Drink coffee and eat cheese to lower your diabetes risk?

It’s no secret that obesity is an epidemic in the United States and many other developed countries. Because of that, comorbid conditions that are related to extra weight are on the rise. Of particular interest is Type 2 Diabetes, a condition where your body cannot use insulin properly to regulate your blood sugar levels, causing hyperglycemia (aka high blood sugar.)

A quick science lesson to understand what’s going on in someone who has diabetes: insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is necessary to move glucose (sugar) molecules into our body’s cells for energy. Every cell in the body requires glucose to function. If those glucose molecules are hanging out in the blood stream, they aren’t doing their job and instead, are creating problems like blurred vision, excessive hunger/thirst and fatigue because the body is essentially acting like you haven’t eaten. Chronically high blood sugars lead to heart disease, kidney failure, and permanent nerve damage. No organ can function correctly in a thick, syrupy-like bloodstream.

This is why prevention and management of diabetes is so important. It can absolutely be diet controlled and I’ve witnessed many individuals be able to get off of their diabetes meds with enough weight loss and diet modifications. It’s possible. But always better to not have it to begin with since diabetes is not curable. Note, I’m only referring to Type 2 diabetes here. Type 1 is genetic, usually diagnosed in childhood, and happens when the pancreas produces no insulin at all. It is unrelated to lifestyle factors. 

So what foods increase your risk? Let’s start there since more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and 86 million are living with pre-diabetes. Many of those unaware. Some risk factors like age, genetics, race, and family history are out of our control. However, one thing we can do is choose what we put on our plates. Emerging research has some interesting results on just exactly what to choose and what to ditch.

Foods that increase risk:

  • refined/processed carbohydrates such as crackers, cereal, white bread, cookies, snack cakes, chips, pastries, etc. Interestingly, those marketed as “low-fat, fat-free, and low carb” are also linked to an increased diabetes risk. Why? Because they are still processed!
  • red meat (according to this study “red meat” included beef, pork, and lamb)
  • processed red meat (think bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, bologna, etc)
  • sugary drinks like fruit juice with added sugars, soda, fruit punch, lemonade, sweet tea, etc

Foods that have a neutral effect (at least for now):

  • butter
  • poultry (according to the research, the evidence is not clear if it increases or decreases risk)
  • 100% fruit juice without added sugars
  • eggs (can we all just agree it’s okay to eat eggs already?)
  • fish (although may decrease risk in some Asian populations)

Foods that decrease risk:

  • green leafy, vegetables
  • nuts
  • whole grains (unrefined, with the bran still intact)
  • monounsaturated fats (such as avocados, nut butters, mixed nuts)
  • high-fat dairy products (cheese, cream, whole milk, kefir, yogurt) *you read that right, check it out here
  • coffee (add some cream! who else is getting excited? It’s true, really I’m not lying to justify my addiction.)
  • tea
  • alcohol (2 drink limit for men, 1-1.5 drink limit for women, but no need to start if you don’t) *you read that right, too

Much of the research cited is from food frequency questionnaires on large scale studies. As you may know from my previous posts, this method of data collection is not the most reliable, but it’s difficult to control human behavior, especially when it comes to diet over a long period of time. Either way, I think these lists of food gives us some valuable insight on what we can control in our own life.

Lastly, remember that your diabetes risk increases after the age of 45, exercising less than three times per week, being overweight, and having a family history of diabetes. 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

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