Five Lifestyle Habits That Can Help Ward Off Type 2 Diabetes

Over 450 million people worldwide have diabetes, a number that’s projected to double within the next three decades. Remarkably, 90-95% of people with diabetes have the form known as type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes, a largely preventable condition in which inadequate carbohydrate metabolism results in chronically high blood glucose (sugar) levels (hyperglycemia).

Type 2 diabetes is a condition close to my heart and one that’s actually fueled many of my efforts as a health coach, scientist and relentless advocate of healthy living medicine. My grandmother succumbed to type 2 diabetes just shy of her 60th birthday and my mother, who was too diagnosed in her 40s, suffered through an amputation in her 50s and continues to struggle with the disease today.

You too have likely been affected by type 2 diabetes in some way or another, whether you or a loved one developed it. If you’re reading this, you’re probably also wondering how you can avoid this condition or successfully manage its symptoms if you already have it?

Truth is, while the onset of type 2 diabetes is closely linked to your family health history and genetics, your lifestyle plays an even greater role in your overall susceptibility to the disease. In fact, practicing healthy lifestyle habits can reduce the likelihood of its occurrence by as much as 60%.

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You’d be surprised at how little changes can make a big difference. Here I’ve compiled a list of five simple lifestyle strategies that’ll substantially lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and even help you effectively manage the disease if you already have it.

1. Be Mindful of Your Overall Carbohydrate Intake

Habitually consuming a diet largely comprised of carbohydrates (carbs) can dramatically increase blood sugar levels, ultimately increasing your risk of hyperglycemia. This holds especially true for refined carbs like white breads, packaged cereals and snacks, chips, candy, cookies, and soft drinks. Since these foods tend to digest and absorb rapidly, eating them regularly increases your body’s demand for insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels when they are too high for too long.

Continued demand for insulin can eventually lead to a state of insulin resistance. This is a state in which your body doesn’t properly respond to the blood glucose lowering effects of insulin. Insulin resistance greatly increases the risk of developing ‘prediabetes’, and, eventually, type 2 diabetes.

Related Article: How Insulin Impacts Fat Burning and Weight Loss

2. Regularly Engage in Physical Activity—That’s Every Day

To effectively prevent or manage type 2 diabetes, daily physical activity is an absolute must! This can include a combination of spontaneous physical activity and ‘structured’ exercises like jogging, cycling and circuit training. Believe it or not, whenever you engage in physical activity your muscles demand more glucose. The more intense the activity, the more glucose demanded. Hence, physical activity inherently has “insulin-like” glucose-lowering effects.

Whether you go for a daily walk or jog, lift weights or take the stairs throughout the day in place of the elevator, make an effort to engage in at least 60-90 minutes of physical activity every day. Even though I regularly exercise, I personally make it a practice to go for sporadic walks throughout the day in order to reduce my body’s overall demand for insulin. This is particularly beneficial after a meal, especially if you already have type 2 diabetes.

Related Article: Spontaneous Physical Activity: What Is It and Why You Need It Every Day

3. Opt for Foods Rich in “Good” Carbohydrates

Healthier (“good”) carbohydrate-rich foods like vegetables and fruit, whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, and wild rice), and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are less likely to cause significant spikes in blood glucose after consumption. They also house lots of dietary fiber. Fiber inhibits sudden spikes in blood glucose by slowing its digestion and absorption in the small intestines. Good carbs are also packed full of essential vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants that promote overall good health.

For maximum protection, consume five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruit every day along with a combined 3-5 daily servings of whole grains and legumes.

Related Article: How Different Types of Fiber Affect Your Health

4. Eat Moderate Amounts of Healthy Fat

Healthy fats (monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids) help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by stabilizing blood glucose levels and keeping insulin at bay. These fats are naturally housed in a variety of foods that can effortlessly be included in your everyday diet. To spice up a salad, add a serving of avocado, nuts, flaxseeds or lightly seasoned olive oil. You can also enjoy 1-2 tablespoons of hummus or your favorite nut butter (peanut, walnut or almond butter) as a tasty sandwich spread or dip.

Now, although these fats are considered “healthy”, moderation is key, as they tend to be relatively high in calories.

Related Article: Good Fats Versus Bad Fats: What You Need to Know About Dietary Fat

5. Consume High-Quality Protein-Rich Foods

Protein is one of the best macronutrients for keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels under control, thereby reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. High-quality foods like lean meats, poultry, seafood and fish, eggs, cheese, and whole soy products are generally devoid of sugars so there’s never a need for the body to metabolize it. In addition, when consumed in combination with carbs, protein tends to slow the digestion and absorption of glucose, reducing the likelihood of unhealthy spikes.

In addition to animal-based foods and soy products, you can obtain substantial amounts of protein from a combination of nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains.

Related Article: Nutrition Basics: Your Daily Protein Intake

At the end of the day, having a genetic susceptibility to type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. It simply means that you have to make healthy living your ‘new’ medicine. By implementing these simple lifestyle strategies, you can successfully keep your blood sugar levels under control in ways that support both the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.

Related Article: A Simple Guide to Eating Sensibly