Written by Lina Pena. Reviewed by Diana Licalzi, MS, RD, CDE.
Receiving a diabetes diagnosis can lead to feelings of depression, nervousness, and doubt. Although it may seem easier to ignore your diagnosis, leaving diabetes unmanaged can lead to long-term complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, neuropathy, and other serious illnesses. You may think that you’re alone in your struggle with type 2 diabetes, but the reality is nearly 8.5% of the world’s population has diabetes, and type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of these cases .
The American Diabetes Association considers type 2 diabetes to be a lifestyle disease, meaning our dietary and lifestyle choices significantly contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. The good news is that by leading a healthy lifestyle and implementing positive daily habits, you can prevent and even reverse type 2 diabetes.
Below are six changes to adopt to start reversing your type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
1. Learn about Diabetes
Education is empowering! The more you can learn about diabetes, the more you can understand how the body works, and how nutrition and exercise play an important role in your health. Education can motivate you to keep making positive changes, especially during hard times. Diabetes is a very complicated condition, which has led to a plethora of misformation around the illness. Here are some helpful, evidence-based, resources for diabetes education:
- The Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine, https://www.pcrm.org/
- Nutrition Facts, https://nutritionfacts.org/
- Dr. Bernards Reversing Diabetes; Dr. Neal Bernard
- Mastering Diabetes; Cyrus Khambatta & Robby Barbaro
- The End of Diabetes; Dr. Joel Furhman
2. Find Support
We aren’t meant to go through life alone and the same applies when facing diabetes. Having a strong support system is crucial when reversing type 2 diabetes. Leaning on a friend or group of individuals for support is a helpful way to navigate your new diagnosis.
- Find a family member, friend, trusted healthcare professional, or support group.
- Be patient and open-minded.
3. Engage in Exercise
Exercise is a FREE medication! Not only can exercise cost little to nothing, but it’s also one of the most powerful ways to improve insulin sensitivity and manage blood glucose. Studies show that physical activity can lower blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after your workout by making your body more insulin sensitive [2-3]. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day in the form of walking, biking, swimming, or even dancing.
- Find an activity that you enjoy and that works for you.
- Schedule time for your exercise so you’re less inclined to skip it.
- Follow free workout videos on YouTube.
4. Reduce Saturated Fats
A diet high in saturated fats may lead to insulin resistance, one of the underlying causes of diabetes. Saturated fats decrease the ability of cells to properly use insulin and regulate blood glucose. [4-6] These unhealthy fats are found in many animal products including meat, dairy, and eggs. Research shows that foods high in saturated fats elevate your blood glucose levels, cause inflammation, and increase weight gain.[4-6]
- Reduce your meat intake by trying Meatless Mondays!
- Start your day with oatmeal or a smoothie instead of eggs.
- Replace animal proteins with beans/legumes.
- Skip the dairy milk and opt for nut milk.
5. Reduce Added Sugar
According to a Harvard study, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which amounts to an extra 350 calories. Foods with added sugar are refined and considered high glycemic index (GI) foods which cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. In addition, there is no nutritional need or benefit that comes from consuming added sugar.
- Avoid products that are processed and have a lot of added sugar, such as yogurts, cereals, bread, fruit bars, etc.
- Skip foods that list “sugar” in the ingredients.
- Replace sugary beverages with water or herbal teas.
- Swap sweets with fruit.
6. Aim for at least 35-40 grams of fiber per day
Fiber aids our efforts in losing weight and reversing type 2 diabetes. The typical American diet falls short of the recommended daily dietary fiber intake Studies have demonstrated that a high-fiber diet significantly improves blood glucose levels and reduces cholesterol in those with diabetes compared with a low-carbohydrate/low-fiber diet. High fiber consumption leads to lower body weight by keeping us full and slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates, which blunts spikes in blood sugar; both of which contribute to a lower risk of diabetes.[8-11]
- A plant-based diet organically results in consuming foods that are higher in fiber – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and even plant-based proteins, which include legumes/beans, soy, and nuts and seeds.
- Add one tablespoon of flax or chia seed to smoothies, oatmeal, fruit, dairy-free yogurt.
- Replace animal foods with high fiber plant proteins such as tempeh, soybeans, beans/legumes.
Taking the right steps to reverse type 2 diabetes is about making small, yet significant and manageable changes. Diet and lifestyle habits have a major impact on the development of type 2 diabetes, but improving these areas also means improving your health. Most importantly, type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be a lifelong diagnosis, your actions and habits can result in a disease-free life!