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Five Ways Your Dinner May Be Raising Your Risk for Diabetes

Natalie Stein
December 1, 2020
Five Ways Your Dinner May Be Raising Your Risk for Diabetes

As many as 1 in 3 Americans have prediabetes, which means their blood sugar is higher than normal, and they are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. It has no symptoms and most people with prediabetes do not know they have it. Since prediabetes is largely the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices such as being overweight or choosing a low-nutrient diet, it makes sense to take a careful look at what you regularly eat.

Regularly making dinner healthier can lower diabetes risk. Here are dinner patterns that can raise diabetes risk, and some ways to change them.

Free Health Kit to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes

Weight 160lbs
Height 64
low Risk

1. It is too high in calories.

Taking in more calories than you need leads to weight gain, and being overweight or obese dramatically raises risk for developing prediabetes or diabetes. Creamy sauces, fatty meats, oversized plates of pasta or rice, and sugary desserts can contribute to excessive calories at dinner, and so can oversized portions.

You can reduce calories by choosing skinless chicken and trimming fat from meat, avoiding cream-based sauces, and choosing vegetables instead of starches for sides. Taking smaller portions of higher-calorie items helps lower the calorie content, and you can always serve yourself vegetables or a salad on the side, or add extra vegetables during cooking. After dinner, swapping a cup of fruit for part or all of dessert cuts calories while filling you up.

2. It often includes red meat.

Red and processed meats can increase insulin resistance, which is how type 2 diabetes develops. Chicken, fish, and plant-based proteins such as veggie burgers and beans are all protein alternatives without red meat. Ground turkey is a good substitute for ground beef in burger patties, chili, and tacos.

3. It is low in fiber.

Fiber slows digestion and helps stabilize blood sugar. Fiber is only in plant-based foods, and it is higher in less-processed foods, so meat and highly processed, refined carbohydrates won’t do the trick. Vegetables, whole grains, and fruit are good sources of fiber.

To Reduce Refined Carbs:

Instead of… Try…
White pasta or rice
Whole-grain or bean-based pasta or spiralized carrots or zucchini
White rice
Brown rice or riced cauliflower
Baked potato
Baked sweet potato or roasted cauliflower
Mashed potatoes
Pureed turnip or cauliflower
Refined white dinner roll, white bread, tortilla, or pita
Whole-wheat bread, tortilla, or pita

4. It keeps you up at night.

Lack of sleep raises insulin resistance and risk for diabetes. Eating too much or too late, choosing fatty foods such as fatty meat or butter, and having a high amount of sugar can all lead to poorer sleep. So can drinking alcohol and having caffeine.

5. It is loaded with starchy carbs.

A plate of pasta or fried rice, a side of mashed potatoes, fries, or rice pilaf, and dinner rolls are all high in starch, leading to a bigger spike in blood sugar. They are also high in calories and easy to overeat. Some strategies are to take smaller portions and to choose high-nutrition versions, such as whole-grain pasta, brown rice, or quinoa.

Healthy Dinner Ideas


Thinking Out-of-the-Box – Oatmeal

Oatmeal is easy, delicious, nutritious, and a great choice for dinner! Ditch sweet flavor profiles such as cinnamon apple and maple brown sugar, and explore fiber and protein-rich savory choices. Try it with spinach, melted cheddar, and a cooked egg, with garbanzo beans, curry powder, and cauliflower, or with feta, oregano, and cooked zucchini.

Kid-Friendly – Soft Taco Bar

Protein fillings can include seasoned fish, shredded chicken, ground turkey, black beans, or pinto beans. Also set out choices such as shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, salsa, sliced olives, avocados, shredded cheese, shredded cabbage with vinaigrette, grated carrots, and cooked mushrooms. Let everyone in the family pile their favorite toppings on small whole-grain tortillas. 

Make-Ahead – Chicken Quinoa

Brown chicken in a pan with olive oil, rosemary, and black pepper. Set aside. Add mushrooms, garlic, and onions until cooked, then add quinoa and low-sodium broth and simmer until cooked. Add the chicken back along with chopped spinach and serve that night or another time. Optional: add feta or parmesan cheese.

Simple and Elegant – Salmon Packs

Place salmon on foil with prepared vegetables such as cut asparagus spears, brussels sprouts, broccoli florets, or carrots. Add rosemary or thyme, optional, and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake until fish is done.

Free Health Kit to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes

Weight 160lbs
Height 64
low Risk

Meatless – Vegetarian Chili

Use onions, tomatoes, celery, bell peppers, chili powder, bay leaf, paprika, and pepper. Meatless soy protein is optional. Add 2 to 4 kinds of cooked beans, such as kidney, garbanzo, black, or pinto beans. Optional garnishes are cilantro, low-fat cheddar, and avocado. Chili tastes better on the second or third day!

If your typical dinner may not always be the healthiest, it might be a good time for a couple of things. First, getting more nutrients and fewer calories can improve blood sugar, weight, and health. Second, asking your doctor for a blood sugar test for prediabetes can let you know where you stand. You might be eligible for Lark’s Diabetes Prevention Program, which can help with weight loss and other smart choices.

Written by Natalie Stein on December 1, 2020
Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health
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