10 ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes

With almost 4 million people in the UK living with the condition, diabetes prevention is key.
Published 26 July, 2023

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where the body has difficulty controlling the amount of sugar in the blood. This happens because you are either not producing enough insulin or the insulin you are producing doesn’t produce the response it should – known as becoming insulin resistant.

What is diabetes type 2?

There are two main types of diabetes (type 1 and type 2) and they are very different conditions.

Type 1 diabetes is not common, and makes up about 10% of total cases of diabetes in the UK. With type 1 diabetes, the body is not able to make insulin because the cells of the pancreas that normally produce insulin have been destroyed by the body’s own immune system. We don’t entirely know why this happens in some people and not others, but it typically occurs in younger people.

Type 2 diabetes is more common and makes up about 90% of total cases of diabetes in the UK. It is usually developed later in life, although it can affect people of any age. In type 2 diabetes the pancreas still has the ability to produce insulin, but it may not be producing enough or the body may have stopped responding well to the insulin that is being produced.

Are you eating healthily and moving more? Then you’re already putting up your best defence against developing type 2 diabetes. But here are 10 more surprising ways to reduce your risk…

1. Don't skip breakfast

Missing breakfast on a regular basis can increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, because blood glucose is naturally low in the morning – so when you skip your first meal, it falls further. It also means that when you do finally eat, your blood glucose will rise quickly, which could up your risk of diabetes. A bowl of porridge oats is a good way to start the day, as it’s high in fibre and is low GI, so you’ll have a slow energy release throughout the morning.

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2. Stay out of sleep debt

Missing out on as little as 30 minutes’ sleep each night during the week can, over time, cause weight gain and insulin resistance, which may lead to type 2 diabetes. Researchers studying prediabetics also found that those who slept fewer than five hours a night were 70 per cent more likely to progress to diabetes. Catching up with weekend lie-ins doesn't help, so try to set a regular bedtime - and stick to it. 

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3. Think beyond sugar

The latest advice is that adults should eat no more than seven teaspoons of added sugar a day. But Pav Kalsi, clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, warns: ‘In view of preventing type 2 diabetes, thinking about sugar alone isn’t enough.’ Foods high in added sugar – such as cake, sweets and fizzy drinks – are usually high in calories, so they’re linked to weight gain, which is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. So cut down!

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4. Work those weights

American researchers found that women who do muscle-strengthening exercise on top of 150 minutes a week of aerobic activity – such as jogging or brisk walking – cut their chance of getting type 2 diabetes by a third. Not too keen on the weights room in the gym? Get yourself a set of resistance bands.

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5. Load up on vitamin D

People with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Scientists believe missing out on the vitamin, which your skin makes from sunlight, affects the body’s glucose tolerance and insulin production. Get outside as much as you can and top up with a supplement in darker months – in winter, 39 per cent of us are deficient in vitamin D.

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6. Step away from the box...

Hooked on Corrie? Every hour you spend watching TV raises your risk of type 2 diabetes by 3.4 per cent, according to a US study published in peer-reviewed medical journal Diabetologia. So, if you stay glued to the telly for four hours every evening, your risk will go up by nearly 14 per cent. The risk is raised not by TV itself, but by sitting down – so get into the habit of getting up and being more active during ad breaks or standing to do something (ironing, anyone?) while you watch.

RELATED: Please don't be seated

7. Eat fat!

The right kind, that is: research has found that eating fish, including oily fish (but not shellfish), at least once a week can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. And the type of saturated fat found in high-fat dairy products such as cheese and some yogurts has also been shown to help protect against the condition – in the study, it lowered the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by up to 20 per cent. Researchers think this type of fat may have an effect on the way the body deals with sugar in food.

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8. Pop a probiotic

Researchers in the US have found that bacteria that escapes the protective mucus layer of the colon can cause inflammation, which may contribute to insulin resistance. Other studies have found that probiotics can help reduce this inflammation and boost the ability of cells to respond to insulin. To support your gut bacteria, aim to eat at least one serving of fermented foods, such as yogurt or dairy drinks containing probiotics, each day.

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9. Stop stressing

You probably already know that stress can affect your health in many ways, but one surprising effect is that the stress hormone, cortisol, can increase the concentration of glucose and fats in the bloodstream. When this happens over periods of time, it makes your cells less sensitive to insulin. Feeling overwhelmed? Try chatting through your feelings with a friend, your WeightWatchers® Coach, Online Coach or even your GP. Talking it out could help you manage your stress or get extra support if you need treatment to help you relax.

RELATED: 5 easy ways to stress less

10. Make yours a latte

Drinking one-and-a-half cups of coffee or more a day could reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by 54 per cent, whatever your other risk factors, scientists have discovered. They think this is because coffee can damp down the internal inflammation that can be connected with type 2 diabetes. If too much coffee gives you the jitters, switch to decaf – other research has found that it has the same preventative effect.

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