On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes: Nutrition Experts Reveal Actions To Take Now

Even taking small steps can protect you from diabetes and complications—here's how!

How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes: Nutrition Experts Reveal Actions To Take Now

Want to know how to prevent type 2 diabetes?

Being proactive about your diabetes risk may seem overwhelming initially, but prevention efforts come down to four key areas—diet, exercise, weight management, and a healthy lifestyle. Simplifying your diabetes "game plan" to address these areas can help you feel empowered. Taking small, manageable steps in these areas can significantly reduce your risk.

Keep reading for answers to common questions about diabetes prevention, including "Is type 2 diabetes preventable?"

Short Answer: How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

You may have heard some mixed messages about type 2 diabetes, but the bottom line is this: Yes, you can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes through healthy habits.

As a bonus, many of the lifestyle changes that help prevent diabetes may also be beneficial if you already have diabetes and are trying to better manage your symptoms. 

It’s important to note that there may be aspects of your type 2 diabetes risk that are out of your control. These are called unmodifiable risk factors, including age, ethnicity, and genetic makeup. 

Fortunately, many risk factors are in your control, called modifiable risk factors, and you can take action today! 

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when the body's blood glucose (sugar) levels are too high. The body needs a certain amount of sugar in the blood to thrive and function normally, but an excessive amount can cause problems instead of preventing them. 

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune cells attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Since insulin is needed to balance blood sugar, this can cause serious problems. Type 1 diabetics usually need insulin medications for life to manage their blood sugar and avoid serious complications. 

Type 2 diabetes progresses a bit differently than type 1. Instead of symptoms coming on suddenly, as they do with type 1, symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop slowly over time and are often tied to poor lifestyle, eating, and exercise habits. Over time, these habits take a toll on the body by contributing to insulin resistance, a condition where the body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn’t utilize it well. 

Although you can’t prevent type 1 diabetes, there’s a great deal you can do to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. The majority of diagnosed diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes, so it’s worth learning about practical prevention efforts to help reduce your level of risk. 

Importance of Prevention

Even if you’ve been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, a precursor or warning sign for type 2 diabetes, it’s not too late to start taking important steps to better your health. Taking action to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes can set you up for a better quality of life, both now and later in life. It can also help you avoid related health problems and complications, such as eye damage, kidney disease, heart disease, and more. 

Prevention Plans and Programs

Remember that your prevention plan may evolve, and that’s okay! You may need to modify your approach as you age or enter a different life stage. A diabetes prevention program is sometimes referred to as a "game plan" for this very reason—your objective will always be to beat the "opponent" AKA diabetes. Still, the actions you take to get ahead of diabetes may differ depending on the current challenge you are experiencing.

Using a formal prevention program pattern can allow you to simplify your approach and focus on the areas that matter most. One such program is the CDC's National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP), based on findings from an ongoing study sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). 

In addition to helping you assess your risk factors for diabetes, this program can help you understand how cost-effective lifestyle changes (combined with medication, as needed) can make a big difference. The American Diabetes Association also has excellent resources on the National DPP that can increase understanding about long-term lifestyle changes that are proven to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by preventing or delaying its onset.

Diet and Nutrition for Prevention

Diet plays a crucial role in keeping blood sugars balanced, so healthcare experts often recommend healthier food choices as the first defense against diabetes. When you’re at risk for diabetes, to eat healthy, you’ll likely need to take a closer look at the types of foods you are eating. 

To reduce your risk of diabetes, you should primarily focus on lowering added sugars and refined grains. In their place, increase your intake of fiber-rich foods (like whole grains), plant foods (like protein-rich beans or fruits and veggies), lean meats (like poultry or eggs), and healthy fats (like fatty fish or avocado). 

Prevention with Physical Activity and Exercise

Many people looking to prevent diabetes believe that being physically active is recommended solely for weight loss. While physical activity can promote better weight management, your workout also works at the cellular level by encouraging insulin sensitivity. Even if it doesn’t result in noticeable weight loss, exercise can better control blood sugar levels. 

If it's been a while since you've exercised, it can feel challenging to get moving again. Luckily, slower, more gentle kinds of movement—like walking or yoga—and bite-sized "exercise snacks" count towards your physical activity goals. Over time, you can increase your stamina by working your way up from walking to brisk walking, or even running! 

Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily is often recommended for diabetes prevention and overall health. 

Weight Management to Prevent Diabetes

Because diabetes is often linked with overweight and obesity, losing weight may be recommended as part of your personal diabetes prevention plan. Your doctor may even recommend it as a starting point because even a modest weight loss—losing about 5 to 7% of your body weight—can reduce your risk for pre-diabetes and diabetes. 

In other words, maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of preventing diabetes. A doctor or dietitian can help you calculate how much weight you need to lose and recommend healthy habits to help you achieve that goal. 

Usually, a weight loss or management plan will rely on well-designed eating and exercise strategies and other supportive lifestyle habits—like getting a good night's sleep. 

Other Preventative Factors

Factors beyond diet and exercise can also affect your ability to lose weight and may alter your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Your doctor may suggest quitting smoking, creating better sleep habits, or learning better-coping strategies when stress strikes. 

Your prevention plan can be customized to address other areas that may be contributing to your level of diabetes risk. 

Gestational Diabetes

For women who have been or plan to be pregnant, it's important to note that gestational diabetes—a type of diabetes that can happen during pregnancy—can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes postpartum or later in life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle pre-pregnancy may decrease your risk of developing gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes down the line. 

The good news is that gestational diabetes doesn’t guarantee you’ll have diabetes, and many women who have gestational diabetes find that it resolves once they are no longer pregnant. 

How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes: Final Thoughts

Although taking action to prevent type 2 diabetes takes some effort, research suggests that investing in better health is worth it in the long run. Your healthcare team, along with formal prevention programs like the National Diabetes Prevention Program, can help you decide what steps to take (and when). 

Most prevention strategies rest on four pillars: eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and living a healthy lifestyle—all you can act on today!


Diabetes. World Health Organization. Published April 2023.

How to Prevent Diabetes. National Library of Medicine. Published October 2017. 

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published November 2016.

Your Game Plan to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published February 2017.

How we reviewed this article