Maria Pease
Article by: Maria Pease
Estimated 8 minutes read
Quick summary
Having a family history of diabetes increases the likelihood of having prediabetes and developing diabetes, but lifestyle also has a significant impact. Things like diet, exercise and other health choices can contribute to the development of prediabetes. Making changes can reverse and eliminate prediabetes and offer a healthier lifestyle. Importantly, following a prediabetes diet can significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A diagnosis of prediabetes should be a warning sign that your health and diet may need more attention. Diabetes is a serious disease, and making changes is critical. Still, like many people suffering from prediabetes, you may wonder what is safe to eat and what is a prediabetes diet.

Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugars are higher than the normal range but not so high you've got diabetes, so it's essential to change your diet and eat foods that can control blood sugar levels, stay out of the prediabetes range and eliminate the chances of developing diabetes.  

Diagnosing Prediabetes 

According to the American Diabetic Association, (1) diagnosing diabetes can be done utilizing several tests. They include:

A1C. This test measures blood glucose levels over a 3-month period and doesn't require you to drink a sugary drink or fast before the testing. 

For a normal reading, your A1C will be less than 5.7%; for prediabetes, it will be 5.7% to 6.4%; and for a result of diabetes, your numbers will be 6.5% or higher.

Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG). This test requires you to fast for at least 8 hours before testing. Scheduling this test in the morning allows you to fast as you sleep and before you have breakfast.

For a normal reading, Your FPG will be less than 100 mg/dl, prediabetes will be 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl, and diabetes will be 126 mg/dl or higher.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). For this test, you'll drink a sugary substance and wait for about 2-hours before the test so the medical professional can see how your body processes sugar.  

For the OGTT test, a normal reading will be less than 140 mg/dl; for prediabetes, it will range from 140 to 199 mg/dl; and for diabetes, it will be 200 mg/dl or higher.

Unfortunately, too many people have prediabetes and may be on their way to developing diabetes. According to the CDC, (2) in the United States, 38% or 96 million people ages 18 and over suffer from prediabetes, and 48.8% or 26.4 million people have prediabetes. 

 Prediabetes Symptoms 

Since prediabetes doesn't typically have symptoms, most people discover they have it when they get checked for diabetes. But there are some things to be aware of that can give you clues you may want to see your medical professional. (3) They can include:

  • Darker patches of skin on the body.
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet

Causes of Prediabetes 

When your body functions properly, the pancreas releases insulin into the cells and uses the sugar for energy. When you have prediabetes, your cells don't respond as they should to the insulin, so the pancreas makes more in an attempt to get the cells to respond. As the cycle continues, blood sugar rises, putting you at risk of prediabetes and possibly type 2 diabetes in the future. (4)

Prediabetes and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes 

While anyone can develop prediabetes,  lifestyle choices and genetic issues can increase risk. (5) Some of them include:

  • Weight. According to studies, a body mass index of more than 25 can impact your risk of developing prediabetes.
  • Waist circumference. Having fat settle around the waist and hips can put you at risk for several health issues, and prediabetes is one of them. A circumference of 40 or more for men and 35 or more for women can be a risk factor. (6)
  • Diet. Eating processed foods, meat, and sugar can increase risks.
  • Exercise. When you have a sedentary lifestyle and don't get any exercise, you're at risk.
  • Smoking. Smoking can cause insulin resistance and puts you at risk of developing prediabetes. (7
  • Age. Risks can increase as you age, but chances increase even more for those 45 and older.
  • Ethnicity and race. According to research, race and cultural factors can impact the development of prediabetes. (8)
  • Family history. When a family member has type 2 diabetes, there is a higher risk that the father or mother could pass it to the next generation.
  • Medica conditions. Risks can increase with certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, (9) high cholesterol, sleep apnea, (10) and PCOS.

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes 

While it's not easy to make significant lifestyle changes with a prediabetes diagnosis, understanding that continuing this behavior will eventually take you to a diagnosis of type 2 is crucial. Now is the time to get serious about your health and take action. Since lifestyle factors are controllable, making a few changes in what you eat and getting more exercise can stop type 2 diabetes from developing and significantly reduce future risks.

Manage your weight

When managing your weight, the chances of reversing and eliminating prediabetes are very good with the right plan. According to the CDC, losing as little as 5% to 7% of your body weight can make a difference. (11

Managing your weight consists of a few things. Eating a healthful diet of whole, unprocessed foods and getting enough exercise.

Eat a healthy and balanced diet

Eating real food such as a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds has been shown to lower the risk of prediabetes. (12)

  • Limit dried and very sweet tropical fruits. 
  • Enjoy 2 to 3 servings of fruit, including berries.
  • Watch grain and potato intake.
  • Eliminate or minimize snacking.
  • Eat unprocessed, whole foods.
  • Eliminate soda and other sugary drinks.
  • Drink lots of water.

It's actually pretty simple. Opt for an unprocessed natural diet over unhealthy ultra-processed foods that seem everywhere nowadays. By avoiding processed junk and reducing your sugar intake, you can still enjoy various delicious food without compromising nutrition. 

Be more active

Physical exercise and activity not only can help with managing weight, but it's also a great stress reliever. It can help the body to use insulin effectively and make you feel good. The goal should be about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. (13)

Consider TRT

It's not commonly known that low testosterone can affect and increase the risks of prediabetes. A testosterone deficiency can increase your chances of insulin resistance and put you at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (14) If you're a man and are in danger of prediabetes, you may be surprised to learn that testosterone replacement for diabetes may be beneficial. 

Other things that make a significant impact include quitting smoking, reducing alcohol, getting quality sleep and finding ways to relieve stress.

Prediabetes Diet Plan

Planning a prediabetes diet plan is about choosing the right foods. You want to focus on whole foods that are low in sugar. When just getting started, it's essential to keep it simple to avoid being overwhelmed and stressed about eating.

The plate method

The plate method is a simple and visual way to ensure you get the right amount of each type of food. According to the CDC, these proportions keep meal planning simple.

  • Half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables such as a mixed green salad, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, carrots, cucumber, etc.
  • One quarter should include healthy carbs such as brown rice, quinoa, wholewheat pasta beans, fruits, etc.
  • One quarter should consist of lean proteins such as eggs, chicken, fish and other lean protein sources.
The Plate Method for a prediabetes diet

What foods to include

Some of the friendly foods will include:

  • High-fiber fruits such as berries, apples and pears.
  • Vegetables, including dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and other colorful veggies.
  • Nuts, seeds and nut butter with no added sugar.
  • Avocado
  • Eggs
  • Legumes, including a variety of beans and lentils.
  • Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa and other whole grains.
  • Lean proteins like skinless chicken and turkey
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Unsweetened yogurt

A simple breakfast could include:

  • Yogurt & blueberries with walnuts
  • Eggs and mixed fruit
  • Eggs and avocado

Lunch may include:

  • A mixed green salad with nuts and grilled shrimp
  • Chicken sandwich with tomato
  • Tuna salad & apple

Dinners may include:

  • Steamed vegetables, brown rice and grilled chicken
  • Quinoa, flounder and broccoli
  • Blackened tuna over mixed greens  

As you become more accustomed to preparing meals using whole foods, you can try new recipes and experiment with new grains or vegetables.

Conclusion: What is a Prediabetes Diet?

Knowing if you have prediabetes can be challenging since there are few signs and symptoms. According to the CDC, 96 million Americans have prediabetes, and what's surprising is that about 80% aren't aware of it.

While genetics can play a part, it mostly comes down to lifestyle choices, including diet, exercise, smoking and other unhealthy habits. If you suspect you may be at risk of prediabetes, getting regular check-ups is crucial to ensure you know your numbers. You are what you eat, so make the right choices for a healthy future.

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