Prediabetes can be a confusing diagnosis. It’s not diabetes, so what is it? Prediabetes is a condition where the sugar (glucose) in your blood is higher than normal, but not high enough that you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Knowledge of, or diagnosis of pre-diabetes, can be helpful in preventing type 2 diabetes.
It is important to be aware of pre-diabetes because you may have it, but not feel any physical symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider about the possibility of being screened for pre-diabetes, especially if you have a family history of pre-diabetes or diabetes. Other risk factors for pre-diabetes include age over 45 and race. Obviously you can’t do anything about family history, age and race, but there are other risk factors that you’re able to change and decrease your risk for pre-diabetes. Those risk factors are: too little physical activity, overweight status, unhealthy eating habits, smoking and tobacco use, and high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.
Prediabetes screening is done with a simple blood test to evaluate either your fasting blood glucose (BG) or your A1c (measure of blood glucose over the past 2-3 months). A fasting BG less than 100 mg/dl or A1c 5.6 or below are considered normal, whereas fasting BG 100 to 125 mg/dl and A1c 5.7-6.4 would diagnose pre-diabetes. A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes would come from a fasting BG over 126 or an A1c over 6.5.
Even before talking with your healthcare provider or having a pre-diabetes screening, you can take steps to prevent your risk for developing prediabetes. Physical activity works like medicine to bring down blood sugar – it is a powerful tool! Start where you are, increase your minutes of activity each week or month. Even the act of standing up and walking across the room every 60 minutes has a beneficial effect on blood sugar.
Healthy eating is another powerful tool. Again, start where you are and make small changes to decrease the amount of processed carbohydrates and added sugars. Or start with adding non-starchy veggies (fresh, frozen, or canned) with one meal a day. Try this trick: draw an imaginary line down half of your plate, and fill that side with as many non-starchy veggies as you can. On the other half of the plate, fill one quarter with lean protein, and the other quarter with carbohydrates/starches. Note: potatoes, peas, and corn, while vegetables, contain more carbohydrate and starch and raise blood sugar more than other vegetables, so they belong in the smaller, quarter portion of the plate.
Modest weight loss can also have a big impact on blood sugars and how the body uses glucose from the bloodstream after a meal.
Two other things that affect blood sugar are sleep and stress. Try to get seven hours of sleep each night. Try stress-relieving strategies such as walking, meditation, or whatever feels comfortable for you.
If you are working on lifestyle behaviors to decrease risk of pre-diabetes, remember to start where you are and think of prevention as a process. Small steps, taken over time, yield big results!