Nine percent of Americans have diabetes. That’s 29.1 million people. It’s the seventh leading cause of death and costs the U.S. $245 billion annually. Fortunately, you’re not powerless against this condition. Plenty of research suggests that there are easy lifestyle steps you can take to reduce your risk for diabetes—and this goes beyond the standard recommendations of just lose weight and exercise.
Here are 8 things to incorporate into your life to keep diabetes away:
Small lifestyle changes can do a lot to tip the scales in your favor.
1. Eat a Cactus
Yep, there are edible cacti and they can help reduce your risk for diabetes. Mexican researchers found that eating cooked (250 grams, cooked for no longer than 10 minutes) or raw (300 grams) prickly pear cactus pads helped lower glucose peaks. To prepare the prickly pear pad, remove the spines on the flat side with a knife and cut or peel around the narrow edges. This can then be boiled, grilled, or eaten raw.
Cactus plants are also a prebiotic, meaning they help feed the good bacteria in your gut.
2. Take a Cold Shower
Taking a cold shower isn’t just a good way to wake up in the morning, it will also do the same work that insulin does. ” That small bit of cold exposure will use up calories and transform your white fat into brown fat—the kind that helps you lose weight,” says Alexa Fleckstein, MD author of The Diabetes Cure. “With the help of a protein called FGF21, which pulls sugars into white cells, where they are turned into energy (instead of just stored, as usual). In effect, FGF21 does the work of insulin—without insulin.”
3. Cut Out Artificial Sugars
Sugar substitutes give you the same sweet taste without the sugar, so they should be good for preventing diabetes, right? Not the case. Research has found that artificial sweeteners may trigger diabetes, because of your gut. In a mouse model, they discovered that artificial sweeteners upset the careful balance of gut bacteria, leading to glucose intolerance.
5. Replace One Sugary Beverage
Drinking your sugar is a fast track to diabetes. Research from the Unviersity of Cambridge found that swapping out one sugary drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee can reduce the incidence of diabetes by 14 percent. The researchers recommend reducing sweetened beverages to 2 percent of your daily calories, or ½ cup of soda per day to prevent 15 percent of new diabetes cases.
6. Eat Chocolate (for Some)
A study of 18,000 men found that, in those under 65 with a BMI less than 25, eatinc chocolate was linked to lower risk for diabetes over a 9-year period. However, in men with BMI greater than 25, the risk actually increased.
Before you run out and buy a candy bar, keep in mind that sugar has the opposite effect for diabetes, so make sure you pick up dark chocolate without a lot of added sugar.
7. Go Vegetarian
Giving up meat is as powerful as any oral diabetes medication, says Neal Barnard, MD, researcher and author of Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes. “Medications are virtually always used for the treatment of diabetes and increasingly for the treatment of pre-diabetes,” he says. “You can take one medicine for your blood sugar, another one for your blood pressure, another one for your cholesterol, and yet a plant-based diet seems to tackle all of those problems at the same time.”
8. Eat a Big Breakfast and Smaller Dinner
For those who already have diabetes, blood sugar spikes after meals can lead to heart problems. To prevent this, researchers from Tel Aviv University recommend eating more calories at breakfast and fewer calories as the day progresses. Those who had a big breakfast saw 23 percent lower increases in blood glucose levels after lunch than those who had a smaller breakfast.