Diabetes is an epidemic in the United States, with about 29 million people who have it, another 8 million who are undiagnosed and 86 million who are considered pre-diabetic, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, is a disease in which the body’s cells don’t use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to get glucose into the cells, but over time, the pancreas can’t make enough to keep blood glucose levels normal and the result is type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes increases a person’s risk for several health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It’s also responsible for as many as 12 percent of deaths in the U.S., three times higher than previous estimates, a January 2017 study in the journal PLOS ONE found.
Although genetics can increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, both diet and exercise also play a big role.
In fact, people with pre-diabetes who lost just 5 to 7 percent of their body weight reduced their risk by 54 percent, a study out of John Hopkins in July 2013 found.
Here, experts weigh in with 10 foods that balance your blood sugar and can prevent diabetes:
You might think fruit is off the menu because of its sugar content, but fruit is filled with vitamins and nutrients that can help ward off diabetes.
Apples are one of the best fruits you can eat because they’re rich in quercetin, a plant pigment. Quercetin helps the body secrete insulin more efficiently and wards off insulin resistance, which occurs when the body has to make more and more insulin to help glucose enter the cells. Insulin resistance is the hallmark characteristic of type 2 diabetes.
“It’s filled with antioxidants, and also there’s fiber in the fruit that naturally slows the digestion of the sugars,” Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Syosset, New York, and author of “Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging,” told Fox News.
But be sure to eat apples with the skin because this park of the fruit has six times more quercetin than its flesh.
Eating a serving of yogurt every day can cut your risk for type 2 diabetes by 18 percent, a November 2014 study out of the Harvard School of Public Health found.
Although it’s not clear whether that’s because yogurt has probiotics, one thing is for sure: The snack, especially the Greek variety, is high in protein, which makes you feel satiated and prevents large blood sugar spikes, Marina Chaparro, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), and a certified diabetes educator in Miami, Florida, told Fox News.
Although yogurt contains natural sugars, be sure to read labels to avoid excess sugar, and select varieties that have 12 to 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Low in calories and high in fiber, asparagus and other types of green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and can balance blood sugar levels.
In fact, people who ate one and half extra servings of green leafy vegetables a day cut their risk for type 2 diabetes by 14 percent, an August 2010 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal found.
4. Beans and legumes
Studies suggest that people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their meat-eating counterparts.
Chickpeas, lentils and beans are all low in calories and saturated fat, have a low glycemic index and a ton of fiber, which takes a long time to digest, so blood sugar doesn’t rise as quickly, Chaparro said.
In fact, eating a cup of beans a day has been shown to reduce blood sugar, an October 2010 study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found.
5. Chia seeds
Because type 2 diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke, it’s also a good idea to eat foods like chia seeds. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provides 4 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber, as well as heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Chia seeds are also versatile: Add them to oatmeal or muffins, blend them into a smoothie, or make a chia pudding.
Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are all low in calories and carbohydrates, and have a low glycemic index to keep your blood sugar steady. Although they all contain fiber, raspberries and blackberries in particular take the lead to fill you up.
When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, coffee remains controversial, but some studies suggest a coffee habit can be a good thing for preventing diabetes.
In fact, people who drank more than one and a half cups a day for 10 years were 54 percent less likely to develop diabetes than non-coffee drinkers, a July 2015 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found.
However, if you’re going to drink coffee, enjoy it black or with a small amount of milk, but skip the sugar. Those fancy sugar-laden drinks at Starbucks will definitely spike your blood sugar and negate any benefit, Chaparro said.
8. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are rich in plant chemicals known as lignans, as well as magnesium, both of which help the body use insulin more efficiently. They also contain globulins, or proteins that help lower blood sugar.
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein, which is slowly digested so it keeps blood sugar stable, and fiber, which curbs hunger, can prevent overeating and help you lose weight.
Enjoy them as a snack, or add them to a salad or baked goods.
9. Brown rice
People who ate three to five servings of whole grains per day were 26 percent less likely to develop type2 diabetes in a July 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition. One of the best types of whole grains is brown rice, which is rich in magnesium and fiber, and has a low glycemic index.
If you haven’t been able to make the switch, try medium-grain brown rice, which has a more tolerable texture than the whole-grain variety. Or mix brown and white rice together until you’re able to nix the white rice altogether.
Vinegar has acetic acid, a compound that can lower blood sugar and insulin levels after you eat carbohydrates.
“It’s suspected to reduce the activity of enzymes in your gut that break down sugars,” Ansel said. “So those sugars are being broken down much more slowly [and] released into your blood stream at a much more gradual pace.”
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.