Doctors used to think that if you received a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, youâd have the condition for life. But now Âresearch shows thatâs not the case.
âMany times, type 2 diabetes can be partially or completely reversed by getting down to a normal weight,â says Michael Hochman, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and director of the USC Gehr Center for Health Systems Science.
The same goes for prediabetes. âThe majority of cases come from being overweight or obese, so simply losing weight can go a long way in preventing you from progressing to actual diabetes,â says David Lam, M.D., medical director of the Mount Sinai Clinical Diabetes Institute in New York City.
Case in point: People with prediabetes who lose around 7 percent of their body weight by consuming less fat and fewer calories and exercising for 150 minutes a week have a 58 percent lower risk of full-blown diabetes, according to the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study.
Though itâs more difficult to reverse a diabetes diagnosis if youâve had it for several years, lifestyle habits can be potent enough to allow you to cut back on medications, even if you canât eliminate them entirely, Hochman says. Here, several takeaways:
Eat right. Following a Mediterranean dietârich in healthy fats, whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruits and vegetables, and low in processed meats, sugars, and refined carbohydratesâcan help prevent or even reverse type 2 diabetes, according to a 2016 Tufts University study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
âThe key is a diet rich in minimally processed plant foods and high levels of healthy fats found in foods like nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon,â says Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.
Though a serving (3 to 4 ounces) of lean, unprocessed chicken or meat once or twice a week is fine, think of it âas a side and not as the core of your plate,â Mozaffarian says. Red meat is high in heme iron; eating too much is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Be wise about carbs. Carbohydratesâstarches, sugars, and fiberâare the nutrients that have the biggest impact on blood glucose levels. But people with diabetes (or those at risk for it) donât have to shun them.
Nor do you have to obsessively track the grams of carbohydrates in your diet, which some experts recommend for people with diabetes, especially if they use insulin. âIt can be overwhelming, especially for older patients,â says David Lam, M.D., of the Mount Sinai Clinical Diabetes Institute.
In addition, certain carbs are rich in fiber, which helps your body metabolize blood glucose better, says Mozaffarian. Minimize your intake of refined carbs, such as white bread and white rice, and added sugars, but note that the following higher-carb foods can be part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes.
Beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are higher in sugars than green vegetables but are still considered relatively low-carb foods.Â Fruit is rich in nutrients and fiber, and studies show no link to type 2 diabetes. Stick to fresh or frozen fruit, or canned fruit in water. Juice can raise blood glucose levels.
Many studies show a strong link between whole grains (such as buckwheat, bulgur, oatmeal, and quinoa) and a lower type 2 diabetes risk. The majority of the grains you eat should be in whole form.Â When it comes to potatoes, a few servings a week may be okay, but frequent consumption could raise type 2 diabetes risk. Mashed or boiled are far less likely to do so than french fries.
Move as much as possible. Regular exerciseâ150 weekly minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, such as brisk walkingâcan help you manage type 2 diabetes.
Even if you arenât overweight, exercise is important. A 2017 University of Florida study found that being sedentary is linked to higher blood glucose, even for those at a healthy weight.
âWe think that sitting for prolonged periods of time affects glucose and fat metabolism, increasing risk for type 2 diabetes,â says Betul Hatipoglu, M.D., an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
To break up sedentary time, the American Diabetes Association recommends at least 3 minutes of light activity, such as walking, leg extensions, or overhead arm stretches, every 30 minutes.
Get enough sleep and reduce stress. When youâre stressed, your body ramps up production of the hormone cortisol, which increases your bodyâs blood glucose levels, Hatipoglu says. The same thing happens when you get too little sleep.
Whatâs more, a study of almost 5,000 Japanese adults with type 2 diabetes, published in the journal Diabetes Care, found that those who got between 6Âœ and 7Âœ hours of sleep a night had slightly lower HbA1c levelsâa measurement of average blood glucose levels over three monthsâthan those whose levels were less than 5 or more than 8. Â
Another 2015 study published in Diabetes Care found that people who got Âbetween 7 and 8 hours of shut-eye a night had the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes.