These 3 Eating Habits Could Increase Your Risk for Diabetes, According to New Research

To help lower your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, check out these simple food swaps and tips on eating for healthy blood sugar levels.

It's no secret that a nutritious, balanced diet is a critical component of your overall health. What you eat affects everything from your mood to your energy and sleep patterns. If your eating pattern is lacking the nutrients your body needs to thrive, it can lead to numerous chronic health problems including heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and the list goes on. Luckily for us, a new study aimed to take the guess work out of what dietary factors impact your diabetes risk the most. Read on for the details, plus how to put their findings into practice in your own life.

What This Diabetes Study Found

A new meta-analysis, published on April 17, 2023 in the journal Nature Medicine, found that unbalanced eating patterns (what the authors broadly referred to as "poor diet") contributed to over 14.1 million cases of type 2 diabetes worldwide in 2018. This study used the United Nations' Global Dietary Database (GDD) to assess the dietary habits in 184 countries with data from 1990 to 2018 to help illuminate the specifics.

Out of the 11 dietary factors examined, three played the largest role in increasing type 2 diabetes risk: insufficient intake of whole grains, excesses of refined rice and wheat and the overconsumption of processed meat.

There are a few reasons why these specific foods were associated with a higher diabetes risk and chronic elevated blood sugar levels. Whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals which help slow down the absorption of food and help keep blood sugar and energy levels more consistent for a longer period of time.

Refined grains like the rice and wheat are typically found in more highly-processed foods and lack much fiber, so they are burned more quickly and can lead to a blood sugar spike and subsequent crash. When the body regularly experiences blood sugar spikes and crashes, it can lead to insulin resistance and increase the risk for type 2 diabetes. Research has also found that processed meat is typically high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, all of which can contribute to type 2 diabetes risk.

The good news is that there are several simple dietary changes that can help lower your chances of developing this health condition.

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Healthy Food Swaps to Help Lower Your Risk

First, to incorporate more whole grains into your meals, try swapping in a whole grain food in place of something that you're already eating. For example, try to choose whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta the next time you're at the store. Many grocers offer a variety of whole-wheat versions of products like wraps, bread rolls and even pizza doughs that make it easier to up your intake.

Additionally, try to reduce your intake of refined grains by swapping in higher-fiber foods like brown rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice, barley or oats. This doesn't mean you should never enjoy foods like white rice or other more refined grains if you enjoy them, but just be mindful about adding another source of fiber to your plate.

Lastly, you can replace processed red meats with these convenient protein options. Foods like canned beans, fish (fresh, frozen or canned), eggs, cheese, peas and lentils are all rich in protein, quick to prepare and packed with nutrition.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to chronic health conditions, there are certain factors that are beyond your control such as age, genetics and environment. However, your lifestyle habits—including your diet—are more modifiable and can have a big impact on your risk for diseases like diabetes. Small changes to your eating pattern can add up over time and may go a long way in protecting your health. And eating more whole grains and limiting intake of processed meats and refined grains is a great place to start.

Up Next: Why You Might Be Tested For Type 2 Diabetes at Your Next Physical, Even if You Don't Have Family History

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