Understanding the diet-diabetes connection: What you need to know about preventing and managing your risk
12/31/2019 // Cassie B. // Views

Type 2 diabetes is a life-threatening illness, but it’s one that you can largely prevent through lifestyle choices. At the Nutrition 2019 conference held in Baltimore earlier this year, several interesting studies were presented that show just how much what we eat – and the way that we eat it – can impact our risk one way or another.

For example, when you think of foods that can affect your diabetes risk, there’s one that comes to mind almost universally: sugar. While it’s true that consuming a lot of sugar can raise your risk, a new study has shown that diet can be just as important when it comes to lowering your risk, especially if you eat a lot of plant-based foods.

A long-term study of nearly 3,000 young adults found that people who raised the amount of foods like vegetables, whole grains, fruits, vegetable oils, and nuts they consumed over the course of two decades enjoyed a 60 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate fewer plant foods.

A different study found that people who have a higher intake of vitamins B2 and B6 also have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re getting these vitamins from food or from supplements. That study included more than 200,000 people. Interestingly, the researchers also found that consuming greater levels of vitamin B12 from food raised people's risk of the disease. This is believed to be due to the associated higher consumption of animal products.

Meanwhile, another study showed that reducing the blood sugar spikes that occur after meals can be achieved simply by changing the order in which food is consumed. For example, eating rice first and following it with a vegetable and meat led to a significantly higher blood sugar level after eating than consuming the same foods in a different order.


Finally, scientists have shown that certain foods can be particularly powerful in lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes if you have a particular gene variant. In a study involving more than 4,000 Koreans, those who drank at least a cup of black coffee per day were found to have a lower risk of developing either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes than people who drank no coffee. This reduced risk from drinking coffee was the strongest, however, in those who had a genetic variation known as rs2074356, illustrating just how powerful the interaction between genes and foods can be.

Food can be a powerful tool in diabetes fight

These are just the latest studies in a growing body of evidence that food can be very powerful when it comes to managing and even treating this illness. It’s a popular topic for exploration given the prevalence of diabetes today, and research has yielded some very useful findings over the years.

For example, curcumin, a compound in the Asian cuisine staple spice turmeric, has been shown to help prevent people with prediabetes from going on to develop full-blown type 2 diabetes. A study of 240 people found that after nine months, 16.4 percent of people with prediabetes in a placebo group developed type 2 diabetes, while none of the prediabetics in a group taking 250 milligrams of curcumin daily developed type 2 diabetes.

More than 30 million Americans are already suffering from diabetes, with 1.5 million new cases being diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It’s also the 7th leading cause of death in the country, according to the American Diabetes Association. How different could the situation be if more people were educated on the power of food to fight diabetes rather than simply handing out prescriptions that only mask the problem?

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