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Can your diet prevent type 2 diabetes?

‘A healthy, balanced diet’: we’re all familiar with the phrase – or we should be. Eating the right balance of a variety of foods is the collective wisdom across the world when it comes to preventing conditions like diabetes. But have we drilled down into the detail? Which specific foods and drinks are the best bets for reducing your risk?

We’ve rounded up some of the foods that are often thought to be helpful in preventing diabetes and examined the available evidence.

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  • Blueberries rule Blueberries rule

    Recent research has found that, for every three servings of whole fruit you eat per week, you may reduce your chance of getting type 2 diabetes by two percent. However, some fruits may be better than others. In particular, this research suggests that eating three servings of blueberries a week can lower your chance of developing type 2 diabetes compared to eating less than one. This was also seen with grapes, raisins, apples and pears.

    A word of warning, however: the results also found that drinking three servings of fruit juice a week was associated with an increased chance of developing diabetes. So aim to stick to whole fruits when possible and only drink fruit juice in moderation.

  • Get in your green leafy vegetables Get in your green leafy vegetables

    Veggies such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach; and herbs such as parsley, dill and fennel, are all classed as ‘green leafy veg’. There's some research that suggests that eating more of these types of vegetables in your diet could have some effect in lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes. However, more research needs to be done before any formal recommendations are made.

  • Does coffee count? Does coffee count?

    Coffee is often in the media spotlight for potential health benefits. In one study, the coffee consumption of young to middle-aged women in the US was followed for 10 years. The researchers concluded that in these women, drinking two or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

    Other research has also reported that drinking higher amounts of coffee may be linked to a lower risk of developing diabetes. However, we should treat coffee with caution; for one, serving sizes and strengths of coffee may vary in different countries and populations. Coffee often contains cream, sugar, milk and syrup: a calorie cost that may outweigh any benefits from the coffee. And, more research into the properties of coffee is also needed as it’s not yet clear which parts have the greatest benefits.

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  • Wholesome wholegrains Wholesome wholegrains

    Wholegrain foods have been linked to numerous health benefits, such as helping to maintain a healthy body weight, and lowering the risk of bowel cancer and heart disease. Wholegrain foods include non-refined cereals, breads, pasta and rice, which may consist of grains such as wheat, rice, corn, oats and barley.

    Research has also investigated whether wholegrains may have a protective effect on type 2 diabetes. Several studies have indicated that a high intake of wholegrains and cereal fibre may be associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, the findings aren’t clear at the moment. There’s currently no concrete evidence and more research is needed to confirm this. Either way, you should aim to include wholegrains as part of a healthy diet.

  • Probiotics for pregnancy Probiotics for pregnancy

    We know that probiotics are good for your gut. However, some research has indicated that if you’re pregnant, taking probiotics could also be a way of preventing gestational diabetes. So far, studies have only looked at women who are normal weight. But following the positive results in these women, probiotics are also being investigated for overweight or obese women who are pregnant. Probiotics come in the form of yoghurts and some milk drinks, as well as tablets and sachets.

  • Your best bet is a healthy life combo Your best bet is a healthy life combo

    With all studies and research, how well the study has been carried out and other limitations can make it very hard to say how reliable the findings are. We also need to bear in mind that it’s often a combination of things that can help or hinder our health, so relying on blueberries alone won’t be enough to prevent diabetes. It's all about eating and drinking healthily, as well as looking after your health through exercise, not smoking, getting enough sleep and keeping a healthy weight.

    However, studies that look at particular foods do give us insight when it comes to discovering what may specifically prevent type 2 diabetes. After all, the condition is one of the world’s biggest health burdens. In order to help more people to prevent it, we need to start digging into these details.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • Diabetes. World Health Organization., published September 2012
    • Muraki I, Imamura F, Manson JE, et al. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ 2013; 347(fs001). doi:10.1136/bmj.f5001
    • Carter P, Gray LJ, Troughton J, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and incident of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2010; 341(c4229). doi:10.1136/bmj.c4229
    • van Dam RM, Willett WC, Manson JE, et al. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of type 2 diabetes. A prospective cohort study in younger and middle-aged U.S. women. Diabetes Care 2006; 29(2):398-403. doi:10.2337/diacare.29.02.06.dc05-1512
    • Huxley R, Ying Lee CM, Barzi F, et al. Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption in relation to incident type 2 diabetes mellitus. A systematic review with meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med 2009; 169(22). doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.439
    • van Dam RM, Hu FB. Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes. A systematic review. JAMA 2005; 294(1). doi:10.1001/jama.294.1.97
    • Wholegrains. British Dietetic Association., published January 2013
    • Priebe M, van Binsbergen J, de Vos R, et al. Whole grain foods for the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006061.pub2
    • Probiotics and diet. British Dietetic Association., published January 2012
    • Luoto R, Laitinen K, Nermes M, et al. Impact of maternal probiotic-supplemented dietary counselling on pregnancy outcome and prenatal and postnatal growth: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Br J Nutr 2010; 103(12). doi:10.1017/S0007114509993898
    • Nitert MD, Barrett HL, Foxcroft K, et al. SPRING: an RCT study of probiotics in the prevention of gestational diabetes in overweight and obese women. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013; 13(50). doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-50
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