12 Surprising Ways to Beat Diabetes

Find out how cutting fat, finding a roommate, and catering to a caffeine habit can slash your risk for type 2 diabetes

By: Hollis Templeton  

Take Down Diabetes

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Newsflash: It doesn’t take an intense sweet tooth to develop type 2 diabetes, and cutting back on cookies and candy isn’t necessarily enough to keep you disease-free. “High blood sugar is not the cause of diabetes; it’s a sign that you have diabetes,” explains Neal Barnard, MD, an associate professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and author of Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes. Sugar builds up in the blood when your body stops processing it correctly. And some surprising factors, like your work schedule, sleeping patterns, and even the type of shampoo you buy, could be to blame. Read on to discover some surprising ways to reduce your risk for developing a disease that can lead to kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, and stroke. (Related: See which Hollywood A-listers battle with the disease in Surprising Celebrities With Diabetes.)

Scale Back on Animal Fat

If you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, cutting out fat is more important than saying no to sugar, says Barnard. Here’s why: Carbohydrates break down into glucose when they hit the blood stream. Your muscles soak up most of this sugar and use it as fuel. But in order for glucose to get inside muscle cells, it needs insulin to “unlock the door,” Barnard explains. When you have diabetes, those locks get gummed up with tiny fat particles called intramyocellular lipids. Your cells start to resist insulin, and sugar piles up in the blood stream.

To drain the fat out of these cells and repair your body’s ability to process sugar, Barnard suggests temporarily taking meat, fish, dairy, and eggs out of your diet and limiting the amount of vegetable oils you consume (look for foods with no more than 2 to 4 g of fat per serving). Type 2 diabetics who followed a low-fat vegan diet for 22 weeks lowered their A1C—a measure of blood sugar control—and reduced their diabetes medications more than study participants who ate an American Diabetes Association-approved diet, which allows non-fat dairy, lean meats, poultry, and fish, according to research published in Diabetes Care.

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Switch to Brown Rice

The more white rice you eat on a regular basis, the greater your risk will be for developing type 2 diabetes, according to Harvard School of Public Health researchers who studied the trend in both Asian countries (China and Japan) and Western countries (the United States and Australia). Their study showed that each 158 g (about 2/3 cup) serving of rice increased risk by 10 percent. Because Asian countries eat an average of four portions of white rice a day, researchers believe they are at particularly high risk for developing diabetes. The scientists suggest that people who fill up on white rice aren’t taking in as many diabetes-fighting nutrients, like fiber, magnesium, and vitamins, as they would be if they ate brown rice.

White rice also has a bigger effect on blood sugar because it breaks down more quickly than brown rice. To help your body recover from insulin resistance, opt for carbs that release sugar into your blood more slowly, advises Barnard. Beans, fruit, non-starchy vegetables, and whole grains are good examples.

Search: What are the healthiest whole-grain foods?

Don’t Miss Out on Magnesium

Adding more whole grains, beans, nuts, and leafy green veggies to your plate can help you take in more magnesium. Getting at least 100 mg of the mineral a day (from food or supplements) decreases your risk for developing diabetes by 14 percent, according to a research review published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. And it’s pretty easy to rack up the recommended amount. An ounce of peanuts contains about 50 mg of magnesium, a cup of black beans has 120 mg, and a cup of cooked spinach packs 157 mg.

Print It: Eat to Beat Diabetes

Slow Down Your Spoon

Driving down your diabetes risk isn’t just about what you eat; it’s about how you eat. People who inhale their meals are two and a half times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who pace themselves at mealtime, according to Lithuanian researchers. Study participants who ate the fastest also had higher BMIs compared with slower eaters.

Video: 3 Tricks to Help You Eat Less

Mix Cardio and Weights

Regular sweat sessions strengthen your defenses against a range of diseases, and diabetes is no exception. Dedicating 300 minutes a week—the equivalent of doing five one-hour workouts—can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes by 59 percent, according to a Harvard University study. What’s more, study participants who mixed both weight training and cardio into their workouts had a lower risk compared to those who did only one or the other. Researchers suggest that each type of exercise improves insulin sensitivity in its own way.

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Steer Clear of Creepy Chemicals

Before your toss a bottle of moisturizer or nail polish into your shopping basket, check the label for any compound ending in “phthalate.” Phthalates are a group of chemicals found in personal care products such as some soaps, hair sprays, perfumes, moisturizers, and nail polishes that can mess with your hormone levels. People with higher concentrations of phthalates in their bodies have a higher risk for developing diabetes than those with lower levels of the chemical, according to recent studies published in Diabetes Care and Environmental Health Perspectives. Researchers suggest that some phthalates mess with the production of insulin in the pancreas.

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Keep the Coffee Coming

f you need several jolts of java to help you get through the day, don’t despair. Your caffeine habit could actually fend off disease. People who drink more than six 8-ounce cups of coffee have a 29 to 54 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to an 18-year study from the Harvard School of Public Health. Those who drink four to five cups cut their risk about 29 percent, while one to three cups had little effect. The scientists suggest that caffeine helps rev metabolism and that the potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants in coffee help cells better absorb sugar. Just be careful not to load each cup with cream and sweetener, or your waistline could be in for a shock.

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Shoot for 7 Hours of Shut-Eye

Skimping on sleep and staying in bed all day both boost your risk for diabetes, so shoot for six to eight hours. Getting less than six hours of slumber a night doubled diabetes risk for 1,700 men in a Yale University study, while those who regularly slept for more than eight hours a night tripled their chances for developing the disease. Why? Less-than-optimal sleeping habits mess with the hormones that regular blood sugar.

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Stay Away from Cigarettes

Cigarette smokers have a 44 percent greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared with non-smokers, according a review of 25 studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And the more you smoke, the higher your risk. Twenty or more cigarettes a day pushed diabetes risk up to 61 percent, while lighter smokers had a 29 percent risk compared with nonsmokers. Scientists aren’t sure whether smoking spurs the development of type 2 diabetes or whether smokers are more likely to be lax about diet and exercise. However, passive smoking also puts you at risk. Adults who are exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers with no exposure, according to a study from Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles.

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Find a Roommate

Living alone makes you two and a half times more likely to develop diabetes than you would be if you cohabitated with a roommate, partner, spouse, or children, according to research published in Diabetes Care. Lifestyle factors could be to blame—study participants who lived alone were more likely to report smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating unhealthy diets. (Search: How does alcohol affect my weight?)

Maintain a Consistent Work Schedule

Women who worked erratic schedules that included a mix of day, evening, and night shifts each month had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with women who always worked days or evening, according to a study from Harvard School of Public Health. The researchers point out that shift work throws off body rhythms and sleeping patterns and has been linked to obesity, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

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Have Your Testosterone Tested

A disappearing sex drive isn’t the only side effect of low testosterone in men. Since the body uses testosterone to help break down glucose, science shows that a shortage of it can lead to diabetes. Regardless of whether or not they were obese, men with the lowest testosterone levels were four times more likely to have diabetes, according to a study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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