Being told you have prediabetes is like passing a billboard on the side of the road. It’s a big sign that shouts “this way to type 2 diabetes!” And no one wants to go there. Read this article for tips on how you can reverse prediabetes and take a journey toward better health.
One in three Americans has prediabetes, and 84% don’t know they have it. So, the first step is to know your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If you have more than one risk factor, prediabetes may be a concern. The good news is that early detection and simple changes in your diet and activities can reverse your course and keep you healthy. Knowledge is power and activities can reverse your course and keep you healthy.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a serious health condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, yet not high enough to be called type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes, you may not have any noticeable symptoms yet, but your body is already working hard to process the excess sugar in your blood. Also called glucose, blood sugar becomes the energy that fuels your body so that you can be active and healthy. When you have higher levels of glucose in your blood than is needed to fuel your body, over time, it can damage your heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys.
If you already know you have prediabetes, you might have been diagnosed with “insulin resistance.” The hormone insulin helps control the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. When you have insulin resistance, your body’s cells don’t respond normally to insulin, so glucose can’t enter the cells as easily. This leads to higher glucose levels in your blood, which eventually can lead to type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance typically has no symptoms. Weight loss and exercise can also help reverse insulin resistance.
Stopping the Cycle
You can prevent the cycle of rising blood sugar in your body in four ways:
All four ways can work together: Eating a healthier diet makes it easier to be more active. Exercising helps reduce stress. Reducing stress helps to stop smoking. And you’ll feel better with every step you take.
1. Begin With Food
Food is fuel. The right fuel will give you energy without raising your blood sugar levels too high and too fast. Foods high in fiber — fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — are absorbed into your blood stream slowly so your blood sugar rises gradually. They also help you feel fuller longer, so you’re able to control how many calories you eat. How slowly or quickly a food is absorbed is measured by the glycemic index. Foods that are low on the index include:
- Fruits particularly apples, strawberries, pears, and other fruits which we tend to eat the peel or the seeds. Avocados are also a good choice as they are high in fiber as well as a good source of healthy fats, which help absorb other nutrients.
- Lean protein, including eggs, fish, lean meats, and beans. Beans are an especially good choice as they are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. They can help keep your blood sugar levels low more than any other starchy food.
- Vegetables, including dark leafy greens, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and onions. The more colorful and less starchy the vegetable, the better.
- Whole grains — oatmeal quinoa, brown rice, and farro — can help your cells become more sensitive to insulin. Substitute whole wheat pasta and wholegrain bread for those made with refined white flour.
Check this chart to learn more about the glycemic index and which foods to avoid and which you can enjoy while keeping your blood sugar low.
In addition to choosing the right foods, you can slow the rate at which blood sugar enters your system with a few easy tricks:
- Practice portion control. One portion of most foods is a handful. The CDC offers more tips to keep serving sizes healthy.
- Eat slowly, focus on the flavor, and stop when you’re full – or better yet, when you’re 80% full.
- Eat small amounts of foods with carbohydrates evenly across the day, rather than a lot in a single meal. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches that the body breaks down into blood sugar.
- Add vegetables and chicken to rice or pasta to slow down the digestion of the starch and keep your blood sugar from spiking.
- Eat less saturated fat by eating chicken breast and other lean meats. Trim off the visible fat and skin from all meats.
- Cut out sugary drinks. A single 12 oz can of soda contains the recommended amount of carbohydrates for a whole meal for women with diabetes.
- Alcohol is high in sugar. So, if you drink, drink in moderation and skip adding sugary juices or liqueurs when you do.
- Drink plenty of water – four or more 8-ounce glasses a day – to help flush blood sugar out of your system.
2. Add Physical Activity
It’s all about energy in and energy out. Food gives you energy, physical activity spends that energy. Taking a daily walk is a great start. In fact, people who live in areas without easy access to places to walk have a 15 to 20% increased risk of developing prediabetes. Luckily, Monterey County is full of places to take a stroll or a hike.
Thirty minutes per day of moderate exercise — enough to raise your heart rate — can make a real difference. People with prediabetes have been shown to lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58% when they exercised 150 minutes a week. Just taking a 15- to 30-minute walk every day has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and reduce stress, as well as lowering the risk of diabetes.
Being active will help you take off extra weight — and losing weight will protect your pancreas from being overworked. An overweight body may need two to three times more insulin than one that is at a healthy weight. Losing just 5% to 7% of your body weight — about 14 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds — can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes.
3. Quit Smoking
The more cigarettes you smoke, the higher your risk of type 2 diabetes. That’s in part because smoking increases insulin resistance in your cells. Lowering your risk of diabetes is just one of the many rewards of giving up cigarettes.
You will also reduce your risk of cancer, heart, and lung disease — right from the beginning. Within the first 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure will begin to drop. Within a day, the carbon monoxide levels in your body will return to normal. Within a week, you will be at less risk of having a heart attack. And food will taste better as your sense of smell and taste improve with every passing day.
Quitting smoking may be more challenging than substituting wholegrain bread for white bread, but with a plan and support, you can be smoke free. Find out how here: Why The Beast Wants You to Smoke: Six tips for quitting.
4. Reduce Stress
Stress can increase your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes in two ways. Feeling anxious or depressed may lead you to snack on unhealthy foods, exercise less, and smoke and drink more — all of which will can increase blood sugar levels. But stress also can increase risk by producing cortisol, a hormone that raises blood sugar levels.
Taking a daily walk, learning to meditate, and other ways of reducing stress offer as many rewards as eating better, moving more, and quitting smoking do. Stress alone can cause a range of health problems from high blood pressure to headaches and an upset stomach. Learning to cope with the things that cause stress keeps it from damaging you physically as well as emotionally.
Making small changes can make a big difference in your health. Have you passed by the prediabetes billboard? It’s not too late to turn around. Take these four steps to reverse prediabetes — and prevent type 2 diabetes altogether.