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November 16, 2023

Strategies for Diabetes Prevention with Registered Dietitian Mindy McCullough, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

by Mindy McCullough, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES

November is National Diabetes Month and this year’s focus is taking action to prevent diabetes health problems.  Chances are high that you know someone who has been diagnosed with diabetes.  About 37 million Americans of all ages are affected by diabetes.  The most common type of diabetes is Type 2.

Diabetes can contribute to damage of the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, and is linked to some types of cancers.  This sounds gloomy but there is good news!  There are measures that each person can take to prevent diabetes and if you already have diabetes, prevent health problems related to the disease.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is considered a chronic disease and occurs when your blood sugar is too high.  It occurs for many reasons, some we can change and some we cannot, like genetics. It is usually diagnosed by a lab called hemoglobin A1c that can be done with your yearly lab work at your physical.

Risk factors for diabetes that we cannot change include if you are over age 45, your genetics, and social determinants of health like your living environment.  Risk factors for diabetes that we can work to change are weight, diet, smoking, sleep, and physical activity.

Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes

Increase whole grains and fiber in your diet

Fiber and bran in whole grains are harder for our bodies to digest and break down into glucose.  This causes a slower increase in blood sugar than from high carbohydrate foods that do not contain fiber.  Blood sugar will also stay lower from higher fiber foods resulting in the need for less insulin, which may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Tip: Swap out white breads and pastas for their whole grain versions to help increase whole grains in your diet.

*Try old foods in different ways.  Instead of a bowl of oatmeal try it baked, in granola bars, or make protein energy balls for a different taste and texture.

Choose unsweetened beverages over sugary drinks

Sugary beverages, such as soda, fruit drinks, powdered drinks, or juices have high glycemic load which causes blood sugar to rise quickly.  These beverages also are higher in calories with little to no nutritional benefit

Tip: Still looking for flavor, try adding mint or different fruits to infuse your water.  Unsweetened tea with lemon or orange is a great way to add flavor without sugar.  Unsweetened carbonated water beverages are another great option to add some flavor and interest to your beverage without extra calories.

Choose healthy fats

Limit foods with saturated fat (bad fat), such as butter, margarine, fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, fried foods, and baked goods

Choose more foods with unsaturated fat (good fats), such as avocado, chia seeds, ground flaxseed, nuts, nut butters, olive oil, and olive.

Tip: Try mashing avocado into tuna or chicken salad for an added boost of health fats.  Use chia or ground flaxseed in oatmeal, smoothies, and yogurt.

Increase fruits and vegetables

This is a piece of advice that is never going to go out of style.

Tip: Find your favorites, find multiple ways to cook veggies, always add more than the recipe calls for, snack on raw veggies and fruit.  Don’t forget to add flavor.  Play with vinegars, marinades, spices, and herbs to increase the appeal. Get them in multiple times a day most days of the week.

Choose nourishing snacks

Try to opt for snacks that have a mix of protein or healthy fat and fiber.  This combination can help keep you fuller longer and less tempted to grab whatever food is closest or over eat at meal time because you are ravenous.

Snack Options: Low sugar Greek yogurt, unsalted nuts, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-sugar protein bars, low fat cheese stick, a high fiber cracker like a Triscuit.

Get vitamins and minerals from food instead of pills

We do not have the evidence that certain supplements can reduce a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Try to eat a wide variety of foods to meet your nutrient needs each day.  Food has properties that supplements don’t.

Adopt an active lifestyle

Studies suggest that for every 2 hours you spend sitting in front of the television versus doing something more active, your risk of developing diabetes increases by 20%, risk of developing heart disease increases by 15%, and risk of an early death increases by 13%.  Those numbers are motivation to get moving!

Moving more doesn’t mean you have to dedicate long stretches of time for the gym or run everyday.  Results from the Nurses Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study suggests that you can decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30% with walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes every day.

This is because physical activity improves the muscles’ ability to use insulin and absorb sugar from your blood steam for energy, therefore easing the stress on your insulin producing cells, which is a good thing!

Tips for starting an exercise routine:

  1. Assess your fitness level.  Be realistic about where you are and set realistic expectations.
  2. Create a plan that fits your needs.  Consider the space and equipment you have available. If you don’t have a gym membership, consider what you can do with what you have to get started.
  3. Get Started.  Remember to build in rest days and get creative with the time you have.  Including walk breaks for a few minutes throughout the day is a great place to start.
  4. Don’t forget to monitor your progress.  This can be motivating to see how your physical fitness has improved.

Reach or maintain a healthy weight

A healthy weight is different for everyone.  Your comfort level with your body, ability to move pain free, your genetics, and lab work are all useful tools to help identify your healthy weight.  Your primary care team can help you identify a healthy weight and ways to manage your weight.

*Manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels

The first step is to know your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.  To do this, make and keep your annual primary care visit.

Work with your healthcare team

Your healthcare team is here to support you and your health goals. Make sure to put together a team that you feel comfortable with.  This should include your primary care doctor and any specialists, such as a registered dietitian, diabetes educator, therapist, endocrinologist, etc.

Remember you are at the center of your care and your healthcare team should involve you in decisions that are made about your health.

If you want to learn more about diabetes prevention through diet and lifestyle an Avance Care dietitian or certified Diabetes care and education specialist is available to help. Book online through

Avance Care also offers a free, monthly support group for people living with diabetes and their caregivers. Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for many years, this group can help you with your diabetes management. Topics include healthy eating tips, stress management, preventing diabetes-related complications and more. Join the support group email list by calling 919-237-1337, option 4 or fill out the interest form below and someone will be in touch soon to get you started.

Avance Care Support Group Interest Form   


Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes


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