with a high-glycemic food, and then pile on a huge number of low-nutrient calories in the form of oil.
Plus, like other cooked starches, fried foods contain AGEs.
4. Trans Fats (Margarine, Shortening, Fast Food, Processed Baked Goods)
Diabetes accelerates cardiovascular disease. Because the vast majority of diabetics (more than 80%) die from cardiovascular disease, any food that increases cardiovascular risk will be especially problematic for those with diabetes.
Trans fat intake is a strong dietary risk factor for heart disease; even a small amount of trans fat intake increases risk.
In addition to their cardiovascular effects, saturated and trans fats reduce insulin sensitivity, leading to elevated glucose and insulin levels, and greater risk of diabetes.
5. Red and Processed Meats
At first glance, it may seem like the dietary effects on diabetes would be only relevant to carbohydrate-containing foods. The more low-carbohydrate, high-protein foods in your diet, the better; those foods don’t directly raise blood glucose.
However, that is a too simplistic view of the development of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is not only driven by elevated glucose levels, but also by chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and alterations in circulating lipids (fats).
Many diabetics have come to believe that if sugar and refined grains and other high-glycemic foods raise blood sugar and triglycerides, they should avoid them and eat more animal protein to keep their blood glucose levels in check.
However, several studies have now confirmed that high intake of meat increases the risk of diabetes.
A meta-analysis of 12 studies concluded that high total meat intake increased type 2 diabetes risk 17% above low intake, high red meat intake increased risk 21%, and high processed meat intake increased risk 41%.
6. Whole Eggs
Eating 5 eggs/week or more has been associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
When it comes to heart disease, eggs have been a controversial topic. However, for those with diabetes, the research is not controversial; there are clear links in many observational studies to large increases in risk.
Large prospective studies such as The Nurses’ Health Study, Health Professionals Follow-up Study, and Physicians’ Health Study reported that diabetics who eat more than one egg/day double their cardiovascular disease or death risk compared to diabetics that ate less than one egg per week.
Another study of diabetics reported that those eating one egg/day or more had a fivefold increase in risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
The Best Way to Prevent Diabetes and Enhance Life Expectancy
Learning how to eat to prevent diabetes and how to eat if you have diabetes or prediabetes can help you take control of your health.
A diet of vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and fresh fruit can prevent and even reverse diabetes while promoting long-term health.
This approach works. In a recent study on type 2 diabetics following this diet, we found that 90% of participants were able to come off all diabetic medications, and the mean HbA1c after one year was 5.8, which is in the non-diabetic (normal) range.
Learn more about using these foods to fight diabetes in my book The End of Diabetes. In this book, I outline my plan for preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes using superior nutrition, not drugs.
No one has to have type 2 diabetes, and those with type 1 diabetes can improve their life expectancy, health and quality of life with this plan.
If you know of anyone with diabetes – type 1, type 2 or prediabetes – it is absolutely essential they read this book; it could save their life.
Tell us in the comments:
- What do you think?
- Does this information help you understand the best diet for diabetics?
- What steps have you taken to prevent diabetes?
Learn what brand-new scientific research says about how to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes — using food and free lifestyle tips.
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