Prediabetes – what is it and should you be worried?

I am seeing more and more people in my clinic coming to me with blood test results showing that they have prediabetes. Although it might not sound like it, this is actually a good thing. Knowing that your blood sugar is higher than it should be is an early warning sign that enables you to improve prediabetes and potentially stop type 2 diabetes from developing. So what is it and how can you improve prediabetes? 

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where blood sugar is higher than usual because the body is either not responding to the insulin that is being released or that not enough insulin is being produced. This causes blood sugar to go above a safe limit and stay high. This can cause problems with the kidneys, nerves and eyes. Prediabetes is as the name suggests: the stage before diabetes. It is when blood sugar is high, but not quite high enough to diagnose type 2 diabetes. It is measured by looking at red blood cells and seeing how much glucose is attached to them. This is called HbA1c and gives an average of blood sugar over the previous three months. Measuring HbA1c is really the only way you will know your have prediabetes as it has no symptoms, but it does mean you are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The good news is that you can improve prediabetes as it can be managed really effectively with diet and lifestyle changes, and in many cases these changes can prevent you ever developing type 2 diabetes. 

So here are five things you can do to improve prediabetic blood sugar control.

1. Reduce refined carbohydrates to improve prediabetes

Blood sugar is directly affected by the carbohydrate you eat. Refined carbohydrate means foods with fibre removed like white bread, white rice and white pasta and anything made from white flour, or foods with sugar in them like biscuits, cakes, sweets and chocolate, honey and syrups. These foods enter the blood stream very quickly and if your body is insulin resistant then your blood sugar will stay high increasing your HbA1c.

2. Reduce carbohydrate portion sizes

It isn’t just the type of carbohydrate though, it is also the amount of carbohydrate you eat. Aim for a fist size portion of carbohydrates at meals times and stick to around 4 portions a day. So this would be one at breakfast, lunch and dinner and the last portion split across snacks. Reducing your carbohydrate portions can improve prediabetes because it reduces the likelihood of blood sugar going too high.

3. Eat more fibre

Fibre is beneficial for improving prediabetes for a few reasons. It slows the breakdown of carbohydrate foods into glucose, meaning that blood sugar rises more slowly. It also feeds the useful bacteria in the gut, which in turn reduce inflammation in the body. Because chronic inflammation is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, this is an important factor. Fibre is found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds. To increase your fibre, aim for at least 5 handfuls of fruit and veg a day and replace some of the meat you eat with beans and lentils. Nuts make a great snack or add some fibre when sprinkled on salads, cereal and yogurt. 

improve prediabetes by eating more fibre

4. Reduce processed meat products

Processed meat like ham, sausages, salami and bacon have been linked with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Swap out these foods for chicken or fish to improve prediabetes, or add small amounts just for flavour. Smoked salmon and smoked mackerel have a similar flavour profile but without the risk.

5. Get 30mins movement a day

When we move, we use blood sugar and so it comes down. This is especially effective straight after eating carbohydrates. Even a small amount of movement can make a difference so don’t feel you have to go to the gym or go for a run. If you can go for a short walk after lunch or take the stairs instead of the lift on the way back to your desk, this can lower your blood sugar over the afternoon and improve prediabetes.