Prediabetes is shockingly prevalent with 13.6 million people in the UK at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Most worrying of all? The majority of people don’t even realise that they have it.
The best way to determine your risk of diabetes is to take a blood test. Abnormally high levels of blood glucose (blood sugar) mean that you might be in the ‘at-risk’ category.
It’s a scary prospect but there’s good news - you can slice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 50% if you implement the right lifestyle changes such as a good diet and regular exercise.
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What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes describes when the amount of blood glucose (sugar) in the body is at an abnormally high level, but below the level that would lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
But what does this actually mean?
Let’s break it down.
What is blood glucose?
Glucose is a sugar that’s carried through the bloodstream. It’s our main source of energy and we need it to fuel cells. The majority of glucose is acquired through food and drink but we can also produce and store a small amount of it in our bodies. This is why diet plays such an important role when it comes to type 2 diabetes.
When are blood glucose levels dangerously high?
When there’s too much glucose carried through the bloodstream, it damages the blood vessels over time. This means you’re more prone to serious health complications such as heart disease or a stroke.
Blood glucose levels become dangerously high when insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas) isn’t regulating blood sugar sufficiently. Insulin is needed to convert glucose into energy as it prepares the cells for absorption from the blood. When this is compromised in some way, blood glucose levels don’t fall as they should.
Blood glucose levels are directly related to your eating pattern - after you eat a meal, your blood sugar levels will rise, and fall again after a couple of hours. Insulin is automatically released by the body to create energy from glucose and excess glucose is stored as glycogen. However, if glucose levels are not sufficiently regulated by insulin - either because not enough insulin is being secreted, or the cells are becoming resistant - then too much sugar will be circulating the bloodstream.
You can check your blood sugar levels are in the ‘normal’ range by taking a finger prick test.
What are the symptoms of prediabetes?
As it’s largely symptomless, it’s important to take a blood test to measure whether your blood glucose levels are normal if you’re worried about prediabetes.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Excessive urination
- Increased thirst
- Blurred vision
- Unexplained hunger
- Sudden weight loss
- Cuts and wounds that take an unusually long time to heal
What causes prediabetes?
It’s not known exactly why some people have prediabetes and others don’t, but certain risk factors make you more predisposed to the condition.
These risk factors include:
- Genetics: People with a family history of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop the condition.
- Lack of physical activity: Keeping active helps your body to use up sugar.
- Being overweight, especially around the waist area: The more fatty tissue there is in the body, the more resistant to insulin the cells are.
- Age: Risk increases with age.
- Race and ethnicity: Although it’s unclear why, people with certain ethnicities are more likely to develop prediabetes than others, such as African-Caribbean, Black African, or South Asian.
- Smoking: Smokers are more likely to have a resistance to insulin.
- Diet: Following the wrong type of diet puts you at greater risk of developing prediabetes.
What’s the best diet for prediabetes?
There are two key points to bear in mind when it comes to following a good prediabetes diet plan:
- Consume foods and drinks that will help to keep your blood sugar levels steady
- If you’re overweight, follow a diet that leads to weight loss as being overweight is a major predictor of type 2 diabetes
As simple as it sounds, the question remains: what’s the best food for prediabetes?
When we consume certain foods and drinks, our sugar levels spike dramatically. This spike is more likely to occur when we consume carbohydrates - but this doesn’t mean carbs are bad. The volatility of your blood glucose levels depends on the nutritious content of the food you’re consuming. If you eat a meal that’s high in carbs but also contains a decent level of protein and fibre, then the impact on your blood glucose levels will slow. This means a fizzy drink packed with carbs and no other nutritional value will cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, but a meal that has a mix of carbs, protein and fibre will not have the same effect.
Even with a basic knowledge of a healthy prediabetes diet plan, selecting the right foods can still be confusing.
Here are the most important points to bear in mind when following a prediabetes diet:
- Don’t skip breakfast: Skipping breakfast can be tempting if you’re trying to lose weight, but a large study found that skipping the famously important meal can actually increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. In the absence of glucose consumption, your pancreas will release glucagon which will eventually be converted to glucose, meaning blood sugar levels can still rise without food intake. Without a nutrient-rich meal to balance your glucose levels, you’re vulnerable to poorer glucose control. Skipping breakfast has also been associated with unhealthier food choices throughout the day and poorer weight management.
- Decrease your sugar intake: We all love to indulge in a giant slice of chocolate cake every now and then but the tasty treat will cause your blood sugar levels to spike dramatically. Treats such as pastries, cakes and sweets that have a high sugar content but no protein or fibre will be quickly digested by the body and send your blood glucose levels into haywire. It’s important not to forget that the added sugar content in tea and coffee, fruit juices, and white bread will also have the same effect. Check the labels and avoid added sugar at all costs.
- Increase your fibre and protein intake: Meals that are high in fibre or protein will help to slow the digestive process meaning your blood glucose levels will remain steadier and you’ll feel fuller for longer.
- Avoid processed foods: Processed foods can be found everywhere but it’s important to try and opt for fresh food instead. Swap white bread for whole-grain bread and white rice for brown rice. Processed and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, white flour, sweets and some breakfast cereals) are more likely to make your sugar levels spike as they have little nutritional value to slow the digestion process.
Make sure you follow our 7-day prediabetes diet plan to get the best chance of steadying your blood sugar levels.
7-day prediabetes diet plan:
Download our prediabetes meal planner here.
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