Preventing Diabetes With Diet: Tips for Healthy Eating

May 15, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Studies show that you can prevent type 2 diabetes with your diet.
  • Select foods that lower your blood sugar levels and avoid those that spike your insulin.
  • Portions matter—it's not just what you eat but how much you eat that counts.
  • A Registered Dietitian can help you find the best diabetes prevention diet for you.

Did you know that over 37 million Americans have diabetes, and millions more are at risk of developing it? The stakes are high, but there’s a powerful tool at your disposal: your diet.

By making smart food choices, you can maintain a healthy weight, achieve weight loss, and significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

In this blog, we’ll reveal practical tips for healthy eating that will help you take charge of your health.

Can you prevent diabetes with diet?

Researchers from Tufts University estimate that 7 in 10 cases of type 2 diabetes cases are due to an unhealthy diet, significantly increasing the risk of developing the condition. That’s an incredibly high number for a condition that can be preventable with better nutrition. This number was consistent across over 180 countries!

Certain dietary habits, such as consuming high amounts of processed foods and sugary beverages, can significantly increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, while a balanced diet rich in whole foods can decrease this risk.

Preventing diabetes with a healthy diet is essential because it helps avoid severe health risks like heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, vision problems, and a host of other autoimmune conditions.

Diabetes comes in two forms: type 1 and type 2. Understanding how your nutrition affects these conditions is key to managing them.

Type 1 diabetes and diet

Type 1 diabetes is like a case of mistaken identity in your body's defense system. Your immune system, which is supposed to protect you, turns against the insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas. Without insulin, blood glucose levels soar, causing a range of health problems. People with type 1 diabetes need lifelong insulin therapy to keep their blood sugar levels in check.

While your diet doesn't cause or cure type 1 diabetes, it plays a vital role in managing it. Think of food as part of your type 1 diabetes toolkit.

Eating the right amount of carbohydrates, avoiding refined foods, and enjoying balanced meals can help you fine-tune your insulin doses and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes and diet

Type 2 diabetes happens when your body stops responding to insulin properly, leading to insulin resistance. Normally, insulin, a hormone from the pancreas, helps move blood glucose to various parts of the body for energy. But with insulin resistance, blood glucose builds up, creating a traffic jam instead of fueling your body.

Your diet and lifestyle choices play a huge role in both the onset and management of type 2 diabetes.

Obesity and weight gain are big risk factors, but that’s not all. Factors like alcohol intake, chronic stress, irregular sleep schedules, and lack of exercise also significantly impact your health. It's also important to limit the consumption of saturated fats found in dairy products and meats to prevent insulin resistance and manage type 2 diabetes more effectively.

By understanding and adjusting these habits, you can prevent or better manage type 2 diabetes and keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Prediabetes and diet

Prediabetes is like a flashing warning light on your health dashboard. It means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. This stage is a critical alert, signaling that some organ and blood vessel damage has already started.

Even though prediabetes isn't as serious as diabetes, it's not something to ignore. Think of it as a chance to turn things around.

By making healthy lifestyle changes now—like eating better and staying active—you can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes and even prediabetes to avoid health complications in the future.

Best diet for prediabetes - What foods to eat?

Whole vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are essential for healthy eating habits because they help prevent:

  • Chronic inflammation: Chronic inflammation is linked to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Many whole vegetables and fruits have anti-inflammatory properties thanks to their rich content of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Including them in your diet can help combat inflammation and help your body stay sensitive to insulin.
  • Insulin spikes: Fiber is a superstar in diabetes prevention. Found abundantly in whole veggies and fruits, fiber slows down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, unlike fruit juice which is high in sugar and may contribute to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. This helps prevent spikes in blood sugar levels and keeps them stable. Consuming whole, fresh fruit is preferable to drinking fruit juice due to its higher fiber content and lower sugar impact.
  • Insatiable hunger cravings: Whole vegetables and fruits are low in calories but high in volume, meaning they can help you feel full without overeating. As a result, they promote weight loss, a significant factor in preventing type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight can lead to a lower risk of insulin resistance.

Select nutritious foods that help you lower your diabetes risk.

Whole vegetables and fruit

Incorporating more whole vegetables and fruits into your diet doesn't have to be boring. With a variety of flavors, textures, and colors, they can be enjoyed in countless ways—raw, cooked, in salads, or even as a healthy snack.

Consider eating your vegetables and fruit whole instead of blending them into fruit juices and smoothies.

Whole grains

Start by making a few significant changes. For example, select brown rice over white rice, whole grain, or multi-grain bread over white bread.

  • If you cannot quit your white bread completely, try switching out a few slices during the week as starters, or keep your white bread for a weekend treat instead of weekday fare.
  • Consider mixing your brown and white rice together in different proportions to see if you don't mind the taste.

Also, if you can't imagine life without white rice, don't worry—you're not alone.

Expert Registered Dietitian Rita Faycurry, RD, advises, "Billions of people enjoy white rice daily. The key lies in portion sizes and how often you indulge. Keep your portions small and pair your rice with protein, healthy fats, and plenty of whole, non-starchy vegetables. This way, you can savor your favorite food without compromising your health."

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are crucial in preventing diabetes because they help regulate blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. Incorporate sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil into your diet.

Enjoy them in moderation because while they are good for you, they are needed in small amounts to keep your blood sugar levels in check. This means a handful of nuts or seeds and a few tablespoons of oil in a day.


Try adding lean protein or vegetarian sources of protein to your meals. Aim for protein to be about 10% to 30% of your diet. Everyone’s protein needs are different, influenced by things like activity level and nutrition.

Consider talking to a Registered Dietitian to figure out the right amount of protein, whole foods, and fats for your eating plan. Use Fay to locate a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by insurance.


Fiber is a gamechanger when it comes to preventing diabetes. It slows down the absorption of sugar, preventing those dreaded blood sugar spikes.

Fiber keeps you feeling full longer, which helps with weight management—a crucial factor in diabetes prevention.

So, load up on whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes. You can even soak chia seeds overnight and mix the pudding with your food or mix a teaspoon of flaxseed powder into your meals. However, add fiber into your diet slowly to give your gut time to adjust.

What foods to avoid when preventing diabetes?

To keep diabetes at bay, it's best to steer clear of certain foods. First up, added sugars like sugary drinks and snacks—think sodas, candies, and pastries. These can lead to high blood sugar levels.

Next, avoid refined carbs like white bread and white rice; they act like sugar in your body, leading to insulin resistance.

Lastly, cut down on processed foods. They're often packed with unhealthy fats and hidden sugars.

How to maintain a healthy diet when you dine out?

How do you know what to eat when you're at a restaurant? How do you resist eating all the bread before they get you your main course? Can you eat pasta and pizza if you're looking to prevent diabetes with a healthy diet?

Dining out doesn't have to derail your healthy eating habits. Here are some tips to keep your diet on track while enjoying a meal away from home:

  • Plan ahead: Check the restaurant's menu online before you go. Look for grilled, baked, or steamed dishes, and avoid fried or heavily sauced options.
  • Start with a salad: Begin your meal with a salad loaded with fresh vegetables. This can help fill you up and prevent overeating. Ask for the dressing on the side to control the amount you use.
  • Choose lean proteins: Opt for lean protein sources like chicken, fish, or tofu. These options are usually healthier than red meat or processed meats. If you're keen on pasta, consider pairing it with a grilled chicken or grilled fish on the side.
  • Watch portion sizes: Restaurant portions are often larger than what you need. Consider sharing a dish with a friend or asking for a to-go box right away and saving half for later.
  • Skip sugary drinks: Stay hydrated and drink water. Avoid soda because sugary beverages can add a lot of unnecessary calories and spike your blood sugar levels.

    Faycurry RD suggests, "One trick is to delay satisfying your cravings. Instead of ordering soda right away, start with water and a salad or soup. If you're still craving soda after your main course, then order it. Practicing delayed gratification and eating healthy foods can help reduce sugar cravings."

  • Be mindful of extras: Be cautious with add-ons like bread, butter, and high-calorie condiments. These can quickly add up and derail your healthy eating efforts.
  • Dessert wisely: If you're craving something sweet, opt for a fruit-based dessert or share a small treat with the table.

By making thoughtful choices and being mindful of portion sizes, you can enjoy dining out while still maintaining a healthy diet to prevent diabetes.

How to skip fad diets and make healthier choices

Fad diets often fail to deliver lasting results. In fact, studies show that people on diets gain more than half their weight back after just a year.

However, here are some tips to eat healthier and stay motivated in preventing diabetes with diet:

  • Start small: Make gradual changes. For example, swap soda for water during lunches or dinners, or add an extra serving of veggies to your meals.
  • Focus on balance: Instead of cutting out food groups, aim for balanced meals with protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbs.
  • Plan ahead: Prepare meals and snacks in advance. This helps you avoid reaching for unhealthy options when you're hungry.
  • Make friends with spices, seasonings, and sauces: All our best intentions can fall by the wayside when we're tired, bored, hungry, frustrated, or sad. Learning a few easy recipes with as few ingredients as possible can help you make quick meals that provide you with the nutrition you need. For example, try pre-marinating chicken breasts. Then, all you have to do is saute them in a little olive oil and eat them with a few premixed salad greens.
  • Enjoy your food and eat mindfully: Find healthy recipes you love. Eating well doesn't mean giving up delicious food. When you eat, savor the taste and slow down. This way, over time, you will learn to pay better attention to your hunger and fullness cues.
  • Buddy up: Share your healthy journey with a friend. Encouraging each other makes the process more fun and sustainable.
  • Celebrate progress: Reward yourself for sticking to your goals. Whether it's a new workout outfit or a fun activity, celebrating your wins keeps you motivated.

Remember, it's about creating a lifestyle, not a temporary fix.

Can a dietitian help you lose weight and prevent diabetes?

Faycurry RD says, "Many factors contribute to insulin resistance, including family history, physical activity, nutrition, and body weight. It can be frustrating to navigate on your own, especially when busy. Insulin resistance creates a challenging cycle where it causes weight gain, yet losing weight helps reduce it. Timely intervention, well-balanced meals, and guidance from a dietitian can help you break this cycle."

You do not have to figure out how to prevent diabetes on your own. A Registered Dietitian can help tailor a prediabetes meal plan for you to help you prevent diabetes. Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by insurance.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has extensive experience working in the medical devices and life sciences industries. Chandana holds a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.