Preventing Diabetes: Top Foods + Recipes

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai | A Couple Cooks

Excuse us while we geek out a bit! Following our last Healthy & Whole post about managing endometriosis pain through diet, we wanted to focus on something just as exciting: preventing disease through diet. 

Diabetes is on the rise, both here in the US and around the world. At the current rate, people diagnosed with diabetes in the US will triple by 2050. This is an incredibly personal statistic to us; not only do we know people who are affected by the disease, but our professional work has been dominated by diabetes-related products.

I don’t know about you, but we’re incredibly passionate about this issue because of the good news: Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. According to Harvardabout 9 in 10 cases of diabetes could be avoided by taking several simple steps: keeping weight under control, exercising more, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking.

Say what? Preventing disease through eating well sounds fantastic compared to doctor visits and medical bills. So here’s the challenge: will you join us in working to reverse this trend? Below are four “guidelines” from the Harvard School of Public Health on how to eat to prevent diabetes. We’ve paired them with a few of our recipes to help illustrate what that looks like “in real life”. And even better: eating healthy can be just as delicious as unhealthy foods, once you train your tastebuds to start craving real, whole foods.

Let us know: what do you think about preventing disease through diet (and exercise)? What can be done to increase interest eating for disease prevention?

1. Choose whole grains and whole grain products over highly processed carbohydrates.

Switching over to whole grain breads and pastas is a great first step; even better is choosing whole grains like brown and wild rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, farro, and oats. Here are a few recipes to get your feet wet:

 Fried Eggs with Bulgur and Spinach | A Couple CooksGrilled Shrimp and Vegetable Skewers with Pesto Quinoa | A Couple CooksGreek Quesadillas |A Couple CooksSuper Food Salad | A Couple Cooks

Fried Eggs with Bulgur and Spinach

Grilled Shrimp and Vegetable Skewers with Pesto Quinoa

Greek Quesadillas

Superfood Salad

Southwestern Black Bean Quinoa | A Couple CooksQuinoa-Stuffed Grilled Zucchini | A Couple CooksCrispy Quinoa Granola | A Couple CooksThe Best Toasted Oatmeal | A Couple Cooks

Southwestern Black Bean Quinoa

Quinoa-Stuffed Grilled Zucchini

Crispy Quinoa Granola

The Best Toasted Oatmeal

2. Skip the sugary drinks, and choose water, coffee, or tea instead.

Giving up sugary drinks takes some weaning for sure. Alex used to drink soda constantly, so he’s found he needs a “replacement” beverage that is not just flat water. On a daily basis, we use a SodaStream to make bubbly water, and sometimes add some lemon or lime for a little flavor. Below are a few other soda substitutes we’ve come up with:

Cucumber Herb Infused Water | A Couple CooksBlood Orange Rosemary Sparkling WaterPomegranate Cider Spritzer

Cucumber Herb Infused Water

Blood Orange Rosemary Sparkling Water

Pomegranate Cider Spritzer

3. Choose good fats instead of bad fats.

Good fats found in liquid vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds can help prevent Type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, trans fats do the opposite. They’re found in many margarines, packaged baked goods, fried foods in many fast-food restaurants, and products labeled with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”. We primarily cook with olive oil in our recipes that are posted on this site. Below are some recipes full of “good fats” to start some inspiration:

Peanut Noodles with Napa Cabbage | A Couple CooksTomato Artichoke Lentil Stew | A Couple CooksAlmond Cashew Crackers | A Couple CooksRaw Brownies | A Couple Cooks

Peanut Noodles with Napa Cabbage

Tomato Artichoke Lentil Stew

Raw Brownies

Almond Cashew Crackers

4. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat; choose nuts, whole grains, poultry, or fish instead.

Limiting meat sounds hard until you start trying, at least in our experience. With so many flavorful and creative fish and vegetarian dishes to try, we’ve never felt deprived. We hope these recipes can help start your creative juices flowing:

 Salmon en Papillote with Roasted Potatoes | A Couple CooksBaked Shrimp with Feta and Tomatoes | A Couple CooksLentil Tacos | A Couple CooksPesto Portabello Burgers | A Couple Cooks

Salmon en Papillote with Roasted Potatoes

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta (served with a whole grain)

Lentil Tacos (with whole wheat tortillas)

Pesto Portabello Burger (with whole wheat bun)

Loaded Sweet Potato Skins with Pinto Beans | A Couple Cooks Tortilla Bowl Salad with Green Goddess Dressing | A Couple Cooks Roasted Broccoli and Cheddar Millet Bake | A Couple Cooks Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai | A Couple Cooks

Loaded Sweet Potato Skins with Pinto Beans

Tortilla Bowl Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Millet Bake

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.


  • Reply
    March 11, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    These are great guidelines for all of us, and thank you for sharing them! I also would like to point out that there are different types of diabetes (Type 1, Type 2, and gestational), and I think you’re mainly addressing Type 2 here. Scientists are still unsure of the causes of Type 1 (genetics may play a role in some cases, but not always), and it is not considered preventable by weight management or exercise.

    • Reply
      Laura Willis
      March 12, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you for pointing that out, CakePants! I have type 1 diabetes, and while recipes addressing diabetic needs are always great additions to my repertoire, there are some nuances – i.e. the statement that diabetes is largely preventable does not apply to type 1.

    • Reply
      March 12, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      We had “Type 2” buried in the body of the post, but I agree: it should have been in the introduction for clarity. Updated and thanks!

  • Reply
    March 12, 2015 at 10:38 am

    i just want to address the comment about putting citrus flavors in your water. My dad was a dentist and he used to lecture us not to drink citrus water as it is very acidic and will eventually eat away at the enamel on your teeth.

    • Reply
      March 12, 2015 at 11:39 am

      Thanks for the tip of not over-doing the citrus water!

    • Reply
      March 12, 2015 at 7:20 pm

      I’ve read that drinking lemon water etc through a straw helps to prevent the teeth enamel issue by bypassing your teeth. Not sure if this is true, but seems like it would help!

      • Reply
        November 11, 2015 at 4:02 pm

        Yes, you need to use a straw but you need to place it a little bit more near the throat so the lemon water don’t arrive on your teeth. I hope this helps. I drink water with lemon every morning

  • Reply
    Jessie Snyder | Faring Well
    March 12, 2015 at 11:03 am

    I love this. What a great collaboration, thanks for sharing you guys! As always, so inspiring.

  • Reply
    Katie @ Whole Nourishment
    March 13, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    I love that you show what these recommendations look like in real life and a real kitchen. I think what you’re doing to encourage cooking real, whole foods is the best message underlying all of these tips and a powerful way to limit added sugar and refined grains, both harmful to insulin levels and devoid of nutrients.

  • Reply
    March 13, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Thank you for all this wonderful easy to follow tips! :)

  • Reply
    Elana @ The Inventive Vegetarian
    March 14, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing! I’m training to be a Registered Dietitian, and I cannot tell you how many patients I’ve seen with type 2 diabetes who simply did not know what to eat either before or after their diagnosis. It’s great to see the food blogger community getting into prevention as well. Also – these recipes look fantastic!!!

  • Reply
    lynsey |
    March 17, 2015 at 10:06 am

    I love these health posts that you guys are doing and that you are pairing it with what it looks like. Makes it much more accessible to people and shows them how amazing healthy eating looks!! xo

  • Reply
    Rachel @
    May 18, 2017 at 5:07 am

    Great ideas and your photography is wonderful!

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