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What Is Prediabetes?

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Published: November 18, 2021

Reviewed: October 21, 2021

What is Prediabetes
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Millions of Americans have prediabetes — a condition that raises the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Also referred to as impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance, prediabetes occurs when your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are higher than the normal range but not high enough to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

If left untreated, prediabetes may develop into Type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, changes in lifestyle — such as managing food choices and increasing physical activity — can help return blood glucose levels to normal.

What Are the Risk Factors?

A direct cause for prediabetes has not been determined, but excess body fat, especially in the abdomen, and inactivity are two key factors. There are few symptoms associated with the onset of prediabetes.

You are at higher risk if:

  • You are 45 years old or older and have an overweight body mass index; or
  • You are younger than 45 years old and have an overweight BMI with a history of inactivity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or have a family member with diabetes.

What Does a Diagnosis Mean?

With prediabetes, your body may be producing less insulin, your insulin sensitivity may be decreasing, or a combination of both. Insulin regulates the level of blood glucose helping your body turn carbohydrates into energy. Having high blood glucose puts you at risk for developing some long-term effects associated with diabetes such as blindness, damage to nerves and kidneys, and circulatory system problems.

Managing Prediabetes

The CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program has helped many people make healthy lifestyle changes to reverse prediabetes and prevent Type 2 diabetes. Consider finding a program near you. Everyone with prediabetes can slow the disease progression by following these strategies:

  • Exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Start by walking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • Aim for a small amount of weight loss, if necessary (5 to 7% of your current body weight).
  • Eat a balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods and calcium-rich foods.
  • Work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you make lasting healthy habits.

A Healthy Meal Plan

Following a balanced diet and eating meals at consistent times can help with blood glucose control. Glucose comes primarily from the foods that we eat, specifically carbohydrates — and it’s not just sweets. While all carbohydrate-containing foods affect your blood glucose levels, they also play an important role in your overall health by providing energy for your daily activities. You do not need to cut carbohydrates out of your diet!

When putting together a meal plan, include a variety of the following foods:

  • Grains – whole-grain pasta, breads and cereals, and brown rice
  • Vegetables – spinach, romaine, tomatoes and other colorful vegetables
  • Protein – lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils, beans, tofu and tempeh
  • Dairy – low-fat or fat-free yogurt, low-fat or fat-free milk, and fortified soy milk
  • Fats – avocado, walnuts, olive oil

A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you create a customized plan that takes into consideration your food preferences, age, sex, activity level and medical diagnoses.

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