Your yearly blood work came back with a surprise: your blood glucose levels fall within the prediabetic range, and your doctor wants you to make significant lifestyle changes. It can feel overwhelming, but with a little diabetes education, you can take care of your health, improve your overall wellness, and prevent your prediabetes from worsening.
First, let’s talk about the differences between being diabetic and having prediabetes. We’ll discuss the differences, explore what’s going on in your body, and explain the importance of addressing a prediabetic diagnosis.
What Is Diabetes?
When we eat food, our body breaks it down into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose fuels our tissues and organs to carry out their processes, but the pancreas must release insulin to get that glucose.
Insulin carries the glucose in our bloodstream to areas where it is needed by cells. Cells take in the glucose, and any remaining glucose that isn’t needed immediately for energy goes to the liver for later use. Excess glucose may also be stored in the muscles and fatty tissue.
Diabetes is a condition wherein the body doesn’t produce enough (or any) insulin to remove glucose from the blood, or the body can’t use insulin effectively. This is a condition known as insulin resistance.
There are three different types of diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
Most people with type 1 diabetes are born with it or develop it as a child. This is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to stop producing insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin daily to survive.
There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but it can be well managed with insulin injections, regular blood sugar testing, and a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Type 2 Diabetes
The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. Someone with type 2 diabetes has become resistant to the insulin their body produces, or doesn’t make enough to keep up with the amount of glucose in their blood.
Researchers aren’t sure why some people develop type 2 diabetes, but some precursors almost always occur before a diagnosis. These precursors are:
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- Excess weight or obesity.
About 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This condition develops over time and is most frequently diagnosed in adulthood, although this has been changing in recent years.
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Pregnant women who have never had diabetes are at risk of developing gestational diabetes. During pregnancy, the placenta releases hormones that cause the body to store additional glucose in the blood.
If the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to remove the glucose from the bloodstream, the woman may develop gestational diabetes. This condition usually goes away after the baby is delivered, but gestational diabetes does increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
What Is Prediabetes?
Someone who has type 1 diabetes or gestational diabetes does not typically develop prediabetes. Type 2 diabetics will develop prediabetes before they develop type 2 diabetes, but unless they have regular blood draws, they may not know they are pre-diabetic.
One-third of people in the United States are living with prediabetes, and many aren’t aware they have it. About 25 percent of people with prediabetes will end up with type 2 diabetes, but thankfully, you can avoid it with proper diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.
As a prediabetic, it’s crucial to pay attention to your blood sugar levels and make changes now to protect yourself from the long-term negative health effects that can develop with type 2 diabetes like:
- Heart disease
- Artery disease
- Blood vessel damage
- Kidney disease and damage
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage
- Hearing loss
The longer your blood sugar goes unchecked, the closer you are to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, and the more at risk you are of developing these accompanying health conditions.
Is Prediabetes Reversible?
Although type 2 diabetes is not considered reversible, prediabetes is. This means you can take steps to reverse your high blood sugar levels, protect your health, and ace your next lab draw.
Is Type 2 Diabetes Inevitable for a Prediabetic?
Being prediabetic does not mean you will 100% eventually develop type 2 diabetes. However, two important factors determine whether you can manage your prediabetes and effectively reverse it.
- Early detection. Having a yearly blood draw is important to staying healthy, and it’s also key to ensuring your blood sugar levels are within a healthy range.
- A healthy lifestyle. Once you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, changing your lifestyle to incorporate more exercise, weight loss (if necessary), and a healthy prediabetes meal plan are essential in preventing the development of type 2 diabetes.
Understanding how your body processes certain foods (like carbohydrates) and watching for added sugar are also helpful to improving lifestyle choices.
How Can I Support Healthy Blood Sugar Levels?
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels isn’t as difficult as you may think. Small changes make a big difference in helping your body produce and use insulin effectively. You can do three things right now to improve your blood sugar.
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Prediabetics are more likely to have excess weight or be obese. Obesity is defined as having a BMI over 30.
- Exercise. The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week to support a healthy lifestyle, lower your risk of heart disease, and help regulate your blood sugar.
- Adopt a diabetes meal plan. Changing your eating patterns can help your body handle glucose and insulin.
Don’t worry; your new diet won’t contain bland foods that leave you hungry. A diet rich in healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, fresh veggies, and lean proteins will keep you full and protect against blood sugar spikes that could leave you feeling lethargic.
7 Days of Healthy Meals for Prediabetics
Possibly the most effective method of regulating prediabetic blood sugar is by changing your diet. Your doctor has probably talked to you about the importance of changing your eating habits and adopting a diet plan that helps support your goals.
Here, we give you a sample seven-day meal plan focusing on keeping blood sugar levels in check, satisfying your hunger, and supporting your overall health.
- Breakfast: Upgraded oats. Choose steel-cut oats (not oatmeal packets which can contain added sugar). Top with blueberries and walnuts. Choose plant-based milk or low-fat milk when making your oats.
Tip: Choosing black coffee at home will save you between 13-73 teaspoons of added sugar, around 300 calories, and about $4.00 daily.
- Lunch: Whole grain pita pocket with veggies and hummus. Switch out your white bread for whole grain brain and whole grain bread products, and you’ll automatically increase your intake of complex carbohydrates.
Pack your pita with grilled or fresh veggies and hummus. This homemade hummus recipe from the American Heart Association also cuts down sodium, netting you even more health benefits.
- Dinner: Meatless Monday. According to studies, red meat is high in dietary fat and may increase your risk of developing diabetes by as much as 11 percent. A solution? Try a plant-based dinner one night per week.
Bake a sweet potato and stuff it with steamed or baked broccoli, slivered almonds, and a pat of vegan butter for a delicious, fiber-filled meal that will also satisfy a sweet tooth.
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt. Packed with protein, Greek yogurt can help fuel you for your day. Top it with berries with a low glycemic index and chia seeds for added protein and texture.
- Lunch: Tuna salad and grain-free crackers. Grain-free crackers made from low-carb options like almond flour are a good substitution for regular crackers.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken breast kabobs. This recipe includes lean protein, healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, and plenty of vegetables with a low glycemic index. Grab the recipe from the Diabetes Food Hub here.
- Breakfast: Two eggs with whole wheat bread toast, cottage cheese, and fruit. A complete breakfast that’s also good for you is easy. Avoid frying your eggs in animal fat or vegetable oil, and opt for cooking spray. Top your toast with avocado or vegan butter, and choose berries for your cottage cheese.
- Lunch: Leftover chicken breast kabobs and a side salad. Simply slide the chicken and veggies off the bamboo skewer and add them to a bed of leafy greens, like spinach and arugula, for a delicious and filling salad.
- Dinner: Mediterranean Buddha Bowl. This recipe contains quinoa, chickpeas, leafy green veggies, and healthy plant-based fats. Bonus, it’s super easy to put together and requires very little prepping.
Tip: The Mediterranean Diet is typically high in healthy fats, low in simple carbs, and high in lean protein; a definite win for someone with prediabetes.
- Breakfast: A healthy smoothie. Smoothies can be nutritious, but they can also hide a ton of excess sugar that isn’t good for someone with prediabetes. Instead of grabbing a smoothie at the drive-through, make one at home so you can control the portion sizes and the carbs.
Add ½ cup of ice, one cup of plant-based or low-fat milk, one small, ripe banana, one tablespoon of peanut butter, and a scoop of stevia-sweetened protein powder to a blender. Blend until smooth.
- Lunch: Leftover Mediterranean Buddha Bowl.
- Dinner: Pasta night done right. If you think pasta is off the table, think again. Chickpea pasta, zucchini noodles, and spaghetti squash allow you to enjoy the pasta dishes you love without taking in excess starches that can raise blood sugar levels.
This pasta recipe from the Diabetes Food Hub is packed with protein and vegetables to keep you full all evening and help ward off midnight snacking.
- Breakfast: Whole-grain English muffin and a side of fruit. An English muffin is more nutritious than a bagel, which contains more carbohydrates and calories. Top your English muffin with peanut butter and apple slices or with avocado and an egg cooked in cooking spray.
- Lunch: Eat out, the right way. Eating lunch out with your colleagues is a great way to socialize and break up the day, but it can also affect your healthy eating plan. Make smart choices when eating out — choose grilled vegetables, side salads, and grilled or baked protein instead of fried.
Tip: Craving a burger? Make it better by asking for it in a lettuce wrap instead of a bun. Hold the cheese and opt for sauteed mushrooms and avocado instead. You’ll save calories and still satisfy the craving.
- Dinner: Salmon and veggies. Increase your omega-3 intake with a meal that takes less than 20 minutes to prepare. This recipe for salmon and veggies is prepared in individual foil packets, making it easier for you to control your portion sizes.
- Breakfast: The good stuff, to-go. On the run? That’s no problem. You can still make a healthy choice even if you grab breakfast at the drive-through or a local cafe. Plain oats, tofu scrambles, hard-boiled eggs, and turkey sausage are widely available and provide healthier options than bagels and pancakes.
- Lunch: Cold salmon salad. Last night’s dinner becomes today’s lunch. On a bed of leafy greens, add salmon and veggies and top with balsamic vinaigrette for an easy lunch that helps support your blood sugar goals.
- Dinner: Dinner and a movie, the healthy way. Everyone deserves a night out, and most restaurants have plenty of healthy options. If you don’t see one, talk to your server about making simple substitutions like:
- Brown rice instead of white rice
- Whole grain bread instead of white bread
- Black beans instead of red meat
- Breakfast: Breakfast cups. These hearty breakfast cups contain eggs, cheese, and turkey bacon or sausage. They’re low carb, non-starchy, and make easy grab-n-go breakfast options. Bonus: You can make a large batch and freeze them for later.
- Lunch: Greek salad. Easy to make and satisfying. Start with a bed of leafy greens and top with kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onion, and chickpeas.
- Dinner: Vegan lentil chili. We promise you’ll never miss the meat.
How Can I Manage Prediabetes?
It’s easy to eat a full and balanced diet as a prediabetic, but avoiding ingredients and habits that could interfere is key. Eating a better diet is about making better choices, and these helpful tips make it easy for you to make healthier decisions.
Drink Plenty of Water
If you aren’t drinking enough water, you will likely feel hungrier and may even opt for unhealthy beverage choices, like fruit juices or sodas. How much is enough? If your urine is clear, you’re doing the job right.
Get To Know Carbohydrates
The way your body processes carbohydrates directly impacts your blood sugar levels. Not all carbohydrates are bad, but simple carbs like white flour, sugar, and regular pasta can spike your blood sugar.
Instead, choose complex carbs like whole grains, steel-cut oats, quinoa, fruit, legumes, and vegetables.
Get Enough Rest
Did you know that you are more likely to overeat when tired? If you aren’t getting adequate rest at night, you might try to compensate for the lack of sleep with sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks.
Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. You may need more if you are extremely active.
Getting enough exercise is key to maintaining many facets of your total health. For a prediabetic, this can help you maintain a healthy weight, regulate your blood sugar, and even improve your overall mood.
Be Snack Savvy
It’s easy to grab a pre-packed snack when you are hungry, but processed foods usually contain added sugar and saturated fats, both of which can lead to unhealthy blood sugar levels. Instead, opt for fresh fruit, unsalted nuts, or crunchy vegetables and hummus.
Get Regular Check-Ups
Once you’ve received a prediabetes diagnosis, you’ll need regular checkups with your healthcare provider to ensure your blood sugar levels are well maintained.
While it usually isn’t necessary for you to check your blood sugar at home (unless your doctor advises), it is important to keep your regular blood draws and follow your doctor’s advice.
Healthy Blood Sugar Levels For Life
Prediabetes is an important diagnosis but reversible with proper diet and exercise. You can make changes and adjustments to support your blood glucose levels and maintain your health by becoming active, losing weight if you are overweight, and making healthier food choices.
For more information and to learn more about prediabetes, check out more articles on Diabetic.org. Here you’ll find resources about living with prediabetes, information about diabetic lifestyles, and how to increase your overall wellness.
References, Studies and Sources:
Type 2 diabetes – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
Symptoms & Causes of Gestational Diabetes | NIDDK
Many miss prediabetes wake-up call – Harvard Health
Prediabetes and Lifestyle Modification: Time to Prevent a Preventable Disease – PMC
Do you know how much sugar is in your Starbucks drink? – CBS News
Grilled Chicken Caesar Kabobs|Diabetes Food Hub.org
Red meat, poultry and fish consumption and risk of diabetes: a 9 year prospective cohort study of the China Kadoorie Biobank
Mediterranean Buddha Bowl – Culinary Hill
Chickpea Pasta & Calabrian Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Peppers|Diabetes Food Hub.org
Greek Salmon and Veggie Packets|Diabetes Food Hub.org
Meat Lover’s Breakfast Cups|Diabetes Food Hub.org
Vegan Lentil Chili Recipe – Cookin Canuck – Meatless Dinner
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Camille Freking and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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Chris is one of the Co-Founders of Diabetic.org. An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has been building and writing in consumer health for over 10 years. In addition to Diabetic.org, Chris and his Acme Health LLC Brand Team own and operate Pharmacists.org, Multivitamin.org, PregnancyResource.org, and the USA Rx Pharmacy Discount Card powered by Pharmacists.org.
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