Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but they’re not quite high enough to be considered or diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. About 96 million American adults live with prediabetes. This is more than 1 in 3. Of these people living with prediabetes, more than 80% don’t know they have it.
Prediabetes increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, which has serious health consequences. Being aware of the condition and taking steps to address it through lifestyle changes like diet modification, regular exercise, weight loss, and quitting smoking can make a difference and reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes.
What Causes Prediabetes?
The exact cause is not yet clear to the scientific community, but it’s often linked to insulin resistance. The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas and its role is to regulate the absorption of sugar — or glucose to be more accurate — into the cells.
You can think of insulin as the special key that provides glucose with access to the cells where it will eventually be used to make energy. Insulin resistance is when body cells don’t respond properly to this hormone, causing blood sugar to spike.
An estimated 9 out of 10 Americans with prediabetes don’t know they have it, but it is easy to understand why. As a nearly silent condition, with very few symptoms that are apparent outside of a blood test.
Detecting the condition is fairly easy using a common blood test like the Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) test, an HbA1C test, as well as other insulin resistance tests like a glucose challenge. Someone is diagnosed with prediabetes if their FPG test returns a result of between 100 and 125, or if your A1C results between 5.7% and 6.4%.
Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes
If left untreated, prediabetes can turn into fully-fledged type 2 diabetes, a chronic health condition in which your body is unable to effectively absorb glucose for metabolism, resulting in high blood sugar. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to an array of health complications, from stroke and heart attack, to kidney disease, tissue damage, blindness, and a string of life-threatening infections.
While a prediabetes diagnosis should be a loud wake-up call, it doesn’t imply that you will automatically get type 2 diabetes. Reversing prediabetes is possible with certain lifestyle changes. But it’s important to note that prediabetes itself can be damaging – many diabetes already have tissue damage by the time of their diagnosis. A wake up call and a call to action.
6 Ways to Reverse Prediabetes, Fast
Here are achievable steps you can take right now to reverse prediabetes and help prevent type 2 diabetes. These lifestyle changes are cost-effective, safe, and are effective in reversing prediabetes:
1. Lose Weight
Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of a number of serious health conditions, ranging from heart disease and high blood pressure to stroke, diabetes, and even cancer. It is also associated with reduced insulin sensitivity, which, in turn, can fuel the progression of prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance seems to increase dramatically when someone has a larger waist circumference (which is often considered a waist size of 40+ inches for men and 35+ inches for women), as noted by scientists in a 2011 study.
If you are overweight, one of the most effective ways to improve insulin sensitivity, lower your blood sugar, and therefore reverse prediabetes is to shed some weight. It may also help preserve the function of beta cells, which are highly-specialized pancreatic cells responsible for insulin production.
That said, losing between 5% and 7% of your weight if you’re diagnosed with prediabetes. That means losing around 10-15 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds.
Even though reducing your weight by 10 pounds might seem insignificant, it can make a notable difference in improving your blood sugar if you have been diagnosed with prediabetes.
According to an extensive study, overweight prediabetes patients who shed between 5% and 7% of their body weight reduced their odds of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis by up to 58%. That’s more than half!
The best way to lose weight when diagnosed with prediabetes is to embrace a lifestyle change that combines regular exercise and healthy eating. But don’t get embroiled in the war of numbers (carbs, calories, fats, etc.) Yes, it’s important to watch your calorie intake, but that doesn’t mean that every carb is off limits.
Consider loading up your plate with veggies, berries, and other fruits, as well as reducing your consumption of processed food. While whole grains might seem healthier, it’s very glycemic, and portions should be monitored.
Consider healthy proteins and seeds like lentils, beans, and quinoa. You might want to watch your food portions, too. For example, it may be beneficial for reversing prediabetes to switch from eating a few larger meals to several smaller meals throughout the day.
Sticking to a weight-loss routine isn’t always easy. That’s why you need to go the extra mile to keep yourself motivated and stay the course. Aside from signing up for a gym membership, consider joining a local weight loss support network, working with an accountability buddy, or enlisting the help of a personal trainer.
2. Make Small Changes to Your Diet
Diet is a significant factor in prediabetes and the risk for type 2 diabetes. Making small changes to your diet can have a big effect.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. It helps you regulate your bowels, but it also helps control blood sugar, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, and helps with weight management because it makes you feel full.
Adding more foods like beans, lentils, apples, pears, baby carrots, almonds, and vegetables like broccoli and spinach are easy ways to get fiber into your diet. Make choices like brown rice over white rice and whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta.
Low-glycemic index (GI) diets are helpful for blood sugar control and weight loss in people with prediabetes. These diets focus on foods that don’t raise your blood sugar swiftly. They include foods like green vegetables, fruits, lentils, raw carrots, and bananas.
Many restaurants serve larger portions than necessary, and people tend to eat more when larger portions are on the plate. In a world of supersized meals and getting more for our money, portion sizes have become inflated and unrealistic, leading to overeating and weight problems.
3. Be Cautious with Carbs (Including Alcohol)
Reversing prediabetes starts with healthy eating, and that often means staying away from certain foods that may result in blood sugar spikes. The first rule of thumb is to cut down on simple carbs and get rid of sweetened beverages altogether.
These easy-release carbs are usually loaded with sugar, plus they usually have no protein, fat, or fiber that can help slow down digestion. As such, they cause your blood sugar to skyrocket and, consequently, increase your chances of getting diabetes.
Refined carbohydrates are another class of foods that spells bad news for anyone on a mission to reverse prediabetes. Examples include:
- White rice
- Russet potatoes
- Processed-wheat pasta
- White bread
They rank very high on the Glycemic Index because they tend to be digested very quickly in your gastrointestinal tract. You should try to stay away from these refined carbohydrates whenever possible in order to reverse prediabetes. Please note that while whole wheat products are often touted as healthier, they often are high glycemic as well.
Most baked goods, condiments, dressings, and spreads may have added sugar. You should limit intake of your favorite sweet and savory foods, like sweets, desserts, candy, honey, sweet tea, punch, agave, syrups, sweetened yogurt, jellies, jams, and all sorts of pastries.
Foods with “empty calories” like white pasta, crackers, pretzels, and chips should be eliminated from your diet, as well. Try to limit or avoid alcohol. Some beers have “empty calories” while certain cocktails are jam-packed with sugar. If you must drink alcohol, make sure you have a glass of water handy to avoid dehydration.
4. Reduce Sugar In Your Diet
Cutting sugar is a great way to stay on top of your blood sugar, and it is one major step towards reversing prediabetes. Weaning yourself off a sugar-rich diet won’t be a small feat, so you must break your sugar-quitting journey down into small, easily manageable steps.
The first step involves substituting your high-sugar drinks and foods like soda, desserts, etc. with healthier yet palatable alternatives like smoothies and dried fruit. Dates, apricots, and other dried fruits are not only sweet and tasty but also packed with dietary fiber that slows digestion and keeps you full for longer.
Freshly-juiced smoothies are usually tasty, and you can choose what goes into them. Still, keep your smoothies simple; a little dash of protein powder, fresh fruit, and ice should do the trick. Added sweeteners are a big no-no. However, note that bananas can be highly glycemic, so use them with diligence.
The next step is to swap smoothies and processed fruit for whole fruits. Processed fruit usually has quick-acting carbohydrates that can easily disrupt your blood sugar levels upon consumption. Whole fruits, especially when eaten complete with the skin on (don’t forget to wash them properly), have significant amounts of dietary fiber which can be useful in reversing prediabetes.
Whole oranges, apples, raisins, grapes, dates, and other fruits can be very glycemic. Choose what fruits you eat with care, and check your blood sugar regularly.
At this stage, you probably still need to eat several whole fruits to sate your sugar cravings. But at some point, you will start losing your “sweet tooth,” and that’s the ultimate goal of this multi-step approach.
Even so, you’ll still want to consume some fruits for their goodies like vitamins, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, but limit your portion size to a cup or less per serving. And remember that fruits high in fiber and antioxidants can benefit your diet substantially.
Furthermore, pair your fruit with a protein source like a hard-boiled egg, a handful of seeds or nuts, cheese sticks, or plain yogurt. It will help reduce the pace at which fruit is digested and lower the rate of glucose absorption into the bloodstream.
READ MORE: 16 Sugar-Free Diet Benefits
5. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for overall health. Poor sleep habits are associated with insulin resistance and prediabetes. Even without documented risk factors like sleep apnea, not getting enough sleep, not having a regular sleep schedule, and frequently interrupted sleep can all have an impact on health and prediabetes risk.
Sleep apnea, in which a person has episodes of stopped breathing during sleep, has been found to increase the risk of developing prediabetes and diabetes.
This is because sleep apnea reduces the amount of oxygen in the body, negatively affecting glucose levels and insulin resistance. If you have sleep apnea, talk with a healthcare provider about treating it and how to best manage it.
6. Stop Smoking
Inhaling tobacco smoke can spark irritation, hindering insulin from functioning properly in the body. Tobacco smoke is capable of causing harm to cells known as oxidative damage, and has been connected to a heightened likelihood of having diabetes.
Giving up smoking can improve your well-being, in addition to lowering the odds of developing conditions like heart disease. Discuss quitting smoking with your doctor and find out what resources are available in your area that may help you.
Prediabetes is when your blood sugar is high but not yet high enough to be clinically diagnosed as diabetes. That means there is still time to reverse this trend by making lifestyle changes, taking medication if necessary, and caring for other health conditions.
Things like changing your diet, becoming physically active, quitting smoking, and managing stress can make a difference in helping to get your blood glucose levels under control.
If you have prediabetes and coexisting conditions, talk with a healthcare provider about how they may affect your blood glucose levels. Let them know what kinds of lifestyle changes you are planning to make (diet, exercise, stress management).
Making lifestyle changes can be overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to ask them if any local resources might be helpful. Support groups or exercise groups can provide encouragement.