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23 Surprising Habits That Can Lead to Diabetes

Being overweight or poor eating habits aren't the only things that can lead to diabetes. You might be surprised to learn that some everyday habits might be putting you at risk for developing the disease.

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You’re cutting back on coffee

Your java habit might not be such a bad thing. Studies show that coffee consumption (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A Harvard study analysis found that those who sipped six cups a day had a 33 percent lower risk of developing the disease compared to non-coffee drinkers. Certain components in coffee seem to reduce insulin resistance and may also boost glucose metabolism, the process of converting glucose to energy. Follow these 21 healthy habits that can prevent diabetes.

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You’re a chronic night owl

If late night is your favorite time of day, you might be putting yourself at risk for diabetes. A Korean study found that people who stay up until the wee hours of the morning are more likely to develop diabetes than those who hit the sack earlier, even if they still get seven to eight hours of sleep, Men’s Health reported. Night owls tend to be exposed to higher levels of artificial light from televisions and cell phones, a habit that is linked to lower insulin sensitivity and poorer blood sugar regulation, study author Nan Hee Kim, MD, said in a press release. Staying up late is also linked with poor sleep quality and sleep loss, which can disrupt your metabolism.

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Your diet is light on probiotics

“The risk of diabetes increases when you have more bad bugs [bacteria] than good bugs in your gut,” says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. Your stomach needs good bacteria, called probiotics, for proper digestion; low levels can lead to inflammation that may eventually lead to insulin resistance. Eat foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and some cheeses for a probiotic boost. Here’s how to spot 12 signs that you’re a borderline diabetic.

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You microwave leftovers in plastic

Here’s a good reason to purge your collection of takeout containers: Reheating food in them might increase your risk of developing diabetes. Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City found that two chemicals used in the manufacturing of plastic wrap and plastic takeout containers were associated with an increased risk of diabetes in children and teens. The chemicals were found to increase insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, as well as elevate blood pressure.

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You don’t get enough sun exposure

It’s important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful cancer-causing rays, but shunning sunlight entirely may put you at risk for diabetes. According to a Spanish study, people with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, regardless of their weight; researchers believe the sunshine vitamin plays a role in the proper functioning of your pancreas, which produces insulin and helps regulate blood sugar. Dr. Hatipoglu suggests taking a supplement to boost your levels, as well as eating foods rich in the vitamin, such as salmon and vitamin D-fortified milk or cereal. These are 15 breakthroughs that could beat diabetes for good.

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You spend your weekends binge-watching TV

You might want to rethink your Sunday Netflix fix. A University of Pittsburgh study found that every hour spent sitting in front of the TV increases your risk of developing diabetes by 3.4 percent. “Too much sitting can lead to storage of visceral fat, which increases your waist circumference,” Eric Sternlicht, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at Chapman University, told Men’s Health. Extra belly weight significantly increases your risk of developing diabetes by reducing your body’s insulin sensitivity.

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You skip breakfast

“Forgoing your morning meal not only tends to backfire, making you ravenous by late morning, but can also create the perfect storm for type 2 diabetes,” Ellen Calogeras, a diabetes educator with the Cleveland Clinic Diabetes Center told everydayhealth.com. When you deprive your body of food, insulin levels are disrupted, making it harder to control blood sugar.

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You avoid all carbs in favor of protein and fat

Virginia-based dietitian Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide, says people are surprised that avoiding carbs can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes when whole grains such as oats and barley actually improve insulin resistance. On the flip side, mouse studies link high-fat ketogenic diets with increased insulin resistance. Instead of avoiding carbs altogether, Weisenberger suggests eating a wide variety of nutritious foods and getting carbs from healthy whole foods like yogurt, berries, chickpeas, and black beans—not from refined grains such as pasta and white bread. Don’t miss these other 15 things nutrition experts wish you knew about diabetes dieting.

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You eat the wrong vegetable and carb combinations

Vegetables are an essential part of any diet, but it’s key to understand which ones are starchy to balance your dinner plate. Lisa DeFazio, MS, RD, a celebrity nutritionist and media expert, says starchy vegetables like peas or corn count more as carbs than as vegetables. While you can eat them in moderation, you don’t want to go overboard. Continually pairing starchy vegetables with refined grains like white rice, for example, could potentially contribute to weight gain and blood sugar spikes—both of which increase your risk for diabetes.

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You eat most of your calories at night

Anything contributing to weight gain will heavily increase your risk for diabetes, says DeFazio—and that includes gorging yourself before bed. “Eating most of your calories at night can lead to weight gain because you are sleeping on the calories,” she says. A study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania specifically found that eating late at night raises blood sugar and insulin levels, both of which are also causes of type 2 diabetes. Watch out for the 10 silent symptoms of diabetes you might be missing

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You assume one workout is all the exercise you need

All activity is good activity, but Weisenberger stresses the importance of your overall activity throughout the day. “Being active only once daily is also unwise for diabetes prevention,” she says. “For better blood sugar management, [the] American Diabetes Association recommends breaking up long periods of inactivity with three-minute activity breaks every 30 minutes.” Research shows that unless you’re getting at least 60 to 75 minutes of exercise every day, you aren’t fully compensating for the hours you spend sitting the rest of the day. Weisenberger suggests getting up for a walk around the office or doing some stretches to break up that sedentary time.

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You skip strength training

Muscle is like a “storage bucket” for blood sugar, Weisenberger says—especially after eating. “So get those two to three days of strength training in to make that storage bucket a little bigger,” she says. One Harvard study even shows that a 30-minute weight training session five days a week could reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 34 percent. 

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You’re gluten-free for no reason

Removing gluten from your diet may seem like a healthy trend, but a study from the American Heart Association actually found that participants who ate the most gluten had a 13 percent reduced risk of diabetes than those who ate the least. “This most likely was due to a reduced consumption of high-fiber grains in the gluten-free group,” says registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. If you don’t have an allergy, avoiding gluten won’t help you, she says. “Instead of worrying about gluten, you should focus on the quality of your grains and select-high fiber, whole grains when possible.” If you eat this one food, you could lower your risk of diabetes.

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You get too much salt

Downing a lot off fast food and processed meals can drive up the sodium in your diet—and that may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. “Although the direct link is unknown, it appears that a high salt intake may increase insulin resistance which can lead to the development of diabetes over time,” Palinski-Wade says. “One study found those with the highest salt intake were as much as 58 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest.” Plus, high sodium consumption ups your chances of high blood pressure and being overweight, two more risk factors for diabetes. According to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sodium intake shouldn’t exceed 2,300 mg daily. Read more about why your risk of diabetes goes way up if you eat too much sodium.

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You take cholesterol meds

If you have high cholesterol, you may be more likely to develop diabetes. But in people already at risk of the disease, a recent study showed taking common cholesterol meds called statins can independently boost your risk further. “Statins can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 percent,” Palinski-Wade says. “Since statins are commonly prescribed for lowering cholesterol, working to reduce your cholesterol level through lifestyle approaches such as dietary changes, weight loss, and exercise should be the first link of treatment to prevent this increased risk.” And if you are taking statins, you should also follow a healthy lifestyle to mitigate your chance of diabetes. Find out more things you never knew about type 2 diabetes.

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You don’t drink enough water

One long-term study that tracked how much water people drank found those who got the least were at a greater risk of elevated blood sugar levels. “This could be in part due to hydration status,” Palinski-Wade says. Scientists theorize blood sugar may rise when your kidneys and liver miss out on fluids. “Or, it could be related to other factors—for instance, those who drink less water may feel less satisfied after meals and eat larger portions, or they may have lower energy levels and be less active,” says Palinski-Wade. Even though the reason for the link isn’t clear, people who are well-hydrated are less likely to be overweight; they also tend to have more energy. Here are more easy ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes.

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You skip the organic aisle

Scientists have been examining a potential link between pesticides and diabetes—and they may have found a connection. One meta-analysis found that a person’s pesticide exposure—based on measurable levels in the blood or urine—could raise the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 64 percent. In addition, “research on farmers has found that higher levels of exposure to all forms of pesticides can increase the risk of diabetes,” Palinski-Wade says. Although the average person’s exposure wouldn’t be as high as a farmer’s, it still makes sense to buy organic—and always wash produce, she explains. Because researchers have also linked chemicals in cosmetics to a higher risk of diabetes as well, consider switching to organic beauty products. Also, eating this one food a day could increase your risk of diabetes.

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You drink too much

Although some studies suggest moderate drinking may protect against diabetes, other research is clear that over-imbibing has the opposite effect. “High levels of alcohol intake may lead to an increased diabetes risk, especially in normal-weight women,” Palinski-Wade says. “When alcohol intake increases or binge drinking is present, the risk for developing type 2 diabetes increases significantly.” Stick to one glass per day for women or two per day for men. These are the diabetes myths that could be sabotaging your health.

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You spend a lot of time alone

Although no one’s sure why, a recent study suggests people with fewer social connections are more likely to develop diabetes. The study authors believe that addressing isolation and loneliness could be a diabetes prevention strategy. “Being socially connected to others gets you up and out of your home or workplace,” says psychologist Deborah Serani, PsyD, author of Depression in Later Life. She says that simple things like getting dressed, driving, walking, talking, and socializing will bolster your physical well-being. Find out the things diabetes doctors do to keep their own blood sugar under control.

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You’re not treating depression

The link between your mind and body is stronger than you realize: Researchers have firmly established the link between depression and diabetes. Depression interferes with good self-care, which can increase other risk factors for diabetes. “People who are depressed often don’t eat well, sleep well, exercise, or manage healthy habits,” Dr. Serani says. “If a depressed person does eat, it’s often something that’s easy to make or get because one is feeling so fragile—and most of the foods like that are unhealthy ones. Depressed individuals also reach for unhealthy comfort foods, which creates a release of feel-good hormones but spikes glucose blood sugar levels in dangerous ways.”

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You get super-stressed

Yep, stress can up diabetes risk, research indicates. That may not come as a shock given all the other damage it can do to your body and brain. “Stress can raise blood sugar levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and weaken the immune system,” Dr. Serani says. “Furthermore, stress provokes irritability, impulsive decision-making, and heightens the need to numb negative emotions. As such, people under stress may not be able to self-care well. They fall into the hole of bad eating and no exercise.” However, a recent study found that even if people were otherwise healthy, stress could still increase diabetes risk—a hormonal response that affects blood sugar levels may be to blame. Here’s another surprising new reason behind rising diabetes rates.

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You snore

If you have major snoring problems—especially if it actually interrupts your breathing—you could have sleep apnea, a risk factor for high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. “Studies have found that people with severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have a 30 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people without OSA,” says sleep expert Richard Shane, PhD, creator of the Sleep Easily method. “People with mild or moderate OSA have a 23 percent higher risk of developing type 2 than people without OSA,” he says. The oxygen-deprivation of sleep apnea triggers a stress reaction that drives up your heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, which in turn raise blood glucose. “When people with sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes are treated [for sleep apnea], they have significant improvements in their sensitivity to insulin and significant improvement in their blood glucose levels,” Dr. Shane says.

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You take antibiotics when you don’t need them

Next time you get sick, ask the doctor if you really need that antibiotic Rx to help you get better. Research has found that the more antibiotics people took increased their risk for diabetes over a 15-year period. Although the results only indicate a link between the drugs and diabetes, “the findings raise the possibility that antibiotics could raise the risk of type 2 diabetes,” study author Kristian Hallundbæk Mikkelsen, MD, of Gentofte Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark, said in a press release. (It’s also possible that people who develop type 2 diabetes face a greater risk of infection.) The study authors theorize that antibiotics may depress levels of “good” gut bacteria, hindering the ability to process sugar. This could be why the use of mouthwash, which also affects bacteria levels, has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, too. Read about the science-backed strategies to help reverse diabetes.

Alyssa Jung
Alyssa Jung is a writer and editor with extensive experience creating health and wellness content that resonates with readers. She freelanced for local publications in Upstate New York and spent three years as a newspaper reporter before moving to New York City to pursue a career in magazines. She is currently Senior Associate Editor at Prevention magazine and a contributor to Prevention.com. Previously she worked at Reader's Digest as an editor, writer, and health fact checker.
Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a writer, editor, and blogger who writes about health and wellness, travel, lifestyle, parenting, and culture. Her work has been published online in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Parents, among others. Chosen by Riverhead Books and author Elizabeth Gilbert, her writing appears in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. Tina was previously editor-in-chief of TWIST magazine, a celebrity news title for teen girls with an emphasis on health, body image, beauty, and fashion.