November is National Diabetes Awareness Month — and we believe prediabetes deserves attention too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 96 million American adults — more than 1 in 3 — have prediabetes. The good news? It can be reversed. Stephanie Nelson, MS RD, MyFitnessPal’s lead nutrition scientist, shares five ways to help bring blood sugar levels back to normal.
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. This condition usually occurs in people who already have some insulin resistance or those whose pancreas aren’t making enough insulin to keep blood glucose in the normal range. Without intervention, progression to Type 2 diabetes is likely. But it’s not guaranteed. Lifestyle changes, weight loss, medications, and the following tips, can all help bring blood sugar back to normal. These general recommendations are in line with the recommendations of the American Diabetes Association, but as always, we recommend consulting with your doctor for treatment.
1. AWARENESS IS KEY
Many people with prediabetes have no symptoms, so knowing you have it is the first step to reversing it. Have your doctor test your blood regularly for fasting blood sugar, HgbA1c (a test that shows your blood sugar’s behavior over the last 12 weeks), and a lipid panel (cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides at least). The frequency of these tests may depend on your results. If they are abnormal, you may want to monitor them more closely, but if they are normal, your doctor will tell you when it’s appropriate to re-check. It’s important to advocate for yourself when you receive the results. Ask your doctor or dietitian to explain the results to you and what to do about them. Oftentimes, if you don’t ask, you may not get a full explanation.
2. EAT MORE FIBER
The best thing you can do if your labs are showing warning signs is eat more fiber. Men need 38g per day at least, and women need at least 25g. However, you can go higher if you tolerate it. Slowly increase your fiber intake over the course of several days to weeks to prevent GI discomfort. All fruits and vegetables will provide you with fiber, but some foods particularly high in fiber are berries, avocados, mangos, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens. Legumes like beans and lentils are fiber-rich. Don’t shy away from some processed foods that have been designed to be high in fiber. Some brands of pancake mixes, oatmeals, lentil and chickpea pastas all contain high amounts of fiber, which can help you get your fill.
3. REDUCE ADDED SUGAR
Rather than aggressively eliminate all sources of sugar from your diet, take it slow to build habits that last. Pick one food you eat that’s high in added sugar and find a suitable replacement for it that’s lower in added sugar. For example, instead of eating cookies for dessert every night, try a handful of semisweet or dark chocolate chips with walnuts. Try this for a week and see how this feels as a habit! Give yourself time to adjust to any habit change, especially when replacing or reducing sugar because it has a unique reward pathway in your brain. If you reduce sugar and find you’re craving it, it’s not because you have a weakness; rather, it’s because your reward system is trained to want it.
4. STEP UP YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE
Try increasing your exercise, no matter your current fitness level. If you don’t exercise at all, start by adding a 10 minute brisk walk daily and work your way up from there. If you currently exercise, try upping the intensity by running short distances, by adding strength training, or incorporating a HIIT workout. Any increase in your physical activity will help improve your blood sugar levels.
5. BE MINDFUL OF BEVERAGES
Lots of added sugar makes its way into our diets through beverages. General diabetes prevention recommendations include minimizing sugary beverages. Sodas, sweet coffees, and juice are obvious contributors, but don’t forget about alcoholic drinks! Wine, cocktails, ciders, and flavored beers all have sugar in them, and since many of these drinks don’t have nutrition labels, you have no idea how much these could be contributing to prediabetes. Even moderate drinkers who consume 1-2 drinks per day on average can improve blood sugar levels by reducing their weekly alcoholic beverage intake, especially if the alcoholic beverage is also a sugary beverage.