A plate filled with salmon and salad.
One of the best meal plans for prediabetics is a Mediterranean diet.

What Is a Proper Prediabetes Diet?

Prediabetes is not officially considered a medical condition. However, it does significantly increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Fortunately, by following a prediabetes diet, it is possible to control prediabetes and prevent it from progressing further.

So, what is the best diet for prediabetes? Let’s take a look.

What Is Prediabetes?

People with prediabetes have higher-than-average blood glucose (sugar) levels. This is usually due to problems with a hormone called insulin. This hormone helps the body’s cells to take up sugar from the food we eat and convert it into energy. In prediabetes, this process does not happen as effectively as it should. In some cases, the body cannot make enough insulin to keep the blood sugar under control. In others, cells can become resistant to insulin’s effects.

In either situation, the result is elevated blood glucose levels. This can lead to type 2 diabetes and, over time, may damage the blood vessels, kidneys and heart.

Some people are at higher risk of developing prediabetes than others. Some factors that can contribute include:

  • Being aged 45 or over
  • Being overweight
  • Having a large waist
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Ethnicity
  • Smoking

People with certain medical conditions may also be more likely to develop prediabetes. They include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and sleep apnea.

Prediabetes is also associated with high blood pressure (hypertension) and raised cholesterol or triglyceride levels (dyslipidemia). Therefore, people at high risk of diabetes should have these monitored regularly alongside their glucose levels.

Prediabetes Warning Signs and Symptoms

Prediabetes does not usually cause any symptoms. However, one thing to look out for is areas of dark, thickened skin around the neck, armpits, or groins. This condition is called acanthosis nigricans and it is a warning sign of high blood sugar.

If prediabetes has already progressed to type 2 diabetes, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision

People with any of these symptoms should ask their doctor to run some tests, including an HbA1C reading. This test indicates average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. It is a relatively reliable measure of whether you are at risk of diabetes or prediabetes.

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What Is the Ideal Diet for Prediabetes?

In prediabetes, the body has difficulty utilizing sugar from food. Therefore, the best prediabetes diet should be low in sugar and processed carbohydrates. Meanwhile, it should contain plenty of fiber and protein, both of which slow the rate at which the body breaks sugars down. This helps to keep glucose levels more stable and prevents spikes and crashes.

One of the best ways to manage prediabetes it by eating a low glycemic index (GI) diet. All foods have GI ratings, which vary depending on how quickly the body breaks them down. Foods with a high GI rating release their energy very quickly, causing the blood sugar to rapidly rise and fall. On the other hand, low GI foods break down more slowly for steadier energy release.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to lower the GI ratings of your meals by making some simple substitutions. For example, switching white bread or pasta for wholemeal versions, and white rice for brown rice or other whole grains.

When eating sugary foods such as fruit, add some protein, such as low-fat yogurt or a small handful of nuts. This helps to lower the fruit’s GI by slowing down its digestion. It is also helpful to eat the skins of fruit and vegetables as they contain fiber and lower their overall GI. You can check the GI of many common foods using an online tool from the University of Sydney.

Other Recommended Prediabetes Diets

There are several other diets that may be beneficial for people with prediabetes, including:

  • The Mediterranean diet
  • The Nordic diet
  • Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
  • Vegetarian and vegan diets

In addition, it is necessary to consider portion size. Eating excess calories can lead to weight gain and can increase the risk of developing diabetes. Consider using a fitness tracking app to balance your calorie consumption against physical exercise.

Other tips include stopping eating just before you are full, not skipping meals and not eating late at night. It is also essential to stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water or other unsweetened beverages.

The Best and Worst Foods for Prediabetes

There are certain foods that are beneficial for people with prediabetes, and others that should be avoided. Some of the best and worst foods for prediabetes are as follows:

The best foods:

  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Low-sugar fruits (berries, kiwis)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Corn
  • Nuts and seeds (oats, quinoa, barley)
  • Whole grains
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Soy products (tofu)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Lean beef
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Olive oil

The worst foods:

  • Sweetened beverages
  • Jam, jelly, syrups
  • High-sugar fruit (mango, pineapple)
  • Low-nutrition snacks (chips, pretzels, crackers)
  • White bread
  • Baked goods
  • Fried foods
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Processed meat
  • Alcohol

If you are concerned about your risk of prediabetes, make an appointment with your physician or a qualified dietician. They will be able to offer you personalized guidance on the best prediabetes diet for you.