Prediabetes, the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes, afflicts approximately 84 million American adults. Although it sounds scary to have a metabolic disorder, there is much you can do to prevent it from getting worse.
In fact, many people who improve their lifestyle habits are able to prevent type 2 diabetes, and some are even able to reverse prediabetes. Registered dietitian nutritionist Jill Weisenberger says that one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health is watching what you eat and building a wholesome, disease-fighting diet.
“Every time you eat or drink, you have an opportunity to take control of your health,” says Weisenberger. “What you eat in the short-term affects your energy level, feelings of comfort or discomfort, and perhaps your mood and ability to do work. But what you eat over time affects your long-term well-being, including your risks of developing type 2 diabetes, dementia, and other chronic health problems.”
Unfortunately, the typical American diet is full of unhealthful foods and nutrients, including excess calories, saturated fats, added sugars, fatty meats, baked goods, and highly processed grains. Whether or not your diet resembles this typical American dietary pattern, chances are good that your diet leaves at least a little room for improvement. And if you become consistent with positive dietary changes, you will experience better health.
Weisenberger advises committing to a diet rich in whole foods and relatively low in refined and highly processed foods. It’s okay to make gradual changes to your meals and recipes. And there are a lot of tasty tweaks to make meals more nourishing.
If you’re unsure how to get started or don’t think you have the time to “healthify” your meals, here are four easy strategies to make your meals more healthful.
Up the veggies
Non-starchy vegetables provide fewer calories than an equivalent amount of other foods — about 25 calories per half-cup cooked vegetables or one cup raw vegetables. Because they are low-calorie and filling, they can help you eat a larger portion of more nutrient-dense food with fewer calories.
You can trim your starch and meat servings by putting twice as much broccoli and green beans on your plate. You can try cauliflower “couscous.” Plus, you can add more vegetables to existing recipes. Load up pasta and potato salads with tomatoes, broccoli, chopped red onion, and carrots.
Eat more legumes
You probably already know that beans are good for the heart, but they’re also good for diabetes and diabetes prevention. Studies show that diets rich in legumes have beneficial effects on both short- and long-term fasting blood glucose levels. Not only are they full of plant protein, they contain potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber.
“If you don’t eat a lot of beans now, aim for one small serving a couple times per week,” says Weisenberger. “Some common legumes are soybeans, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils. Start by adding them to salads and soups and tossing them with rice and other grains. Move on to making them the center of a recipe and eating them instead of meats. I’ve found that lentils beautifully replace ground beef in a variety of dishes, like chili for example.”
Make simple substitutions
Experimenting in the kitchen will help you find more healthful and lower-calorie substitutions for common foods and ingredients. If you love chili, try trading out the meat with beans. Or if your family enjoys tacos, look for recipes that use fish instead of beef or chicken.
Use lower-fat dairy and meats. A simple way to cut calories and saturated fat is to remove poultry skin, select the leanest cuts of red meats, and swap full-fat dairy products for nonfat and lower-fat versions.
Cook meats with acids and moist heat
Eating huge portions of meat is not smart eating, says Weisenberger. Filling your plate with animal foods leaves less room for vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains — the very foods we know help prevent chronic disease. Also, meats are a main source of harmful compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These compounds are present in a host of foods, but fleshy animal products are a major contributor.
Not only do meats naturally contain AGEs, but AGEs are produced when meats (and cheeses) are cooked, especially with high heat and in dry conditions. You can inhibit the production of these undesirable compounds when you cook with moist heat (stewing, poaching, steaming) and when you marinate meats in acids or otherwise cook with acids like citrus juice, vinegar, tomato juice and wine.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or have been told that you’re at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, you have an opportunity to grab control of your health right now and be in greater charge of your future,” concludes Weisenberger. “The best time to start making changes you can live with is right now!”
– Information excerpted from Prediabetes: A Complete Guide: Your Lifestyle Reset to Stop Prediabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses (American Diabetes Association, May 2018)