We know that having diabetes increases the risk of severe COVID symptoms — but now, research points to the reverse also being true: “There seems to be more likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes after having COVID, especially for those with risk factors like obesity and high blood pressure,” says Rita Rastogi Kalyani, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “There’s also evidence that COVID directly binds to beta cells in the pancreas, altering insulin production.”
Researchers are still studying the link, but inflammation caused by COVID is emerging as a top cause. Thankfully, whether you have diabetes, are among the one in three women considered prediabetic or want to ward off the condition, there are a few simple things you can do. These three small diet tweaks can steady your blood sugar and slash your risk of COVID complications by 90 percent — plus lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and more.
Eat more beans and nuts.
Filling your plate with beans (think black, kidney, and lima) reduces glucose and triglycerides (risk factors for diabetes) by as much as 60 percent, notes Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of The End of Diabetes (Buy from Amazon, $14.49). Just aim to consume a half cup of beans daily by adding them to soups, stews, and salads. And for a smart snack, consider walnuts: Crunching on seven a day stabilizes blood sugar enough to reduce diabetes risk by 47 percent. Credit goes to their vitamin E and oleic acid, which help muscles burn glucose. Not nuts for walnuts? Any nut will do, slashing diabetes risk and improving heart health, says Dr. Fuhrman. “One daily serving of nuts [about a quarter cup] is shown to cut the risk of heart attack by 40 percent — no other food can say that.”
Yes, exercise helps balance blood sugar, but it doesn’t have to be vigorous, says Dr. Kalyani. “Just being less sedentary — taking breaks from prolonged sitting — has huge benefits.” Indeed, simply walking around your home for about 30 minutes several days a week lowers the risk of diabetes by 68 percent by turning on enzymes that help the body use glucose more efficiently. Also smart: Aim to do three sessions of resistance training weekly. “The change in body composition due to aerobic exercise and moderate strength training has a huge impact,” says Dr. Kalyani. The reason? When you have more muscle, your body is better able to stabilize blood sugar, so diabetes risk plummets.
Take your water with a twist.
The risk of dehydration actually goes up in the winter because we’re not as thirsty when it’s cold outside, leading us to naturally drink less. That’s a problem since staying hydrated prevents the release of vasopressin, a hormone that prods the liver to produce extra glucose, raising blood sugar. The easy fix? Just sip a glass of water every three to four hours — a strategy French researchers say lowers the risk of high blood sugar by 32 percent and helps keep blood sugar steady when you do it daily. “I encourage my patients to drink water with a squeeze of lemon, just to make it more palatable,” says endocrinologist Mihail Zilbermint, MD. But you can have fun experimenting with other fruity add-ins you prefer, such as apple, pear, or pomegranate.
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.