Here's how healthier habits may help some people reverse or better manage the disease.
Diabetes is a very common but serious medical condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 34 million Americans have it, with about 90-95% of them having type 2 diabetes. About 88 million people have prediabetes, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
There is no cure for type 2 diabetes. But it may be possible to reverse the condition to a point where you do not need medication to manage it and your body does not suffer ill effects from having blood sugar levels that are too high.
Making positive lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting down to a healthy weight (and maintaining it) are the key to possibly reversing or managing type 2 diabetes. Other lifestyle changes may also help, including not smoking, getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol and managing stress. However, for some people this is still not enough and medication is needed to manage the condition.
Start with a healthy diet
The one change that may have the biggest impact on your ability to manage or reverse type 2 diabetes is related to your diet. Reduce the amount of sugar and simple carbohydrates you eat and drink. Eat mostly lean protein (poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, soy and beans), a variety of vegetables and fruit, whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley) and healthful fats (nuts, avocados, vegetable oils). One simple way to make meals healthier is to fill half your plate with vegetables or fruit. Then, add whole grains to one quarter of your plate and lean meat to the other quarter.
While some foods to avoid are obvious, such as sugary drinks and cookies, others may surprise you. These foods are high in carbohydrates and should be limited or avoided:
- White rice
- White bread (or anything made with white flour)
- Flavored yogurt
- Sweetened cereal
- Fruit juice
Kick up your activity, too
Increasing the amount of physical activity you do is also an excellent way to lose weight and combat the effects of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Current guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a week. If you don't currently exercise much, start out small and increase how much you do as you feel comfortable.
What if diet and exercise aren't enough?
It's not always possible to reverse type 2 diabetes. But even if you can't get your blood sugar levels down with lifestyle changes alone and still need medication or insulin, these healthy habits help better manage your condition and may prevent complications from developing. If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, a healthier lifestyle not only helps you better manage blood sugar levels, but it's good for your health in many other ways, too.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 8, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD