Prediabetes is a health condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes and other health concerns, including heart disease and stroke.
Though the condition can put you at risk for serious health conditions, it is reversible. Lifestyle modifications, including dietary changes, can help to treat the condition and prevent its progression to type 2 diabetes.
In fact, research shows that intensive lifestyle interventions can help decrease new diabetes cases by up to 58%.
Changing your diet is just one component of these lifestyle interventions, but there isn’t always a one-size fits all approach. Still, making lifelong and sustainable modifications to what you eat can help to reverse the condition and improve your health in the long run.
How Diet Impacts Prediabetes
Prediabetes is a condition in which the cells in your body don’t respond normally to insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that helps to control blood sugar levels.
When your cells don’t use insulin properly, your pancreas responds by making more of the hormone.
With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to indicate type 2 diabetes.
Certain foods can also impact your blood sugar, which is why it’s important to eat a balanced diet and avoid foods that can raise your blood sugar even further if you have prediabetes.
Nutritional modifications are an important part of prediabetes treatment. However, dietary recommendations for the treatment of prediabetes have evolved over time.
The most common approaches include a low-glycemic index diet, a low-calorie diet, and a diet that eliminates specific foods.
One review found that each approach can help to improve blood sugar and reverse prediabetes when it best suits an individual’s lifestyle and needs.
Finding the right approach for you may take some trial and error and support from your healthcare provider and/or a licensed nutritionist.
Use the glycemic index
The glycemic index rates carbohydrate-containing foods based on how they affect your blood sugar levels when consumed.
Foods that are low on the glycemic index are less likely to cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, e.g., green vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and whole grains. In practice, eating a low-glycemic diet will limit simple and processed carbohydrates and emphasize eating a balance of complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean meats, and healthy fats.
Studies show that a low-glycemic index (GI) diet can be effective at reducing fasting glucose, body mass index, and total cholesterol levels.
Research also shows that a low-GI diet is associated with normal glucose regulation. However, this approach on its own may not have an effect on fasting insulin or triglyceride levels.
Practice portion control
Limiting your portion sizes is a popular approach when following a reduced-calorie diet. Put simply: the smaller your portions, the fewer total calories you consume.
Depending on the recommendation you receive from your provider, you may choose to reduce your consumption of all foods or of one specific food group, like carbohydrates.
Research shows that a low-calorie diet can help to reduce fasting blood glucose levels, which corresponds to a decrease in insulin resistance.
Eat fiber-rich foods
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Because fiber passes through our system undigested, it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar like other carbohydrates.
Eating a fiber-rich diet can also help to protect the heart, keep you feeling fuller longer, and maintain your digestive health.
Sugary drinks like sodas, fruit juice, and energy drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Choosing water over these sugar-based alternatives can help to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
Eat lean meat
In several studies, regular processed meat consumption was related to increased diabetes risk.
This is in part because the high-saturated fat content of non-lean meats, including pork and beef, can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
Eating lean meats can help to reduce cholesterol levels.
And some studies show that eating a plant-based diet rich in plant-based proteins may be even more optimal when it comes to reversing prediabetes, as long as unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plant-based proteins are prioritized.
Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol consumption is a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and many types of mixed drinks can raise blood sugar levels.
At the end of the day, moderation is key when it comes to managing prediabetes.
Other Ways to Manage Prediabetes
Diet is an important component of reversing prediabetes, but there are other approaches that can help too.
Whether practiced on their own or in combination with dietary changes, these actions can also help to prevent and treat prediabetes.
Exercise is very important for weight control. It also helps your body to use sugar for energy.
If you’re not regularly active, try increasing your weekly activity to at least 150 minutes a week.
Even low-to-moderate forms of exercise, like brisk walking or jogging, can help to decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Smoking can increase your risk of several serious health conditions, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. If you smoke, reach out to your provider for help on how to quit.
Having overweight or obesity increases your risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Research shows that losing a minimal amount of weight, specifically just 5-7% of your body weight, can significantly lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
However, it’s important to note that more extreme and short-term dieting can be harmful to your health.
For tips on how to safely lose 5-7% of your body weight, reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.
In some cases, your provider may recommend taking medication to treat prediabetes. Metformin is often prescribed for this purpose.
Other medications your provider might recommend include high blood pressure and cholesterol medications.
When to See a Medical Provider
Since most people with prediabetes don’t experience symptoms, it’s a good idea to speak to your medical provider about prediabetes screening if you are at high risk.
Risk factors for prediabetes include being overweight or having obesity, having certain medical conditions (including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), high cholesterol, or high blood pressure), and being over the age of 45.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with prediabetes, talk to your medical provider about your treatment options.
Intensive lifestyle changes, including dietary modifications, can help to reverse the condition.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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Alcohol consumption and risk of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes development in a Swedish population. (2012).
A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. (2017).
Dietary fats and prevention of type 2 diabetes. (2010).
Diets with a low glycaemic load have favorable effects on prediabetes progression and regression: a prospective cohort study. (2018).
From Pre-Diabetes to Diabetes: Diagnosis, Treatments and Translational Research. (2019).
Low-glycemic index diets as an intervention for diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (2019).
Nutritional Strategies in Prediabetes: A Scoping Review of Recent Evidence. (2020).
Prediabetes — Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. (2021).
The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). (2005).