Prediabetes is an increasingly worrying health condition that affects roughly 88 million people in the US, which translates to around 1 in every 3 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s a serious condition in which your blood sugar is elevated yet not high enough to reach the level for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
What causes prediabetes?
The exact cause is not yet clear to the scientific community, but it’s often linked to insulin resistance. The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas and its role is to regulate the absorption of sugar — or glucose to be more accurate — into the cells.
You can think of insulin as the special key that provides glucose with access to the cells where it will eventually be used to make energy. Insulin resistance is when body cells don’t respond properly to this hormone, causing blood sugar to spike.
An estimated 9 out of 10 Americans with prediabetes don’t know they have it, but it is easy to understand why. As a nearly silent condition, it doesn’t present much in the way of symptoms, even though the skin around the neck, elbows, and armpits may darken in some people.
What’s more, detecting the condition is fairly easy using a common blood test like the Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) test. Someone is diagnosed with prediabetes if their FPG test returns a result of between 100 and 125.
Your physician may also order an A1C test, a more precise blood test that gives the average level of your blood sugar over the past three months. A1C results between 5.7% and 6.4% often indicate prediabetes.
Prediabetes & type 2 diabetes
If left untreated, prediabetes can turn into fully-fledged type 2 diabetes, a chronic health condition in which your body is unable to effectively absorb glucose for metabolism, resulting in high blood sugar. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to an array of health complications, from stroke and heart attack, to kidney disease, blindness, and a string of life-threatening infections.
While a prediabetes diagnosis should be a loud wake-up call, it doesn't imply that you will automatically get type 2 diabetes. Reversing prediabetes is possible with certain lifestyle changes. So, in some way, you can think of a prediabetes diagnosis as your second chance to keep type 2 diabetes at bay.
13 ways to reverse prediabetes, fast
Here’s 13 very achievable steps you can take right now to reverse prediabetes and rescue yourself from the jaws of type 2 diabetes. These lifestyle changes are cost-effective, safe, and effective in reversing prediabetes:
1. Lose some weight
Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of a raft of serious health conditions, ranging from heart disease and high blood pressure to stroke, diabetes, and even cancer. It is also associated with reduced insulin sensitivity, which, in turn, can fuel prediabetes’ progression to type 2 diabetes.
What’s more, insulin resistance seems to increase dramatically when someone has a larger waist circumference (which is often considered a waist size of 40+ inches for men and 35+ inches for women), as noted by scientists in a 2011 study.
If you are overweight, one of the most effective ways to improve insulin sensitivity, lower your blood sugar, and therefore reverse prediabetes is to shed some weight. It may also help preserve the function of beta cells, which are highly-specialized pancreatic cells responsible for insulin production.
That said, the CDC recommends losing between 5% and 7% of your weight if you’re diagnosed with prediabetes. That means losing around 10-15 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds, which is possible for most Americans.
Even though reducing your weight by 10 pounds might seem insignificant, it can make a notable difference in improving your blood sugar if you have been diagnosed with prediabetes.
According to an extensive study carried out by the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP), overweight prediabetes patients who shed between 5% and 7% of their body weight reduced their odds of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis by up to 58%. That’s more than half!
The best way to lose weight when diagnosed with prediabetes is to embrace a lifestyle change that combines regular exercise and healthy eating. But don’t get embroiled in the war of numbers (carbs, calories, fats, etc.) Yes, it’s important to watch your calorie intake, but that doesn’t mean that every carb is a no-go.
Consider loading up your plate with veggies, berries, and other fruits, as well as reducing your consumption of processed food. Don't overlook whole grains and healthy proteins like lentils, beans, barley, oats, and quinoa. Watch your food portions, too. For example, it may be beneficial for reversing prediabetes to switch from eating a few larger meals to several smaller meals throughout the day.
Sticking to a weight-loss routine isn’t always easy. That’s why you need to go the extra mile to keep yourself motivated and stay the course. Aside from signing up for a gym membership, consider joining a local weight loss support network, working with an accountability buddy, or enlisting the help of a personal trainer.
2. Exercise a Few Times a Week
A sedentary lifestyle is in and of itself a risk factor for both diabetes and prediabetes. Lack of physical activity allows cells to slack off and gradually lose their sensitivity to insulin.
In light of this, regular exercise is one of the best ways to not only lose weight, stay in shape, and feel better, but also cut your risk for diabetes if you’re prediabetic. It encourages your muscle cells to absorb more glucose to be utilized for metabolism and thus lowers the level of sugar in your bloodstream.
As far as blood sugar regulation goes, exercise is the gift that keeps on giving. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) couldn’t agree more, saying a workout can continue lowering your blood sugar for up to 24 hours after the fact.
The evidence is clear that exercise not only improves your energy, but also reduces insulin resistance, allowing your body cells to respond to insulin properly.
Just like weight loss or dieting, it helps to ease into your exercise routine. You don’t have to subject your body to intense workouts right away to witness positive results. In fact, you may end up with extremely sore muscles and lose the much-needed motivation to continue exercising.
As an exercising newcomer, kick off your routine with light, short exercises that last around 15 – 20 minutes. After a few days of light physical activity, you can then slowly increase the length and intensity of your exercises. When you have reached your peak, you should be able to do a moderate workout of between 30 minutes and an hour for at least five days per week.
Ideal physical activities you can take up to alleviate prediabetes include:
- Playing sports
- Strength training
- Walking, and running.
Again, you should always aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week as an adult. So, if you enjoy jogging, you can break your weekly workout down into five daily jogs of at least 30 minutes.
Your exercise routine will deliver better results sooner if you couple it with a healthy diet low in simple sugar and rich in healthy fats, whole grains, veggies, and fruits. In addition to a healthy diet, it also pays to have an exercising accountability buddy to help you stick to your workout routine. You can work with a personal trainer, join a local gym, or reach out to a friend, family, or a coworker.
3. Walk 30 minutes every day
Cannot work out for various reasons? Perhaps it has been quite a while since the last time you worked out, or you have a motion-limiting condition like arthritis. The goal here is to become more active and get moving, so working out isn’t the only option you have to beat prediabetes.
Simply walking around for 30 minutes or more a day can have a significant impact when reversing prediabetes. After all, walking is one of the most popular and simplest ways to build more physical activity into your lifestyle.
Walking has been found to help reduce the likelihood of developing not only diabetes but also stroke, heart disease, hypertension, and several forms of cancer. It may be as effective as running and vigorous exercises in reducing the risk of type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
Walking should be an integral part of your prediabetes treatment plan, and with good reason. As an effective form of exercise, it helps you burn more calories, raze more fats, and lose weight. When you walk at a brisk pace, you will not just shed weight quicker; the refreshing aspect of the walk may help you feel better, think well, and even sleep better.
Be creative. Stair walking, for instance, might also be a better way to boost your energy and mental focus than sipping a cup of coffee. It improves oxygen circulation throughout the body and increases energy-enhancing hormones like norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol.
More importantly, walking improves your blood sugar and thus increases insulin sensitivity, reversing prediabetes. In a 2016 Diabetologia study, researchers concluded that walking 11 miles every week (slightly more than 1.5 miles daily) can be as effective in reversing diabetes as a treatment plan incorporating weight loss, exercise, and dieting.
4. Eat raspberries, drink smoothies, get more fiber
Red raspberries may be just what the doctor prescribed if you have prediabetes. According to a 2019 study conducted by scientists at the Clinical Nutrition Research Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology, people who consumed frozen red raspberries showed lower blood sugar, lower insulin, and for those who had a full two cups of frozen berries, lower triglycerides after a high carb, moderate fat meal. Raspberries may be hugely beneficial for patients with prediabetes, insulin resistance, and type-2 diabetes.
The study published in 2019 in the journal Obesity involved 32 participants aged between 20 and 60 who were given high carbohydrate breakfasts with moderate amounts of fat, along with either 1 or two cups of frozen red raspberries, on three occasions, with a control group receiving no raspberries. Researchers noted that those who took raspberry-rich breakfasts had lower levels of blood sugar than those who ate raspberry-free breakfasts, indicating that raspberries have potential blood sugar-lowering properties that can be helpful in reversing prediabetes.
Aside from the anti-diabetic benefits, these sweet, tart fruits have also been found to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties which may lower the risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke.
That’s not the end of the good news; the humble raspberry is also low in carbs and chock full of vitamins and dietary fiber. Every 1-cup serving of raspberries boasts 14.7 grams of carbs and 8 grams of dietary fiber, which means fiber makes up more than half of the carbohydrates in each serving!
Raspberries are also rich in colorful compounds called anthocyanins, also found aplenty in other berries like red grapes, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries. These compounds have been linked to a positive effect on cholesterol levels, lower insulin resistance, and reduced fasting plasma sugar levels.
Moreover, red raspberries have high tannin content, which are compounds that play a role in blocking alpha-amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch. By doing so, tannin-rich raspberries may lower the number of carbs and calories absorbed into the blood after you eat. The net benefit is that tannins may improve the glucose levels in the blood.
Together, these groundbreaking benefits make raspberries one of the most prediabetic and diabetic-friendly fruit snacks.
5. Eat at specific times throughout the day (intermittent fasting!)
Intermittent fasting (IF) — an eating approach in which you limit your food consumption to specific times throughout the day — is all the rage right now in the health and wellness space. There are several different types of intermittent fasting, including the popular 5:2 and 16/8. The principle is the same for each IF method: you must go through alternating periods of fasting and eating.
Several research studies suggest that intermittent fasting may be useful in a variety of ways for people with prediabetes. For instance, in a five-week study conducted by researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, one group of prediabetic men was put on a 6-hour intermittent fasting diet while those in the control group were allowed to consume food in a 12-hour window.
After five weeks, scientists saw a striking improvement in blood pressure, beta-cell function, and insulin sensitivity in the intermittent fasting group. If that wasn’t exciting enough, there was a noticeable drop in the appetite of men in the IF group, as well.
Intermittent fasting may also help you lose weight and keep it off which, as we’ve already discussed, is important for people with prediabetes. How so? First and foremost, people on an IF diet tend to consume fewer calories. More exciting is that research has shown that IF can help increase amounts of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, boost growth hormone levels, and lower insulin levels, resulting in more fat breakdown and use for energy.
Overall, intermittent fasting can elevate your metabolism by well over 3.6%. When you think about it, IF helps with weight loss from both sides of the equation. It doesn’t just reduce your calorie intake through reduced appetite and lower food consumption; it also enhances calorie burning or output.
At the same time, intermittent fasting has two noteworthy direct benefits for patients with prediabetes, according to findings of a 2014 study. It lowers blood sugar levels by 3-6% and increases insulin resistance by between 20% and 31%. As such, it helps protect you from developing type 2 diabetes.
6. Watch what you eat and drink
Every treatment plan for prediabetes has a diet component. Healthy eating is non-negotiable, all the more important if you’re overweight. You must watch what goes into your body, lest it tip the scale in favor of diabetes.
While there’s no single best diet for prediabetes, healthy foods you can nourish your body with should meet at least two criteria: the food i) must not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar, or ii) must not worsen insulin resistance.
Foods that rank low on the Glycemic Index (GI) are great for prediabetes as they are less likely to affect your blood sugar. Here you’ll find dark leafy veggies, seafood, whole grains, legumes, and much more.
- Non-starchy vegetables like carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, snow peas, cucumbers, celery, spinach, lettuce, and other field greens.
- Seafood: Fish and other seafood are often low in carbs and high in potassium, healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), and protein. You won’t go wrong with pollock, tilapia, herring, mackerel, clams, crab, tuna, or shrimp. Portions are super important here — don’t go crazy on the shrimp!
- Legumes: Here’s another protein-rich group of foods that are prediabetic-friendly. Because most legumes have significant carb content, you must always watch your portions. Peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, and soy products have loads of potassium, dietary fiber, and healthy plant proteins, a haven diet for prediabetes.
- Whole grains: These are primary sources of good dietary fiber, but you must avoid overly-processed grain products. Stick to whole-grain pasta, cereal, bread, steel-cut oats, quinoa, whole barley, and brown rice. Most of these rank medium on the GI scale, so you should go slow on them.
- Lean meats: There's good and bad news about meats for prediabetics. The good news is that it has no carbohydrates, but the bad news comes in the form of higher saturated fat content. It's generally recommended that you go for lean meats like chicken without skin, lean beef cuts, and skinless turkey, among others.
None of this is to suggest that you should cut off carbs; however, the trick is to play safe with portion control. A general rule of thumb is to load roughly half your plate with non-starchy veggies while a quarter should be dedicated to proteins. The final quarter should be filled with low-GI starchy foods like peas, corn, sweet potatoes, and potatoes.
7. Try to steer clear from these foods
Reversing prediabetes starts with healthy eating, and that often means staying away from certain foods that may result in blood sugar spikes.
The first rule of thumb is to cut down on simple carbs and get rid of sweetened beverages altogether. These easy-release carbs are usually loaded with sugar, plus they usually have no protein, fat, or fiber that can help slow down digestion. As such, they cause your blood sugar to skyrocket and, consequently, increase your chances of getting diabetes.
Refined carbohydrates are another class of foods that spells bad news for anyone on a mission to reverse prediabetes. Examples are juice, soda, white rice, russet potatoes, processed-wheat pasta, and white bread. They rank very high on the Glycemic Index because they tend to be digested very quickly in your gastrointestinal tract. You should try to stay away from these refined carbohydrates whenever possible in order to to reverse prediabetes.
Most baked goods, condiments, dressings, and spreads may have added sugar. You should limit intake of your favorite sweet and savory foods, like sweets, desserts, candy, honey, sweet tea, punch, agave, syrups, sweetened yogurt, jellies, jams, and all sorts of pastries.
Foods with “empty calories” like white pasta, crackers, pretzels, and chips should be eliminated from your diet, as well. Their carbs have very little to.
Try to limit or avoid alcohol. Some beers have "empty calories" while certain cocktails are jam-packed with sugar. If you must drink alcohol, make sure you have a glass of water handy to avoid dehydration.
8. Cut Sugar from your diet
Cutting sugar is a great way to stay on top of your blood sugar, and it is one major step towards reversing prediabetes. Weaning yourself off a sugar-rich diet won't be a small feat, so you must break your sugar-quitting journey down into small, easily manageable steps.
The first step involves substituting your high-sugar drinks and foods like soda, desserts, etc. with healthier yet palatable alternatives like smoothies and dried fruit. Dates, apricots, and other dried fruits are not only sweet and tasty but also packed with dietary fiber that slows digestion and keeps you full for longer.
Freshly-juiced smoothies are usually tasty, and you can choose what goes into them. Still, keep your smoothies simple; a little dash of protein powder, fresh fruit, and ice should do the trick. Added sweeteners are a big no-no.
Note that smoothies and dried fruit are not ideal for someone trying to reverse prediabetes. The idea here is to trick your palate into forgetting about sugar without actually going cold turkey.
The next step is to swap smoothies and processed fruit for whole fruits. Processed fruit usually has quick-acting carbohydrates that can easily disrupt your blood sugar levels upon consumption. Whole fruits, especially when eaten complete with the skin on (don't forget to wash them properly), have significant amounts of dietary fiber which can be useful in reversing prediabetes.
At this stage, you probably still need to eat several whole fruits to sate your sugar cravings. But at some point, you will start losing your "sweet tooth," and that's the ultimate goal of this multi-step approach.
Even so, you’ll still want to consume some fruits for their goodies like vitamins, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, but limit your portion size to a cup or less per serving. And remember that fruits high in fiber and antioxidants can benefit your diet substantially.
Furthermore, pair your fruit with a protein source like a hard-boiled egg, a handful of seeds or nuts, cheese sticks, or plain yogurt. It will help reduce the pace at which fruit is digested and lower the rate of glucose absorption into the bloodstream.
9. Drink a plenty of water
As it has no calories, no carbs, and no sugar, water is an ideal drink for reversing prediabetes. It’s also a crucial component of a healthy diet or an effective weight loss program. On a more on-topic note, several studies have suggested that water could play a role in controlling blood sugar levels.
First of all, water is a healthier and more convenient alternative to sugary smoothies, fruit juices, and sweetened beverages. In essence, water can help you cut down on your sugar intake, limit spikes in blood glucose levels, and therefore prevent type 2 diabetes.
In a 2011 study published in the journal Diabetes Care, participants who drank plenty of water (defined as over a liter of water every day) were 28% less likely to develop new-onset hyperglycemia, a diabetes-related condition marked by high blood sugar.
Even though more research is still required, scientists noted the hormone vasopressin — whose levels go up when you're dehydrated — as a potential risk factor for diabetes. By the same token, staying properly hydrated may reduce the chances of increased levels of vasopressin and, as a result, minimize the odds of developing diabetes.
So, how much water is plenty when reversing prediabetes? The right quantity of water you should take every day will greatly depend on your activity level, body size, and where you live. Ideally, men should drink 3.7 liters while women should aim for 2.7 liters per day, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
10 Consider going to a dietitian
Keeping track of all the dietary and lifestyle changes that you should make to reverse prediabetes can be quite overwhelming, if not completely daunting. That’s where a nutritionist or dietitian will come in handy.
An appointment with a qualified dietitian can place you on the right track to reversing prediabetes. They can help you draft a clear weight-loss plan that’s tailored to your specific situation.
If you have a food sensitivity or a digestive disorder like Crohn's disease, IBS, or lactose intolerance, a dietitian has the right tools and know-how to guide you through the process of reversing prediabetes without worsening the condition.
All in all, a dietitian will help you forge the way forward and learn what pitfalls to avoid in this all-important journey. After all, changing habits and sticking to them can be tricky. It helps to have a friendly professional on your side.
11. Stop smoking
If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes and you smoke, you should consider quitting immediately. It's well-documented that smokers are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer, kidney disease, and heart disease. But did you know smoking also increases the risk of prediabetes, insulin resistance, and diabetes?
According to the CDC, those who smoke are 30-40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. What’s more, if you continue to smoke after getting diabetes, your blood glucose levels may be more difficult to control.
However you look at it, now's the time to start smoking cessation. The good thing is that you can easily get the help you need. If you are not a heavy smoker, you might successfully quit smoking with the help of nicotine gum, nicotine patches, and other alternatives.
For the best results, you should ask your physician about prescription drugs and programs that can make your smoking cessation easier.
12. Make sure you get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for almost every aspect of your health and well-being. When you have prediabetes, the stakes couldn't be higher. Sleep deprivation can cause mood problems, reduce productivity, and make it much harder for you to lose weight.
Too little sleep can worsen insulin resistance and make it difficult to control your blood sugar, according to findings of a 2016 study. If you regularly can’t get a healthy amount of sleep, your prediabetes is more likely to advance into type 2 diabetes.
7-8 hours of restful sleep a night are great for reversing prediabetes. Keep off coffee, alcohol, and other caffeinated drinks in the hours before bedtime if you want better sleep. Embrace a regular sleep routine, as well as a quiet and calm bedtime regimen.
13. Avoid stressful situations
There's no place for stress in your quest to reverse prediabetes. Depression and anxiety can harm your sleep and weight loss plan. Some people may also overindulge in unhealthy foods, skip exercising, smoke heavily, or consume more alcohol when they are stressed.
What's even worse, stress can affect your insulin and blood sugar levels, which eventually leads to diabetes. When you are stressed, your body produces more cortisol, a hormone that increases blood pressure, causes muscles to tense, and increases your heartbeat.
At the same time, cortisol influences another hormone called glucagon, which triggers the liver to release more glucose into the bloodstream in anticipation of action. While this response can have its advantages in a flight-or-fight scenario, this can be damaging for anyone with prediabetes.