Everyday Habits That Increase Your Risk Of Diabetes

Over 100 million adults in the US live with diabetes or prediabetes. Although some people are genetically predisposed to the disease, you can prevent it. Changing your lifestyle habits today can spare you from chronic illness down the line.

Some people may never make a grocery store list or eat breakfast and believe it or not, these habits can heighten your risk of diabetes. You could be increasing your chances and not even know it. Here are the worst everyday habits that could increase your diabetes risk.

Quit Drinking “Empty Calories”

A student buys drinks from a vending machine.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sugary drinks–even naturally sugary ones–contribute to diabetes risk. Health experts refer to these as “empty calories,” only feeding your body calories without any nutritional benefit. In 2019, a Harvard study determined that drinking four ounces of sweet drinks per day raises your diabetes risk by 16%.

Even “natural” drinks, such as 100% fruit juices, contribute to type 2 diabetes. Researchers believe that sweet drinks add many other risks, including a higher BMI and worse overall diet. An easy way to avoid diabetes is to cut out these beverages.

Always Bring A List To The Grocery Store

A woman in Germany holds a grocery list above produce.
Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Believe it or not, shopping without a grocery list can impact your diabetes risk. Why? Because when you spontaneously shop, you’re more likely to buy unhealthy food. In 2016, an Australian survey found that three out of five people struggle to avoid junk food at the grocery store–even if they go there with healthy intentions.

Registered dietitian Barb Klingler says that a grocery list will prevent you from impulse-buying. Plan ahead to cook healthy meals filled with vegetables, Klingler says. These will reduce your blood sugar and lower your chances of diabetes.

Avoid Midnight Snacking

A man pulls snacks out of his refrigerator late at night.
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Night owls may think nothing about a late-night snack, but health experts caution against it. A 2017 study in Experimental Physiology determined that eating at night can heighten your risk of diabetes. Simply put, late snacks mess with our body’s biological clock.

Registered dietitian Daniela Novotny explains that eating during the day improves glycemic control. When the body digests food at night, it struggles to handle blood sugar. Plus, feeling full may disrupt your sleep. If you can, let your body digest food for around three hours before you go to bed.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

An old man walks his dog alone.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Spending too much time alone can harm your physical health. According to a BMC Public Health study, socially isolated people are more prone to developing type 2 diabetes. Scientists at the University of North Carolina explained that loneliness increases inflammation, blood pressure, and weight gain.

Scientists still aren’t 100% sure why social isolation creates physical effects. But some believe that less emotional support leads to unhealthy life choices, such as a poor diet or more work stress. If you want to lower your risk of diabetes, spend more time with friends and loved ones.

Stop Microwaving Plastic

A person takes a container of rice out of a microwave.
Kenneth Chan/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Kenneth Chan/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Although plastic containers can be microwaved safely, they come with a risk. In 2015, a study from NYU Langone Medical Center examined heated plastic. When you microwave it, chemicals can leak into your food. These chemicals affect your insulin resistance, increasing your chances of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Lead author Leonardo Transande reported a “significant association” between plastic packaging, high blood pressure, and insulin imbalance. Avoid microwaving packaged food when you can. If you want to cover a dish, don’t let plastic wrap touch your food.

Pay More Attention To Sodium In Food

A person pours salt onto a black table.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to the FDA, the average American eats 50% more salt than the daily recommended intake. This is a huge problem for people developing diabetes. In 2017, a study in Diabetologia concluded that too much sodium could increase your diabetes risk by up to 43%.

Dr. Bahareh Rasouli, a Swedish researcher who examined diabetes, says that salt messes with insulin resistance. Excess salt leads to hypertension and weight gain, both of which are precursors to type 2 diabetes. Most salt in our diet comes from preservatives and artificial flavors, so check the nutrition label before buying food.

Get More Sunshine

The sun shines through tree leaves.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

If you don’t get enough vitamin D, you may be at risk of diabetes. The American Diabetes Association has explored several studies connecting the vitamin to the disease. People with low vitamin D levels have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, researchers say.

Registered dietitian Vandana R. Sheth believes that vitamin D deficiency interferes with the pancreas’ ability to process insulin. Fortunately, you don’t have to lay out in the sun to get vitamin D, either. Many people receive vitamin D from egg yolks, cheese, fish, and mushrooms.

Remember To Eat Breakfast!

A boy and girl eat breakfast together.
FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although skipping breakfast may be the norm for some people, it raises your diabetes risk. Research in the Journal of Nutrition examined six studies on breakfast. Scientists found that the more you skip breakfast, the higher your risk becomes. Skipping once a week heightens your chances by 6%, and four to five times a week increases that to 55%.

According to the researchers, this risk occurred regardless of the person’s weight. That said, obese people are far more likely to skip breakfast. Scientists believe that ignoring breakfast links to other unhealthy behaviors, such as eating more calories throughout the day.

TV Hurts More Than Anything Else

A family watches a sports game on the TV.
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images

If there’s one danger of watching TV, it’s sitting for several hours. More sitting means less time exercising and more mindless eating, so it’s no wonder that TV contributes to diabetes. In 2015, the European Association for the Study of Diabetes concluded that every hour of TV watching raises your diabetes risk by 3.4%.

Notably, participants who were discouraged from sitting were not persuaded to exercise. But that’s what happened anyway–when people stayed away from the TV, they worked out more. If you want to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, simply unplug your television.

Why Losing Sleep Hurts More Than You think

A man falls asleep in a Starbucks.
Unsplash/Adrian Swancar

In America, one in three people get less than seven hours of sleep per night. This greatly increases peoples’ risk of diabetes. In 2018, Japanese researchers reported that losing one hour of sleep per night increases your chance of type 2 diabetes. That’s equal to one all-nighter per week.

Why does sleep impact diabetes? According to the National Sleep Foundation, avoiding sleep throws off your hormones. Sleep produces insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Insulin imbalance is one of the leading indicators of type 2 diabetes.

Overeating Has Long-Term Consequences

Customers pile food on their plates at a buffet.
Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images
Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images

From binge eating to emotional eating, people can slip into overeating for several reasons. But doing so regularly could lead to diabetes. A study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that overeating impairs how the brain processes insulin. Over time, this may contribute to diabetes.

Overeating does more than make people gain weight. A study in Science Translational Medicine found that high-calorie diets cause inflammation, cellular stress, and insulin resistance. The occasional binge won’t hurt you, but consistently having large meals could heighten your chance of type 2 diabetes.

The Side Effect Of Low-Carb Diets

A customer shops at a low carb grocery store.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Low-carb diets have become a popular option for people looking to lose weight. Even if people lose weight on these diets, their risk of diabetes rises. In 2019, researchers from Ohio State University linked low-carb, high-fat diets to a higher likelihood of diabetes.

Registered dietitian Jill Weisenberger asserts that whole grains improve insulin resistance. With whole grains and high fat, some people’s bodies may not respond well to insulin, even if they lose weight. That isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy a low-carb diet; just be aware of the risks.

Occasional Workouts Aren’t Enough

A girl exercises indoors while following a workout tape.
Scott Wilson/PA Images via Getty Images
Scott Wilson/PA Images via Getty Images

Exercising once or twice a month isn’t enough to quell your diabetes risk. In 2009, researchers concluded that regular exercise is crucial for preventing diabetes. According to the University of Copenhagen, physical activity directs blood sugar to the muscles, which delays the onset of diabetes.

Any workout can help your health in the long run. Harvard Health Publishing emphasizes that any exercise–aerobic, strength training, or stretching–can reduce your chances of diabetes. During one study, women who walked for four hours per week had a lower risk of diabetes than those who didn’t.

No Need To Avoid Coffee

A server places a latte in a mug and saucer on a table.
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You don’t have to quit coffee to remain healthy. Studies suggest that coffee can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Research in the Journal of Natural Products reports that coffee increases insulin, improves insulin sensitivity, and lowers blood glucose levels.

Chinese scientists believe that major compounds in coffee block toxins that would otherwise kickstart diabetes. A protein called hIAPP (human islet amyloid polypeptide) often raises diabetes risk, but coffee compounds halt this protein. Even decaf options can shrink your risk, as long as you don’t drink sugar-filled coffees.

The Downside Of The Gluten-Free Diet Trend

A woman pulls a gluten-free crisp bread out of a bag.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2014, three times as many Americans were on a gluten-free diet than in 2009. But this health fad has some downsides. Research from 2017 found that low-gluten diets raise peoples’ risk of type 2 diabetes. Some believe that it’s because most people get their daily fiber intake from grains.

Of course, people with celiac disease require a gluten-free diet. But researchers wonder if there are any benefits for people who don’t have celiac, says Harvard scientist Geng Zong. If you’re going to go gluten-free, make sure you eat enough fiber to balance your blood glucose levels.

Not All Vegetables Are Created Equal

A spoon dips into a bowl of sautéed peas.
Justin Tsucalas for the Washington Post
Justin Tsucalas for the Washington Post

Yes, vegetables can delay type 2 diabetes. But some vegetables help more than others. Registered dietitian Lisa DeFazio says that starchy vegetables–including corn, peas, and sweet potatoes–count more as carbs than vegetables. The American Diabetes Association claims that starch can spike your blood sugar, raising your risk of diabetes.

That doesn’t mean you have to avoid starchy vegetables entirely. Peas, beets, potatoes, and parsnips are still loaded with nutrients. But you should eat them in moderation, especially if you have prediabetes or are at high risk.

Are You Staying Hydrated?

A person pours water into a glass.
Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty Images
Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty Images

Seventy-five percent of people in the US are chronically dehydrated, according to a study from the Institute of Medicine. Dehydration has many health consequences, such as raising your risk of diabetes.

In 2011, researchers from the American Diabetes Association found that dehydration raises blood sugar levels. When you don’t drink water, the body struggles to pump blood, which can mess with your insulin over time. Even mild dehydration can affect your blood sugar levels. Don’t let dehydration become chronic; make an active effort to drink water throughout the day.

Limit Your Drinks To One Glass Per Day

A waiter holds up a clean, empty wine glass.
David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

If you drink, watch how many glasses you consume per night. Anything above a moderate intake can lead to type 2 diabetes. According to Drinkaware, alcohol reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Diabetes is also a common side effect of pancreatitis, which can be caused by drinking.

The carbohydrates in many alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine, may raise blood sugar, and also stimulate your appetite, which could lead you to overeat, too.

Mix Up Your Workout

A man lifts weights.
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Dinodia Photos/Getty Images

Any workout can help you to delay the onset of diabetes. But researchers have discovered that specific exercises work better than others. For instance, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that the best anti-diabetes workout combines strength training and aerobic training.

While most exercises will enhance blood sugar control, shaking up your workout could add on benefits. Scientists determined that a combination of exercises lowers your chance of diabetes by 25%. For example, you could run and lift weights, swim and perform squats, or jump rope and use weight machines.

It’s Time To Tackle Stress

A student appears stressed over an assignment.
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

Stress has many side effects beyond emotional turmoil, including the risk of prediabetes. In 2018, researchers reported that long-term stress might double the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. While occasional stress is normal, chronic, untreated stress can have health consequences.

According to Diabetes UK, this happens because of the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. The “fight or flight” response from these hormones raises your blood sugar. Over time, this could result in insulin resistance. If you have chronic stress, don’t just “live with it” or leave it unchecked.