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Prediabetes: 4 Ways to Prevent Diabetes

Prediabetes puts you on the fast track to the full-blown illness. Take these simple steps and learn how to prevent diabetes.

Just “a touch of sugar?”

If you have prediabetes—it means you have higher-than-normal levels of blood sugar, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. You’ll no doubt want to know how to prevent diabetes from developing. Just like type 2 diabetes itself, prediabetes is linked to complications associated with the disease, such as nerve damage, blindness, and amputation. Many times it’s curable with exercise and a healthier diet, but once it progresses, it’s significantly harder to treat. Here are four simple lifestyle changes you can make to prevent diabetes.

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Lose extra weight

The landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study, which followed 3,234 people with prediabetes for three years, revealed that everyday changes could produce results: Switching up eating habits helped participants lose weight while more physical activity reduced insulin resistance and the risk for diabetes. The surprising part? Trimming just 5 to 7 percent of their body weight (that’s 12.5 pounds for a 180-pound person) and exercising slashed the odds of developing type 2 diabetes in adults at high risk for the disease by a whopping 58 percent. You can improve glycemic control by losing what’s known as visceral fat—the deep belly fat that settles in your torso, wraps itself around your internal organs, and messes with your liver’s ability to regulate blood sugar.

How to prevent diabetes

Start with shrinking your servings. “Getting back to healthy serving sizes is an important part of what we teach in prediabetes classes,” says Sara Painter, RD, a certified diabetes educator at the Deaconess Health System’s Diabetes Center in Evansville, Indiana. Not interested in pulling out the measuring cups and scale? A study published in 2017 in the journal Obesity found that eating prepackaged, portion-controlled meals can lead to greater weight loss than figuring out portion size on your own. Try this: Reserve half of your plate for vegetables and fruit, one-fourth for lean protein like chicken, fish, or lean red meat, and one-fourth for a starch like potatoes or rice (and avoid making one of these mistakes prediabetics make when trying to shed a few pounds).

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Don’t downplay your diagnosis

If your doctor tells you that you have prediabetes or if you know that you’re at high risk for diabetes, you may have time to turn things around. But the clock is ticking. In each year after being diagnosed with prediabetes, 5 to 10 percent will develop type 2 diabetes, putting them at higher risk for serious diabetes complications like heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, vision loss, kidney failure, and even foot or leg amputation. Another important reason to act now: The health risks aren’t all in the distant future. Prediabetes alone boosts your risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a review of studies published in 2016 in the journal BMJ.

How to prevent diabetes

Don’t wait for your doctor to tell you that you have prediabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans has prediabetes, and more than 84 percent of them don’t know it.

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Keep moving

Exercise packs a four-way punch against diabetes: It helps you lose weight, shrinks abdominal fat, makes your muscles “suck up” more sugar from your blood, and increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Need more convincing? Researchers found 10 science-backed reasons diabetics should work out. But you don’t have to become an Olympic sprinter to reap these benefits. Just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) five days a week can make a difference, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). (Read more workout tips for people with diabetes.)

How to prevent diabetes

Start with short walks, or walk just a few days of the week, then build up gradually from there. Try pacing in your house while talking on the phone, parking far from the entrance at work or at the store, or just marching in place in your living room during TV commercials. You start reaping in the benefits after just 15 minutes of walking. Your goal is to battle “sitting disease.” Research published in a 2016 issue of Diabetes Care showed that, for adults with type 2 diabetes, breaking up bouts of sitting every half hour with three minutes’ worth of movement—a leisurely walk or simple resistance moves such as standing push-ups against a wall or counter—improves blood glucose levels, compared with uninterrupted sitting.

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Eat plenty of fiber

A crunchy salad, hearty three-bean chili, fruit for dessert. High-fiber foods like these are delicious, fill you up, and protect against type 2 diabetes in three ways: First, they can help with weight loss. Second, they can help control blood sugar after meals. Finally, many of these foods contain other nutrients, such as magnesium and chromium, which help your body regulate blood sugar. A study published in 2019 in The Lancet found that eating fiber-rich foods reduced the incidence of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and colorectal cancer by 16 to 24 percent. And yet research suggests most of us aren’t getting enough. The Institute of Medicine recommends 19 to 38 grams of fiber per day, and only 5 percent of Americans are getting that much, according to research published in a 2017 issue of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

How to prevent diabetes

Order two kinds of veggies (like peppers, onions, broccoli, or mushrooms) on a slice of pizza. Start the day with a smoothie (whirl fresh or frozen fruit with yogurt in your blender). Instead of chips and dip, snack on baby carrots and low-fat salad dressing.

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What’s your prediabetes risk?

If you want to know how to prevent diabetes, first you need to know your prediabetes risk. You’ve got prediabetes if you have a reading between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL on a fasting blood sugar test or a reading of 5.7 to 6.4 percent on an A1c check (which reveals your average blood sugar over the past two to three months), according to the ADA. Haven’t had a blood sugar check lately? According to the CDC, you’re at higher risk for prediabetes if you:

• Are 45 years of age or older
• Are overweight
• Have a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
• Have a family background that is African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
• Developed diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes) or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more
• Are physically active less than three times a week

If you are at risk, actively prevent developing diabetes by adding these 71 healthy habits to your routine.

Sources
  • Diabetes Care: "The Diabetes Prevention Program."
  • Obesity: “Randomized Clinical Trial of Portion-Controlled Prepackaged Foods to Promote Weight Loss.”
  • World Journal of Diabetes:“Prediabetes Diagnosis and Treatment: A Review.”
  • BMJ: “Association Between Prediabetes and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and All Cause Mortality: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”
  • Diabetes Care: “Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association.”
  • Diabetes Care: "Benefits for Type 2 Diabetes of Interrupting Prolonged Sitting With Brief Bouts of Light Walking or Simple Resistance Activities.”
  • The Lancet: "High Intake of Dietary Fiber and Whole Grains Associated with Reduced Risk of Non-Communicable Diseases."
  • American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Closing America's Fiber Intake Gap."
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Prediabetes: Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes."
  • American Diabetes Association: "Diagnosing Diabetes and Learning About Prediabetes"
  • Sara Painter, RD, certified diabetes educator, Deaconess Health System’s Diabetes Center, Evansville, Indiana
Medically reviewed by Susan E. Spratt, MD, on August 11, 2019