If you’re reading this, you already know that prediabetes puts you at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other serious health issues in the future. However, if you take action now to improve your eating habits and make healthy lifestyle changes, you can drastically lower your risk of these life-threatening conditions. When it comes to improving your eating habits, it’s about more than just eliminating foods. Take steps to understand the “whys” and “how’s” behind managing prediabetic symptoms, and you’ll be more likely to make lasting changes.
1. Be Proactive
Understanding your diagnosis is an important first step to managing it. Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Your doctor will alert you if you are prediabetic, typically after getting bloodwork done at your annual physical. Although you only need to get your blood sugar levels checked annually at the prediabetic stage, taking appropriate steps to monitor your diet and lifestyle may actually help you reverse prediabetic symptoms. This proactive approach is much more likely to re-regulate your blood sugar than doing nothing. So what can you do?
2. Understand Which Foods Affect Blood Sugar
When you have prediabetes, it’s important to be aware of the food you’re eating and how it will affect your blood sugar levels. Foods high in sugar and carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar, so it’s important to limit these foods in your diet. According to Medical News Today, the following foods are most likely to lead to spikes in blood sugar:
- Sugary Drinks
- Processed Foods
- White Rice, Bread, and Pasta
- Cereals and Yogurts with Added Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Dried Fruit
- French Fries
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point for understanding which food groups can elevate your blood sugar. Generally, foods high in trans fats, sugars, and carbohydrates are best avoided if you’re concerned about developing diabetes after a prediabetes diagnosis.
3. Reduce Sugar and Carbohydrates
Reducing carbohydrates is one of the most important things you can do to improve your diet if you are prediabetic. Cutting out sugary drinks, white bread, and pastries can help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up all carbs. Complex carbs like those found in whole grains, vegetables, and beans can actually help regulate blood sugar levels. Just be sure to watch your portion sizes and choose carbs that are high in fibre. If it’s especially challenging, start small.
Before you “cut out” anything from your diet, work on cutting back. Eating fewer simple carbs and sugars is a good first step to managing prediabetes. For example, if you’re used to eating carb-rich meals 3 times a day, try swapping one of them out with a salad. Then, after you’ve gotten used to that, you can work on reducing carbs and sugar elsewhere in your diet.
4. Find the Sneaky Sugars
According to Johns Hopkins, there are many places sugar can hide in food and drinks we enjoy. One of the best ways to find the “sneaky sugars” is to get comfortable with reading labels:
Some big clues that a food is high in added sugar include:
- It has syrup (rice syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup_
- The ingredient ends in “-ose” (examples: fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose)
- “Sugar” is in the name of the food or ingredient (i.e.: raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar)
Sugar occurs naturally in healthy foods, too. Some examples of healthy foods high in sugar include honey, fruits, fruit juices, and some vegetables. Depending on how much sugar you eat, it might be best to start with limiting added sugars first. Check with your doctor and see what they recommend.
5. Use a Safe Substitute
It’s only natural to get a sweet tooth now and then. So what do you do if you’re prediabetic? Try using a natural taste modifier. They “trick” your brain and your taste buds to perceive sweet tastes when you’re eating sour and tart foods. Miraculin, a compound occurring in the miracle fruit, is a taste modifier that’s an all-natural, safe alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. Why? The food tastes sweet without any sugar being added to it. Miracle fruit taste tablets are one way to experience the miracle fruit’s unique benefits.
Let’s say your doctor recommended having grapefruit for breakfast, but you don’t like the tart taste of grapefruit by itself. Simply dissolving one miracle berry taste tablet on your tongue before eating it will make the grapefruit taste sweet for about 30 minutes to an hour, without putting sugar on top. Note: miracle fruit only works on sour or tart foods and beverages, so try it with citrus fruits, berry smoothies, or plain yogurt to experience the benefits fully.
6. Limit Salt
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reducing salt in your diet is an effective way to manage prediabetes. People with prediabetes tend to experience high blood pressure (hypertension). A high-sodium diet can increase your blood pressure further, which can put you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. The CDC recommends that people with prediabetes limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. That’s about one teaspoon of salt. You can also help reduce your sodium intake by avoiding processed foods, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooking at home more often.
7. Skip the Drive-Thru
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably expecting this tip for managing prediabetic symptoms. Avoid (or significantly limit) processed foods. Anything pre-packaged and made for fast prep is high in salt, high in sugar, and high in artificial ingredients, all of which can further complicate prediabetes, metabolic conditions, and other chronic illnesses. The best ways to make this change include cooking at home, and only buying foods from the store without any additives. Your doctor or dietitian may be able to help you find foods from brands you enjoy that are low in sodium or sugar.
8. Keep Flavor in Your Food
You can make almost any food taste better with the right spices, herbs, and seasonings. If you’re struggling to eat healthier foods because you don’t like the way they taste, try switching up your seasonings. Something as simple as adding garlic powder to your veggies can make a big difference.
Fresh or dried herbs, and fresh or ground spices, are the best ways to flavor your food since pre-packaged flavorings often have high salt and sugar content. If you’re going to flavor your food with dressing or marinade, find simple, homemade recipes rather than relying on store-bought, pre-made options.
9. Get Support to Keep Meals Fun
For many people, one of the most frustrating things about managing prediabetes is feeling like they’re the only ones making diet and lifestyle changes. To make the transition easier, find like-minded friends and family members and make meals fun. Try new recipes together, or take a weekly trip to the farmer’s market to find delicious healthy food to enjoy. If you’re having trouble finding people to meet up with, there are many online communities for people with diabetes and prediabetes where you can find support to make these important changes.
10. Keep Active
Staying active is a great complement to any dietary changes you make while managing your prediabetes. Not only does it improve circulation and give your metabolism a boost, it can be a healthy way to address some of the complications of prediabetes you may experience. Even gentle movement, like daily stretching, low-impact Pilates, or taking a walk, can make a big difference. Your healthcare team can make suggestions about a safe, manageable way to increase your physical activity without getting overwhelmed.
Conclusion: Every Little Bit Helps
If you are pre-diabetic, it is important to take steps to improve your eating habits. By following a few simple tips, you can make a big difference in your health. Reduce your sugar intake and eat more vegetables. Monitor your salt intake and eat less processed foods. Avoid drinking sugary drinks and learn to read ingredient labels. These steps, and the other tips we’ve recommended here, will go a long way toward helping you feel more in control of your prediabetic symptoms, and they may very well reverse those symptoms with time. Above all, be proud of yourself for prioritizing your health, your well-being, and your quality of life. It can be challenging to make these adjustments at first. But in the long run, your body will thank you!