Diabetes Risk and Your Diet

By Charlyn Fargo

September 30, 2016 6 min read

What you eat really can increase your risk of diabetes. In a study by researchers at Harvard, eating less of the right foods over a four-year period resulted in a 34 percent increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study, which was published online in the Diabetes Care Journal, followed 124,607 adult participants who did not have diabetes at the start of the study. The participants were drawn from three long-term health monitoring programs — the Nurses' Health Study I and II, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Participants had the quality of their diet monitored initially during a four-year period and were then monitored for incidence of diabetes over the next 20 or more years. Diet quality was assessed using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) score. The AHEI quantifies diet quality by measuring a number of factors including servings of vegetables per day, servings of fruit per day, ratio of white meat to red meat, ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats, plus fiber, trans fat and alcohol intake. Unhealthy factors, such as trans fats intake, result in lower diet quality scores whereas healthy factors, such as increased fiber intake, resulted in a higher score. The study found that a decrease in diet quality of more than 10 percent over four years was linked to a 34 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. But when diet quality increased by over 10 percent during the four-year period, the risk of type 2 diabetes reduced by 16 percent.

The study also found that change in body mass index only explained 32 percent of the new cases of diabetes. This backs up previous findings that have shown that people can develop type 2 diabetes at lower BMI levels if the quality of their diet is poor.

"Improvement in overall diet quality is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas deterioration in diet quality is associated with a higher risk," the researchers wrote. "And the association between diet quality changes and diabetes risk is only partly explained by body weight changes."

The bottom line? What you eat over a period time does make a difference. Choose fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, lean meats and whole grains.

Q and A

Q: Why does cottage cheese have so much less calcium than other dairy products?

A: Cottage cheese retains only 25 to 50 percent of the calcium of the milk it is made from, since the curding process encourages the loss of calcium into the whey, which is then drained. Thus, compared to milk, yogurt, and other cheeses, most cottage cheese is only a modest source of calcium. A 4-ounce serving of cottage cheese has 60 to 100 mg of calcium (dry curd has only 35). A cup of milk has 300 mg; a cup of yogurt, 300 to 400 mg; and an ounce of most hard cheeses, about 20 mg. Women over 50 and men over 70 should consume 1,200 mg of calcium a day; other adults, at least, 1000 mg. Still cottage cheese is a healthful food — high in protein and available in low-fat and nonfat versions (which have fewer calories). The main problem with cottage cheese is that it's very high in sodium - typically 400 to 450 mg in 4 ounces. You can buy the "no salt added" variety, but it takes time getting used to; it tastes "flat" but does have more cheese flavor. You can add a little salt, if you wish, or mix equal amounts of regular and no-salt cottage cheese. — University of California, Berkley Wellness Letter, September 2016.


If you're looking for a quick, healthy dinner, try these Pork Sliders with Smashed Avocado from Cooking Light magazine. Heart-healthy avocado is used instead of mayonnaise to give a boost in fiber and omega 3s.

Pork Sliders with Smashed Avocado

8 (1-ounce) whole-wheat slider buns

Cooking spray

12 ounces extra-lean ground pork

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 ripe avocado

2 small ripe tomatoes, sliced

8 small Bibb lettuce leaves

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly coat cut sides of buns with cooking spray. Place buns, cut sides down, in pan; cook 1 minute or until lightly toasted. Combine pork, parsley, salt and garlic powder in a medium bowl, gently mixing with hands. Divide mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/4-inch-thick patty. Lightly coat both sides of patties with cooking spray. Arrange patties in pan coated with cooking spray; cook 2 minutes. Turn patties over; top patties evenly with cheese. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese melts. Combine lemon juice and avocado in a bowl; mash avocado with a fork, and stir to combine. Spread avocado mixture evenly over bottom halves of buns. Place 1 patty on each bottom bun. Top each with 1 tomato slice and 1 lettuce leaf. Top with top halves of buns. Serve immediately. Serves 4 (serving size 2 sliders).

Per serving: 393 calories, 36 g protein, 34 g carbohydrate, 13.9 g fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 752 mg sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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