How to Reverse Prediabetes and Make Healthy Changes to Your Lifestyle

Couple Jogging

It’s never a bad time to learn about how you can improve your health. With November specifically dedicated to Diabetes awareness, there’s no better time than now to address the issue that threatens so many American lives. With recent precautionary measures in place due to COVID-19, many people have become accustomed to being less active and eating less healthy. With easy access to services like DoorDash, Postmates, Uber Eats, Amazon Prime, grocery delivery, and in-home entertainment such as Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, it’s easier just to remain stationary and to feel like maybe there isn’t much of a need to plan activities or to be selective when it comes to choosing your meal options. Just because we’re taking extra precautions and leaving the house less, doesn’t mean that we can’t make better choices when it comes to our personal health.

Did you know that more than 34 million Americans have diabetes (according to the CDC)?1 Another staggering 88 million Americans are affected by prediabetes, which is still a serious health condition that can lead to more severe issues if not recognized early on.1 If you aren’t familiar with prediabetes, it’s when blood sugar levels are consistently higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. A person with prediabetes is not only at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes down the road, but they are also at high risk of developing other health issues such as heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular issues. Of those 88 million people currently with prediabetes, 8 out of 10 don’t even know they have it, because the illness often has no clear symptoms and goes undetected until much more serious health problems occur.1 Without taking action, many people with prediabetes could potentially develop type 2 diabetes within as little as 5 years. With numbers so high, and the likelihood that it could affect you personally, it’s important to learn about prediabetes and to understand ways in which you can take action if you are at risk.

 

How can you prevent prediabetes or prevent it from progressing to type 2 diabetes?

Many factors contribute to the risk of developing prediabetes, but the biggest cause is living an unhealthy lifestyle. Specific factors that increase your risk of developing prediabetes include having a family history of diabetes, smoking, being less active, having a higher percentage of body fat and being over the age of 45. If you fall into any of these categories then it’s important to consider making changes to your daily habits. If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, you can in fact reverse it by lowering high blood sugar. If blood sugar levels aren’t regulated or brought down to a manageable level, it can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.

 

Lifestyle changes can bring sugar levels back to a healthy range.

Let’s get right into two simple steps that can lower your risk of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes:

 

  1. Develop healthier eating habits. It’s probably safe to say that most people would like to improve their eating habits, but don't know where to begin? Is it best to dive right in with extensive meal planning or to start meticulously counting calories? It’s probably easiest to start by simply choosing whole foods and incorporating those into your regular diet, while at the same time reducing the intake of processed foods and sweets. Whole foods are generally those that remain close to their state in nature. They don't have added sugars, starches, flavorings, or other manufactured ingredients. Whole foods are vegetables, fruits, beans, fish, poultry, nuts and whole grains. By making a healthy choice and eliminating processed foods such as sugary cereals, baked goods, snack foods, candy, and ice cream, you’re well on your way to seeing and feeling an improvement in your overall personal health. If you have a hard time staying away from these foods when doing your grocery shopping, keep in mind that most whole foods are often positioned on the perimeter of your grocery store (with exception of canned goods and some whole grains). If resisting temptation at the store is an issue, stay away from the inner aisles where most processed foods are located. If you're ordering your groceries online, try saving a list of your favorite healthy foods to your desktop or to your phone as a reminder. By making simple dietary changes such as these, it can help you control or lose weight, and stabilize blood sugar levels.

 

  1. Exercise moderately. There are many ways to exercise but if you’re just starting out, consider introducing brisk walking into your daily routine. A reasonable goal would be to aim for 150 minutes of brisk walking a week. That may sound like a lot but that’s only 21 minutes a day. If walking isn’t your thing, try an elliptical machine which is low impact on the joints or try going up and down the stairs in your own home or at a nearby park. Increasing your activity can improve cardiovascular health and promote stabilized blood sugar levels as well. Moderate weight loss and maintaining regular exercise can improve your body’s use of insulin, which is the key to healthy blood sugar. More exercise, and more vigorous the activity to get your heart rate up, the better. If you can push yourself to do more, then you’re well on your way to controlling your blood sugar and keeping it at a healthy level. If you are a young person, you too can also be at risk for developing diabetes early in life, so it’s important to realize that age isn't always a contributing factor. According to a 2019 CDC study, one in five adolescents (ages 12 to 18) and one in four young adults (ages 19 to 34) are living with prediabetes.2 It’s important to note that higher rates were seen in youth who were male and who were obese.

 

What does the science say about your diet?

Even if you don’t have diabetes or are unsure if you have prediabetes, the following are all excellent tips and tricks for maximizing your health and preventing other serious potential health problems. A panel of scientists, doctors, endocrinologists, diabetes educators and dietitians reviewed over 600 research articles over the course of five years to see what diets or eating patterns work well for people with diabetes. What they found is that although everyone’s body responds differently to different types of foods and diets, you can follow a few simple guidelines to help manage your blood sugar.3

The Diabetes Plate Method is the easiest way to create healthy meals that can help manage blood sugar. Using this method, you can create perfectly portioned meals with a healthy balance of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates, without the hassle of counting, calculating, weighing, or measuring.3 All you need is a plate! 9 inches across is the recommended size.

1. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

Non-starchy vegetables are lower in carbohydrates, so they are less likely to raise blood sugar levels. They are also high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them an important part of a regular healthy diet. Filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables means you will get plenty of servings of these essential superfoods. Here’s a list of non-starchy veggies to choose from.

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli or Cauliflower
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Leafy greens such as kalecollards, mustard greens, or Swiss Chard
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Green beans, pea pods, snow peas, and sugar snap peas
  • Peppers such as bell peppers and hot peppers
  • Salad greens such as lettucespinacharugulaendive, and other salad mixes
  • Squash such as zucchiniyellow squashchayotespaghetti squash

 

2. Fill one quarter of your plate with lean protein foods.

Foods high in protein such as fish, chicken, lean beef, soy products, and low-fat cheeses are all considered good “protein foods.” It’s important to recognize that proteins foods (especially those from animal sources) usually contain saturated fat, which can increase your risk of heart disease. So it’s important to stick with lean proteins which are lower in fat and saturated fat, making them a healthier choice overall. 

Keep in mind that some plant-based protein foods (like beans and legumes) are also high in carbohydrates.

Lean protein foods to choose from include:

  • Chickenturkey, and eggs
  • Fish like salmoncodtuna, tilapia, or swordfish
  • Shellfish like shrimpscallopsclamsmussels, or lobster
  • Lean beef cuts such as chuck, round, sirloin, flank, or tenderloin
  • Lean pork cuts such as center loin chop or tenderloin
  • Lean deli meats
  • Low-fat cheese and cottage cheese

Plant-based sources of protein:

  • Beanslentilshummus, and falafel
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Plant-based meat substitutes

3. Fill one quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods

Foods that are higher in carbohydrates include grains, starchy vegetables, beans and legumes, fruit, yogurt, and milk. These foods have the greatest effect on blood sugar. Limiting your portion of carbohydrate foods to one quarter of your plate can help keep blood sugars from rising too high after meals.

Examples of carbohydrate foods:

 

4. Choose water or a low-calorie drink

Lastly, when choosing a beverage, water is the best choice because it contains no calories or carbohydrates and has no effect on blood sugar. Think of water as the best choice to help filter out impurities from your body.

If on occasion you feel the need to choose something other than water, here is a list of zero- or low-calorie drink options:

  • Unsweetened tea (hot or iced)
  • Unsweetened coffee (hot or iced)
  • Sparkling water/club soda
  • Flavored water or sparkling water without added sugar
  • Diet soda or other diet drinks

 

 

Thriving and Surviving

Making healthy choices and taking steps to manage your diabetes or prevent your prediabetes from progressing can ensure you don't just live, but thrive. It's important to take steps now because your health and personal well-being can't wait.

Set goals every day and make an effort to meet them! Even little changes make a big difference. If you’re still struggling with getting started or feeling overwhelmed by the idea of having a more active life, don’t stress. Consider that every change, no matter how small, makes a difference in your ability to manage diabetes or high-blood sugar associated with prediabetes. Even losing a few pounds can have a significant impact on your health. You are always in control. The power to change your lifestyle is in your hands, so take action and get moving today.

 

1. About Prediabetes & Type 2 Diabetes | cdc.gov

2. Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes | cdc.gov

3. Eating Doesn’t Have to be Boring | diabetes.org

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