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How to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes

By Nina Nazor

About 21 million Americans have diabetes and, according to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes was the sixth leading cause of death in the United States in the year 2000 and about 90 to 95 percent of all cases of diabetes are Type 2, the type that can sometimes be prevented.

If you weigh more than your ideal weight, have a family history of diabetes, are a Native American, Hispanic American, African American, Pacific Islander or if you are a woman who had a baby weighing more than 8 pounds at birth, you should pay more attention to the following tips because you have a greater risk for developing diabetes.

Lifestyle changes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that lifestyle changes in diet and exercise and losing a little weight can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes if you are at high risk.

Weight loss. Obesity is the single most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Between 80% and 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Just by losing 10% of your weight you can help your body work more efficiently and reduce your risk of diabetes. If you need to lose weight, take a look at the 10 tips for Weight Loss.

More exercise and less TV. Exercise helps lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes in two different ways. First, it helps to lose weight, which cuts the risk. Secondly, exercise improves insulin sensitivity, allowing the cells of your body to use its own insulin better. That is the key against prediabetes and/or the metabolic syndrome.

A recent study reports that viewing TV more than 14 hours a week increases the risk of type 2 diabetes in men and women. It was also reported that exercising a total of 2.5 hours a week or more was associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes in both sexes.

But you don’t need to go to an expensive gym; research shows that taking a brisk half-hour walk every day can decrease a person's risk of developing diabetes regardless of their weight. You can also try to walk 10,000 steps a day and use a pedometer, or maybe you would like to try one of those 30 minute workouts, like the one at Curves for Woman. It doesn’t matter what you do, just get off the couch and move!

Your goal must be to exercise 4 to 6 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes each time. Just remember that if you haven't exercised for a while, you should talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program. 


Independently of the weight, a diet high in fat, calories and cholesterol increases your risk of diabetes. In addition, this diet can lead to obesity (another risk factor for diabetes) and other health problems.

  1. Variety of foods. Studies suggest that people who eat from a wide variety of food groups tend to be healthier and have a reduced risk of disease, including diabetes. Eating a variety of foods helps you get a wider array of nutrients and increases your chances of getting all of the nutrients needed for good health. Learn How to Design Your Own Diet Plan.
  2. Breakfast. People who eat breakfast are significantly less likely to be obese and diabetic than those who usually don’t, researchers report. So, after all, breakfast may be the most important meal of the day.
  3. High fiber, low animal fats and low refined starches and sugars. A healthy diet is high in fiber and low in animal fat, but also low in refined starches and sugars. You must watch your portion size as well, because how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Read more about Fiber and Diabetes.
  4. Whole grains and vegetables. Getting carbs from whole grains may help overweight adults to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a recent report. Learn More About Carbs.
  5. Dairy Products. The consumption of low-fat dairy foods may reduce men’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This research does not refer to the effect on women; however, women should take at least 2 to 3 portions of dairy products a day to meet their needs of calcium. 
  6. Nuts. Women who consume nuts or peanut butter as part of their regular diet may reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a study. Nuts are rich in fiber, magnesium, and many other essential nutrients.
  7. Vitamin E. A study reports that people who eat diets high in vitamin E were 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The best sources of vitamin E are avocados and vegetal fats like nuts, olive oil and canola oil. If you take supplements, try not to exceed 400 UI a day.
  8. Betacarotenoids. In other studies, people who consumed large amounts of carotenoids, a group of phytochemicals that produce the red, yellow, and orange colors found in many fruits and vegetables, were also less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  9. Magnesium. Adequate amounts of magnesium could reduce the risk of diabetes by 10 to 34 percent, recent studies report. The best food sources of magnesium are green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and dried beans.
  10. Coffee. People who drink several cups of coffee a day can lower their risk of developing diabetes later in life, according to a recent study.
  11. Alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of diabetes. Moderate means no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks for men and, preferably, of red wine. Red wine has tanins (the substances that give the red color), which have been related to a decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Read about Alcohol and Diabetes.

Smoking. According to a new study, smoking raises the risk of developing diabetes. So, if you smoke, this is another great reason to quit.

Sleep. Researchers report that sleeping for less than six hours or for more than nine hours each night, is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance. If you don't sleep well, you should ask your doctor for a way to help you get enough sleep.

Depression. A history of depression increases the risk of developing diabetes in younger adults. Read about Treatment Options for Depression.

Happiness. In a recent study that looked at the link between how we feel and the biological processes related to illness, researchers found that well-being and happiness may help us lower the risk for developing different illnesses, including diabetes.

Medications. There are no drugs available to prevent diabetes; however, lifestyle changes and treatment with metformin reduced the incidence of diabetes in persons at high risk. The interesting finding was that lifestyle intervention was more effective than metformin. Also, researchers report that the use of any angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor (ACE) or angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) for high blood pressure treatment will reduce a patient's risk of diabetes. There is another report about the insulin sensitizer Avandia(R) (rosiglitazone maleate), which may reduce the risk for developing diabetes and diabetes-related cardiovascular disease.


Following a healthy and active lifestyle is the key to lowering your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Of course, it is easier said than done. If you are willing to make healthy changes in your lifestyle and you feel like it's something very hard to achieve, you should seek the help of a counselor. Many behavior change techniques and strategies are known to be successful, especially cognitive-behavior therapy.


·  Lauren C. Brown. History of Depression Increases Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Younger Adults. Diabetes Care 28:1063-1067, 2005 Ruy Lopez-Ridaura. Magnesium Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men and Women. Diabetes Care 27: 134-140, 2004

·  David W. Dunstan. Physical Activity and Television Viewing in Relation to Risk of Undiagnosed Abnormal Glucose Metabolism in Adults. Diabetes Care 27: 2603-2609. 2004

·  Samuel Klein. Weight Management Through Lifestyle Modification for the Prevention and Management of Type 2 Diabetes: Rationale and Strategies: A statement of the American Diabetes Association, the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition. Diabetes Care 27: 2067-2073. 2004

·  Rob M. van Dam, Walter C. Willett. Dietary Fat and Meat Intake in Relation to Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men. Diabetes Care 25: 417-424. 2002
·  Marion J. Franz, John P. Bantle. Evidence-Based Nutrition Principles and Recommendations for the Treatment and Prevention of Diabetes and Related Complications. Diabetes Care 25: 148-198. 2002