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Understanding Prediabetes: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Christie Borders, MS, CNS

Published in Health & Wellness

11 min read

December 10, 2021
May 19, 2023
a person making a salad
a person making a salad

Diabetes is a common chronic condition that is on the rise. While not all cases of diabetes can be prevented, some types start with prediabetes and may be preventable or reversible

Prediabetes occurs when your glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be considered diabetic levels. However, eventually these higher glucose levels may lead to diabetes. The good news is that prediabetes can be reversible for some people.

It's no secret that healthy lifestyles help ensure a healthy mind and body and prevent several chronic ailments, conditions, and diseases. That's why learning the basics of healthy eating and physical exercise, maintaining healthy weight goals and sleep patterns, and focusing on a low-stress life are all important to support healthy blood sugar.

Here's a little more about prediabetes and how you can introduce healthy lifestyle changes to combat it.

What Is Prediabetes And Is It Reversible?

Prediabetes is a condition where your blood glucose levels are pretty high (between 100 and 125 mg/dl) for an extended period but not so high that you're diagnosed with diabetes. Prediabetes symptoms include things like increased appetite, mood swings, fatigue, frequent urination, and blurred vision.

There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Here’s a little more about each one: 

three photos of people with different types of diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

  • It usually develops early in life.
  • It’s an autoimmune disorder impacting the insulin-producing cells of your pancreas.
  • It’s characterized by a lack of adequate insulin production, resulting in an inability to turn your food into usable energy for your cells. 
  • This type of diabetes usually requires insulin injections and may also be hereditary.

Type 2 Diabetes

  • It often develops later in life.
  • It can be attributed to a variety of risk factors such as diet, lifestyle, and medical history factors. 
  • It may be mild (controlled by lifestyle or medication) or severe (requiring insulin injections). 
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body is no longer sensitive to insulin. Even though you may continue to make insulin, your body may have difficulty using it to turn food into energy.

Gestational Diabetes

  • It develops during pregnancy and typically resolves after childbirth.
  • For some, it does not resolve and may instead develop into type 2 diabetes later on. 
  • Symptom-wise, gestational diabetes looks similar to type 2 diabetes. 

11 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Prediabetes

Now that you know you can reduce your risk of prediabetes and diabetes, it's time to learn how. Making healthy diet and lifestyle choices is the first step! Remember: It's best to consult a healthcare professional before making any major changes.

Here are 11 tips and tricks to help you get started.

1) Work With a Qualified Nutrition Expert

a person talking to a dietitian

Making healthier food choices can go a long way in reducing your risk for prediabetes and diabetes. One of the most important ways to reduce your risk is being able to customize a healthier dietary approach for your unique body. You can gain an understanding of how to do this with the help of a personal dietitian.

The role of your personal dietitian is to give you the tools and guidance for reducing your risk factors. They help guide the specific changes needed to achieve your goals and allow you to build a practical, actionable plan customized to you. And most importantly - it’s tailored to fit your individual needs. 

Tips and Resources

  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations for regular blood glucose lab work and assessment.
  • If you have a risk of prediabetes or have been diagnosed with prediabetes, follow your doctor's guidance.
  • Consider working one-on-one with a dietitian at Nutrisense who can help you track your glucose levels with a continuous glucose monitor. Together, you’ll gain deeper insight into how your current approach may impact those levels. Your doctor can access your tracked data to follow along!

2) Focus on Weight Loss If Needed

a person measuring their waist

Not everyone who has prediabetes or diabetes will be overweight. However, studies show that interventions promoting weight loss for those who may be overweight may also improve insulin sensitivity and glucose regulation.

Some research even suggests that losing at least 10 percent of body fat and adopting an exercise routine to reduce fat tissue can improve blood sugar levels significantly.

Tips and Resources

  • Focus on a balanced diet that is rich in whole foods.
  • Combine a healthy diet with regular, appropriate physical activity.
  • Try to reduce your intake of refined grains (white flour, white rice, white bread) and added sugars.
  • Consider reducing your intake of alcohol

3) Eat Fewer Simple, Processed Carbs

One helpful way to decide what types of carbs you should consume is to use the glycemic index (GI). The GI is a value given to different kinds of food based on how quickly they can cause an increase in blood sugar levels.

Foods that have a low GI release glucose slowly into the blood, whereas foods that have a high GI release glucose rapidly, causing the rise of blood sugar levels. The GI of foods usually ranges from 0 to 70, but some high-GI foods can rank higher on the scale. 

Refined carbs and sugars are digested faster than other foods, and due to their high GI, they tend to increase blood glucose levels. A low glycemic diet may improve blood sugar regulation, promote weight loss and reduce cholesterol levels in some people. 

Of course, the amount of a given food always matters as well. Glycemic load takes into account the amount of a food alongside its glycemic index and is the most practical way to apply the glycemic index. 

Tips and Resources

  • Consider eating fruits with a low glycemic score, like apples, berries, oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. Pair these with protein and eat your protein first for a better glucose response. 
  • Add more non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash, spinach, and green beans into your diet.
  • Instead of refined grains/flours, eat more whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and oats.
  • Introduce legumes like lentils, black beans, and chickpeas to your diet.
  • Avoid overconsuming foods like white bread, rice, cereals, pasta, baked goods, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

4) Balance Your Diet

a plate of grilled salmon, rice, and salad

A healthy diet can help support normal blood sugar levels and research indicates it may even help reverse prediabetes. While a 'healthy diet' can differ from person to person, it usually consists of balanced macronutrients and micronutrients customized for individual needs, high-quality calories, and adequate fiber.

There are multiple diets that may help support balanced blood glucose levels if you're prediabetic. The most common one is a lower carbohydrate diet—which emphasizes adequate protein, healthy fat, fiber, and non-starchy vegetables, with additional low glycemic index carbs in lower amounts. 

A Mediterranean diet may also be helpful in preventing prediabetes, as there is some research to show that this diet is effective for weight loss, which we know can have a positive impact on blood sugar levels.

Tips and Resources

  • Eat a varied macronutrient diet that best suits your body's individualized needs and supports balanced blood sugar levels
  • The type of fat you eat is important. Focus on healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
  • Consume good quality meat like grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and free-range poultry. Try to reduce or avoid cured or processed meats.
  • Eat a good amount of fiber every day (25 to 30 grams).

5) Reduce Foods That Cause Blood Sugar Imbalances

Sweetened beverages contribute to rising glucose levels in your bloodstream, which can be risky for people who already have prediabetes

Other factors contributing to blood sugar spikes include added sugars and refined carbohydrates. For better glucose management, try the tips below. 

Tips and Resources

  • Reduce or avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, noodles, pizza, white rice, and other foods made with white flour.
  • Don't eat too many foods with added sugars, like candy, cakes, cookies, and pies.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages can also affect glucose levels. Avoid overconsuming soft drinks/soda, sports drinks, sweetened iced tea, energy drinks, and fruit juice/punch. 

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories per day (about six teaspoons or 24 grams) for most adult women and no more than 150 calories per day (about nine teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men. 

However, some people may notice that smaller amounts of added sugar, especially if eaten alone, may still cause blood sugar spikes. Practicing meal sequencing can be a helpful trick here. 

6) Improve Your Overall Hydration Levels

lemons and  glass of water with lemon

Dehydration can negatively influence blood glucose in a variety of ways. It is also essential to stay well-hydrated to avoid high glucose concentrations in the blood.

Tips and Resources

  • Ensure you’re properly hydrated
  • Try not to exercise when it's too hot outside or under direct sunlight, especially if you have heat intolerance
  • If you're prone to dehydration, add more water into your diet with broths, fruits, and vegetables that contain more water.

7) Make Exercising a Regular Part of Your Life 

Appropriate amounts of exercise help to improve your physical health and can also boost mental health. There are many ways that exercise can support balanced glucose levels, specifically, including improving insulin sensitivity.

Tips and Resources

  • Consult with your doctor and healthcare team before beginning an exercise program.
  • Consider working with a dietitian trained in sports nutrition for an expert eye in how to support your body’s fitness goals. 
  • Start off gradually. You can increase duration and intensity of workouts over time, to individual tolerance. 
  • Wondering what you can begin with? Try walking, biking, hiking, swimming, or dancing.

8) Find Ways to Reduce Stress

a person meditating

High levels of stress on a consistent basis may also contribute to the development of prediabetes

Tips and Resources

  • Aim for quality relaxation and sleep every night and consult with a healthcare professional if you suffer from insomnia.
  • Practice relaxing activities like breathing techniques, walking in the park, yoga, and meditation. 
  • Ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs. Nutrient imbalances are stressors for your body - including ingesting too much or too little of a given nutrient for your unique needs. 
  • Evaluate your social relationships and seek out connections that support your self-care priorities. 

9) Embrace Health Technology

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, you may feel extra motivation to track your daily glucose fluctuations and responses. Today's technology helps us do so with devices that monitor blood glucose, such as a continuous glucose monitor.

Tips and Resources 

  • A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a device that measures glucose levels in real time by sensing the glucose present in interstitial fluid.
  • A finger-stick glucometer is a tool that can be used by taking a small drop of blood with a lancet and placing it on the test strip in the glucometer. This helps you see a “snapshot” of your glucose levels at the moment. 

10) Work With Your Doctor

a person explaining something on a tablet to a patient

Your doctor and diabetes specialist can help you go through all the steps you need to understand prediabetes and track glucose levels

It’s essential to stay in touch with your doctor to prevent complications and other risk factors. Prediabetes and diabetes can occur alongside other metabolic changes such as changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and other inflammatory markers. So, it's good to have a medical professional supervise these regularly. 

Tips and Resources

  • Proactively ask your doctor for a prediabetes screening, and then follow up with questions about how often you should be doing this.
  • Even if you don't have prediabetes, ask your doctor whether you have any risk factors and what steps you can take to lower the risk of prediabetes.

11) Consider Your Eating Window 

When you eat later in the day, you can have higher overnight glucose values due to reduced insulin sensitivity in the evening. This may negatively impact the following morning’s fasting glucose readings - a marker for measuring prediabetes and diabetes risk. 

Research shows that opting for an earlier eating window may have beneficial effects on glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity. 

Tips and Resources

  • Reduce your alcohol intake, especially late at night. 
  • Use a continuous glucose monitor to see how your body responds to different types of foods at various times of the day to check the optimal time to stop eating. 
  • If you cannot eat earlier, try to make dinner the lightest meal of your day.
  • Work with a dietitian to find an eating schedule that works best for your specific body.
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Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC

Reviewed by: Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC

Kara Collier is the co-founder and VP of Health at Nutrisense, one of America’s fastest-growing wellness-tech startups, where she leads the health team. She is a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, frequent podcast guest & conference speaker.