Though having prediabetes doesn’t mean you are about to develop diabetes, it’s a good idea to take action to reverse the condition. Changing your diet and lifestyle habits can make a big difference.
Prediabetes is where your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
The exact cause of prediabetes is unknown, but it’s associated with insulin resistance. This is when your cells stop responding to the hormone insulin.
The pancreas produces insulin, which allows sugar (glucose) to enter your cells. When your body doesn’t use insulin properly, sugar can accumulate in your bloodstream.
Prediabetes doesn’t always cause symptoms, although some people develop darkening of the skin around the armpits, neck, and elbows.
A simple blood test can diagnose prediabetes. This includes a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test. Results between 100 and 125 can indicate prediabetes.
Your doctor can also use an A1C test, which monitors your blood sugar over 3 months. Test results between 5.7 and 6.4 percent can also indicate prediabetes.
A prediabetes diagnosis, however, doesn’t mean that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes. Some people have successfully reversed prediabetes by modifying their diet and lifestyle.
One risk factor for prediabetes is a diet high in processed foods, which have added fats, calories, and sugar without nutritional value. A diet high in red meat also heightens your risk.
Eating a “clean” diet, which consists of healthier choices, can help restore normal blood sugar levels. This can reverse prediabetes and help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Incorporate low fat and low calorie foods into your diet. These include:
- fruits with complex carbs
- lean meats
- whole grains
- healthy fats, like avocado and fish
Lack of physical activity is another risk factor for prediabetes.
Exercise is not only great for energy and mental health, it can also lower your blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. This allows the cells in your body to use insulin more efficiently.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), exercise can reduce blood sugar for up to 24 hours after a workout.
If you’re beginning a new exercise routine, start slow. Engage in light physical activity for 15 or 20 minutes, and then gradually increase the intensity and length of the workouts after a few days.
Ideally, you’ll want to have 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 days a week. Exercises can include:
- playing sports
One benefit of a regular exercise routine is that it helps you shed excess weight.
In fact, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of body fat can improve your blood sugar level and help reverse prediabetes. For some people, this is about 10 to 20 pounds.
Insulin resistance increases when you have a larger waist size, too. This is 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men.
Healthy eating and a regular exercise routine are both keys to losing weight. You can take other steps, too. This might include getting a gym membership, working with a personal trainer, or having an accountability buddy, such as a friend or family member.
Also, it might help to eat five or six smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals.
Many people know that smoking increases the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. But smoking is also a risk factor for insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes.
You can get help to quit smoking. Use over-the-counter products such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum. Or, ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs or prescription medications to help curb nicotine cravings.
Even if you’re committed to healthy eating, it’s important to choose your carbohydrates carefully. You’ll also want to eat fewer of certain carbs to help reverse prediabetes.
For the most part, you want to eat complex carbohydrates, which are unprocessed carbs. These include:
- whole grains
These carbs are rich in fiber and keep you full longer. They also take longer to break down, so they absorb into your body at a slower rate. This helps prevent blood sugar spikes.
Avoid or limit simple carbohydrates, which absorb quickly and cause an immediate spike in blood sugar. Simple carbohydrates include:
- certain fruits
Refined carbohydrates are also fast-acting and should be limited or avoided. These include:
- white rice
- white bread
- pizza dough
- breakfast cereals
Keep in mind, too, that sleep apnea has been associated with insulin resistance.
With this condition, breathing stops repeatedly throughout the night due to relaxation of the throat muscles.
Signs of sleep apnea include:
- loud snoring
- gasping for air during sleep
- choking during sleep
- waking up with a headache
- daytime sleepiness
Treatment usually involves use of an oral appliance while asleep to keep the throat open.
You can also use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This keeps the upper airway passage open throughout the night.
Drinking water is another excellent way to help reverse prediabetes and prevent type 2 diabetes.
Water helps control blood glucose levels, and it’s also a healthy substitute for sodas and fruit juices. Those beverages are typically high in sugar.
Knowing what to eat with prediabetes can be tricky. Even if your doctor makes dietary suggestions, it’s helpful to consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).
An RDN can provide nutritional guidance and advice on which foods to eat and which to avoid.
They can help you develop a meal plan specific to your condition and offer other practical strategies to maintain a healthy diet. The goal is to stabilize your blood sugar.
Even though some people reverse prediabetes with lifestyle changes, this isn’t enough for everyone.
If your blood sugar doesn’t improve and you’re at high risk for developing diabetes, your doctor might prescribe medication.
Medications to help lower blood sugar and reverse prediabetes include metformin (Glucophage, Fortamet) or a similar drug.
Prediabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes. So it’s important to monitor your symptoms and speak with your doctor if you develop any early signs of diabetes.
These signs vary from person to person but might include:
- increased urination
- unusual hunger
- blurry vision
- increased thirst
A prediabetes diagnosis doesn’t mean that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes. But you’ll need to take quick action to reverse the condition.