What Is Prediabetes?

By Kareen Turner, MPH, RD
diabetes needle

It's estimated that 86 million 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, 15 to 30 percent of people diagnosed with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within five years. Fortunately, changes in lifestyle — such as managing food choices, losing weight 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 overweight; or
  • You are younger than 45 years old but overweight 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

Studies have identified two effective strategies, to help manage prediabetes.

  1. Reduce your body weight by 7 percent. That’s about 15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds. A 7 percent weight loss may not put you at your goal weight but it is a step in the right direction toward managing your blood glucose levels and increasing your sensitivity to insulin.
  2. Get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. A great way to get started is by walking. Aim for 30 minutes of brisk walking five times a week.

A Healthy Meal Plan

Following a balanced diet and eating meals at consistent times can help with weight loss and 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.

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 and beans
  • Dairy – low-fat or fat-free yogurt, low-fat or fat-free milk, and low-fat cheese
  • 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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