Millions of Americans live with diabetes every day. According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2018, 34.2 million Americans, or 10.5 percent of the population, had diabetes. Among new cases, 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. In 2015, 88 million Americans ages 18 and older had prediabetes. Check out our tips on how to best prevent diabetes naturally and how to spot the signs early on.

Courses of Action

There are different causes of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, says registered dietitian Kathleen Stanley, a spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists in Chicago.

“They also have different treatment plans,” she says. “For the more common form of diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, research has found that there are some lifestyle factors that could help a person reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The two main recommendations are to achieve and maintain a healthy weight — avoiding obesity — and staying physically active.”

There are currently no identified specific foods that can help prevent diabetes, Stanley says. There is research suggesting that a Mediterranean meal-planning approach may have some benefits as far as reducing the risks.

“This meal-planning approach emphasizes fresh foods, lots of vegetables, whole grains, healthy fat choices, and limited red meat products,” she says. “Additionally, vegetarian approaches are being studied as well for possible risk reduction for Type 2 diabetes.”

When a person is diagnosed with prediabetes, many times their physician will suggest a healthy diet and exercise to encourage weight loss, says Stella Volpe, chair of the Drexel University’s nutrition sciences department in Philadelphia.

“An individual may still need to be prescribed medication for their hyperglycemia to reduce their high blood sugar concentrations,” she says.

Keeping Sugar Levels in Check

Diabetes is considered a silent disease, Stanley says. Often, there are no symptoms, which is why it’s important that your doctor performs blood tests based on your risk factors, current health condition and symptoms.

“Common symptoms of diabetes include being extra thirsty, urinating often, staying hungry, feeling tired and having blurry vision,” she says. “However, this may not be true for everyone. Unusual symptoms of any kind should be reported to your health care provider to assess your need for additional evaluation.”

To help prevent diabetes, people should maintain a healthy body weight, Volpe says. The best way to do this is to be physically active and consume a healthy, varied diet.

“If someone is already overweight or obese, it only takes a 5 percent weight loss to help to control Type 2 diabetes,” she says. “Some good food choices include consuming healthy fats from nuts, olive oil, avocados; and eating colorful fruits and vegetables, high-fiber cereals and whole grain breads; and fish, chicken and turkey. Foods in the Mediterranean diet would provide great choices.”

Despite efforts, diabetes currently does not have a cure, for either Type 1 or Type 2, according to Stanley. But some lifestyle factors may help reduce the risks, including losing weight if you are overweight, staying active, eating breakfast, getting enough sleep, and keeping up with medical visits for early detection and intervention.

“There has been promising research on these lifestyle factors for many years in the medical literature,” Stanley says.