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Extra virgin olive oil can help lower insulin resistance and protect against certain types of cancer, too.
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updated 12/4/2011 11:35:14 AM ET 2011-12-04T16:35:14

What can I eat? If that's not the first question you ask after a diabetes diagnosis, it's probably a close second.

You figure fruits and vegetables are at the top of the list (they are); lean meats, some fish, and healthy whole grains make the cut too. Those you expect; these you may not: oils, olives, nuts and seeds, avocados, and dark chocolate. These five foods are packed with monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs (moo-fahs) for short.

Incorporating "good" unsaturated fats into a fruit-veggie-lean-protein-whole-grain diet helped people with prediabetes reduce their risk of developing full-blown type 2 by almost 60 percent, according to a landmark government study. And now, emerging research points to MUFAs in particular as potential superheroes for controlling blood sugar, reducing insulin resistance, and fighting belly fat specifically visceral belly fat, the dangerous kind found deep in your abdomen and strongly associated with prediabetes and diabetes.

Of course, you can't simply add lots of chocolate or handfuls of nuts to an unhealthy diet and expect great results. The key is to work right-size portions of oil, olives, nuts and seeds, avocados, and dark chocolate into the mix of healthy foods you'll eat at every meal. Here's a closer look at how these five fab foods help fight diabetes and boost your health, plus some delicious recipes you can try today.

Learn These No-Fail Tricks to Controlling Your Weight

1. Oils

Choose your MUFA: Canola oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, peanut oil, pesto sauce, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil

Diabetes-friendly facts: Research shows people with type 2 diabetes who followed a Mediterranean diet enriched with MUFAs had their fasting blood sugar drop by 30 points—that's enough to lower the doses of diabetes medications, or in some cases, eliminate them entirely. MUFAs also lower insulin resistance—which is when cells throughout the body stop responding to insulin's commands to take in sugar from the bloodstream; eating saturated fat actually increases resistance, according to Swedish scientists.

Added health bonus: Extra virgin olive oil contains antioxidants that short-circuit the growth of heart-threatening plaque on artery walls. Canola, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower oils are rich in vitamin E, which may help prevent atherosclerosis and colon cancer.

One serving equals: 1 tablespoon

Try this:Balsamic Roasted Carrots recipe

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2. Olives

Choose your MUFA: Black olives, black olive tapenade, green olives, green olive tapenade

Diabetes-friendly facts: Sprinkle sliced olives over pasta or spread tapenade on your favorite crackers and you set in motion body-chemistry changes that usher dangerous visceral fat out. When researchers at Penn State University assigned 53 overweight adults to a low-fat diet packed with carbs or a higher fat diet with plenty of MUFAs, the MUFA group saw a 20 percent reduction in visceral fat.

Added health bonus: Rich in copper and iron—which protect your nerves, thyroid gland, and connective tissue throughout the body—as well as vitamin E.

One serving equals: 10 large olives or 2 tablespoons of tapenade

Try this:Grilled Pork Chops with Olives, Oranges, and Onion recipe

3. Nuts and Seeds

Choose your MUFA: Almonds, Brazil nuts, natural peanut butter, dry-roasted cashews, dry-roasted peanuts, dry-roasted sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, roasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts

Diabetes-friendly facts: One step before prediabetes is metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that can also lead to heart attacks, strokes, some forms of cancer, and even dementia. Exercise helps fight metabolic syndrome, and so do MUFAs: One study found that among people who followed a Mediterranean eating plan with extra nuts and a Mediterranean diet with an extra serving of virgin olive oil, the rates of metabolic syndrome dropped 14 percent and 7 percent, respectively. People who followed a low-fat diet only saw a 2 percent drop.

Added health bonus: These little nutritional powerhouses are full of fiber, protein, iron, zinc, B vitamins, and other nutrients—many of which help protect your heart, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and keep you feeling full.

One serving equals: 2 tablespoons

Try this:Fruit and Nut Muffins recipe

4. Avocados

Choose your MUFA: Florida avocado, Hass avocado

Diabetes-friendly facts: MUFAs help you lose weight because they're satisfying; they also help you keep the pounds off: An international research team put more than 300 moderately obese people on a low-carb, low-fat, or Mediterranean diet rich in MUFAs. They all lost weight after 5 months, but only the MUFA group maintained an average 11-pound weight loss after 2 years; the other two groups regained some weight.

Added health bonus: Full of folate (which helps lower heart attack risk), as well as lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene—antioxidants that help promote eye health and battle oral and prostate cancers. Another bonus: Toss avocado slices into your salad and you double the absorption of carotenoids from greens and other vegetables, giving your body further protection from heart disease and macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness).

One serving equals: 1/4 cup

Try this:Tomato Avocado Soup

5. Dark Chocolate

Choose your MUFA: Dark or semisweet chocolate chips, shavings, or chunks—aim for cacao content of 70 percent or higher

Diabetes-friendly facts: Having diabetes, prediabetes, or metabolic syndrome makes you up to four times more likely to develop heart disease; plus, high blood pressure, low levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, and high levels of heart-threatening fats called triglycerides often accompany these blood sugar-related problems. Government nutritional guidelines recommend a total fat intake of 25 to 35 percent of daily calories—with saturated fat no more than 7 percent and MUFAs up to 20 percent.

Added health bonus: Packed with antioxidants that keep arteries flexible and help raise "good" HDL cholesterol, they can also lower blood pressure enough to cut the risk of stroke by up to 8 percent and heart attack by 5 percent, according to a small German study

One serving equals: 1/4 cup

Try this:Chocolate Chip Pancakes recipe

More from Prevention:

10 Ways to Lower Cholesterol

Foods That Fight Cholesterol

5 Excuses That Hurt Your Heart

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

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