A Prediabetes Primer

Image by Freepik

Did you know that before being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, most people have prediabetes? Prediabetes is when blood sugar (glucose) levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to classify as diabetes. Since November is American Diabetes Month, it’s an appropriate time for us to bring attention to this common condition.

Who is at risk for prediabetes?

Prediabetes is diagnosed with a simple blood test. Unfortunately, since many people don’t have any obvious symptoms of the condition, they often don’t get tested. But they should; prediabetes affects about 1 in 3 adults in the United States, and 8 in 10 people who have prediabetes don’t know it.

There are several risk factors for prediabetes. If you have a few of them, you may want to see your doctor about getting tested. Risk factors include if you:

  • Have a history of gestational diabetes
  • Have a parent or sibling who has type 2 diabetes
  • Are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, Indigenous Peoples of America, or Pacific Islanders (some Asian Americans are also at higher risk)
  • Are overweight
  • Are over age 45
  • Are physically active fewer than three times per week

Are you at risk for prediabetes? Take this CDC quiz to find out. 

Be proactive for prevention

When it comes to taking care of your health, physicians and healthcare professionals always suggest being proactive. Taking steps to prevent the progression of prediabetes can be fairly simple. For example, keep tabs on your blood glucose numbers by checking them regularly. And learn more about your condition by taking part in local diabetes education programs. 

There’s also the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), which is a research-based, structured lifestyle change program. Following DPP guidance can help prevent and delay the development of type 2 diabetes—in some cases for 15 years or longer. (Participants aged 60+ experience the most effective results.) If you already have prediabetes or meet the eligibility criteria, find a DPP program here and learn more

Lifestyle changes that can make a difference

It’s important to know that prediabetes doesn’t always lead to type 2 diabetes. And some people turn their prediabetes around completely, or delay its progression by changing their eating and exercise habits. Here are our top suggestions for effective lifestyle changes:

Follow the Diabetes Plate Method 

The Diabetes Plate Method is a simple way to balance your food intake and keep portions in check. It’s similar to the MyPlate system. 

  • Start with a 9-inch plate (many dinner plates are larger, so measure yours to make sure)
  • Fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables (e.g., greens, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower)
  • Fill ¼ of the plate with carbohydrate foods (such as whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables, fruit, or yogurt)
  • Fill ¼ of the plate with protein foods (like seafood, poultry, eggs, cottage cheese, or lean meats)

Be a more selective shopper

Choosing a cart of healthy groceries can be daunting. We’re often in a hurry. Food labels aren’t always easy to read. And sometimes we’re simply unsure what to look for when comparing food items. This is where Guiding Stars can help! Products that earn stars have less added sugars, saturated fat, added sodium, and more fiber and whole grains. They’re a quick tool to help you make overall healthy choices, including for a prediabetic eating plan. Just look for the items that earn 1, 2, or 3 stars to know you’re buying the most nutritious products. There’s even Guiding Stars guidance for beverages to help you select the best choices for healthy hydration. (I also covered examples of how Guiding Stars can help with shopping for a diabetes diet in this post.)

Reach and maintain a healthy weight

A healthy weight is a main focus of prediabetes management, but that doesn’t have to mean drastic weight loss. In fact, even a small amount of weight loss (5-7% of body weight) is beneficial. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, losing just 10-14 pounds can cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by nearly 60%!

Move your body regularly

Regular physical activity, either through your work or recreationally, is associated with a lower prevalence of prediabetes. Aerobic exercise, which increases your heart rate and makes you breathe faster, helps the body handle blood glucose more effectively. And strength training not only builds muscle, it also helps the body become more sensitive to insulin. An essential factor in diabetes, insulin is the hormone that moves glucose from the blood into the body’s cells. Remember, too, there are many forms of exercise besides strenuous activities like jogging, swimming, and lifting weights. Physical activity can be very casual. Walking your dog a couple times a day. Working in your garden. Daily stretching or yoga practice. The point is to move your body regularly and cut back on time spent sitting.

A prediabetes diagnosis isn’t something anyone wants, but it can have a sliver lining. Making smart lifestyle changes now can be the start of a more active, healthier, and longer life.