Diabetes and Diet: What's the Connection?
The most significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes is obesity. For many others, diet plays a major role in weight issues.

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One of the most significant risk factors for type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 25, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Take control of your health by learning about the relationship between diet and type 2 diabetes. You can start taking positive steps to improve your diet and maintain a healthy weight today.

Diabetes and Obesity

According to the American Diabetes Association, most patients with type 2 diabetes are obese, and the obesity epidemic in the U.S. largely explains the dramatic increase in the incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes over the past 20 years. Currently, approximately 34 percent of U.S. adults are obese (defined as having a BMI greater than 30), and more than 11 percent of people who are 20 years old or older have diabetes, a prevalence that is projected to increase to 21% by 2050.

Some people are at higher risk for developing diabetes than others. People with a body mass index of 25 or more and one additional risk factor are at higher risk. These risk factors are:

  • physical inactivity
  • one or more first-degree relatives with diabetes
  • being a member of a higher-risk ethnic group (African American, Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander)
  • a past history of gestational diabetes or delivering a baby greater than 9 pounds
  • blood pressure equal to or greater than 140/90
  • an HDL cholesterol under 35 and/or a triglyceride level over 250
  • having polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • having A1c values over 5.7 percent or increased fasting or random glucose levels
  • a history of cardiovascular disease
  • other conditions associated with insulin resistance (such as obesity)

The Importance of Weight

The Diabetes Prevention Program, which looked at ways to reduce risk for type 2 diabetes, found that losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight, combined with about 30 minutes of exercise daily, could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 58 percent. Controlling weight is a powerful tool to help manage diabetes risk.

The Importance of Diet

If you're trying to prevent type 2 diabetes by keeping your weight within its target range, it's essential to eat right.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) reports that although there is no particular diet for diabetes management and prevention, there is definitely a "recipe" for eating right.

What's important is understanding how different food choices and portions affect you. For example, fat, protein, and carbohydrates all need to be balanced in order to help keep your blood sugar stable. These guidelines are similar to general recommendations for weight management, heart health, and cancer prevention. The bottom line? Keep your focus on eating nutritious, low-fat, minimally processed foods that are moderate in calories. The AND suggests that healthy meal plans include:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • starchy foods, including rice, pasta, breads and cereals (try to choose whole grain options when you can)
  • starchy veggies like corn or sweet potatoes
  • a healthy mix of low-fat meats, fish, poultry, cheese, and tofu
  • dairy products, like milk and yogurt
  • healthy fats, such as those found in nuts and olive oil

Taking Control

There's no surefire way to prevent type 2 diabetes, but you can take steps to lower your risk. If you're concerned about reducing your risk of developing diabetes, remember that keeping your weight at a healthy level may make a big difference. Sticking to the basics when it comes to eating—ensuring a nutritious balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats—can go a long way. By maintaining a healthy weight, you can reduce the chances that you'll experience many of the complications that arise from obesity, including the increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Written by: The Healthline Editorial Team
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE
Published: May 5, 2014
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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