Prediabetes Diet Plan: Risks, Foods, & Lifestyle Changes

Reviewed by Garima Singh, MSc, DNHE, DDHN
Written by Charushila Biswas, MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist

A prediabetes diet is recommended for people with high blood sugar levels that may progress to diabetes. Prediabetes is a warning bell. It is a condition where the blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be labeled as diabetes yet (1). It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that by 2030,about 84 million Americans and 470 million people in the world may have prediabetes (2), (3). It’s time to devise a nutritional and lifestyle strategy to curb disease progression and potentially reverse prediabetes.

You can go on a prediabetes diet, a holistic approach encompassing a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. It helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and other health issues (4). In this post, nutritionists specializing in diabetes treatment recommend some foods to eat and avoid, a prediabetes menu plan, and lifestyle changes needed to reverse prediabetes. Scroll down!

What Is Prediabetes? What Causes It?

Prediabetes is a condition in which the blood glucose levels are higher than normal (fasting plasma glucose at 7.0) but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Diana Gariglio-Clelland (RD, Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist) says, “Having prediabetes is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Up to 70% of people with prediabetes are estimated to get diabetes in their lifetime, according to an expert panel from the American Diabetes Association.” (5)

What causes prediabetes? Jill Weisenberger (MS, RDN, CDCES, CHWC, FAND, and Author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide) explains, “Prediabetes is a sign of a greater metabolic problem involving insulin resistance, loss of insulin production, or both.” Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps lower blood sugar levels.

Mary Wirtz (MS, RDN, CSSD) breaks down the main contributors of prediabetes (6):

  • Family history and genetics
  • Diet and lifestyle factors (such as physical inactivity, stress, insomnia, drinking too much, and smoking)
  • Overweight and obesity as well as undernutrition in case of type 1 diabetes
  • Insulin resistance and early beta-cell failure to produce insulin

Note: Not everyone diagnosed with prediabetes will become diabetic, provided they work towards healing themselves.

Given that there are so many factors that contribute to developing prediabetes, who is at more risk of developing it? Find out in the following section.

Who Is At More Risk Of Prediabetes?

The CDC mentions a list of people who are more likely to develop prediabetes (2). You may develop prediabetes if:

  • You are overweight or obese.
  • Have an increased waist size (>40” for men and >35” for women).
  • Have a strong family history of diabetes.
  • Are over 45 years of age.
  • Consume a very processed diet.
  • Are physically inactive.
  • Smoke regularly.
  • Have PCOS.
  • Have gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy).
  • Are African-American, Hispanic/Latino-American, American-Indian, Pacific Islander, or Asian-American.

Before you jump to conclusions, you must know the tell-tale signs of prediabetes and how to confirm it. In the following section, you will learn about the symptoms and diagnosis of prediabetes. Scroll down.

Symptoms And Diagnosis

Unlike many other diseases and conditions, prediabetes does not have any symptoms. However, if you have a family history of diabetes or are overweight or obese, have PCOS, and are over 45 years of age, it is a good idea to get your blood glucose levels checked. Gariglio-Clelland says, “The most accurate way to diagnose prediabetes is through a hemoglobin A1C test (HBA1C), which measures your average blood sugar over the past 60-90 days. A normal A1C is below 5.7, whereas prediabetes is diagnosed with an A1C of 5.7-6.4 (6.5 is the beginning of the diabetes range).”

If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, switch to a prediabetes diet. A study published in the journal Nature confirms that a poor quality diet poses an increased risk of developing prediabetes (7). A study was conducted on the dietary pattern of 1761 Chinese people of 45-59 years of age for over a year. The researchers concluded that a Western-pattern diet posed a higher risk of prediabetes compared to a diet comprising of grains and vegetables (8).

A BMJ analysis reports that a low-calorie and low-carbohydrate diet is a promising nutritional intervention for prediabetes (9). What are these foods that are nutritious yet low in calories and carbs? Which foods are high in carbs? Check out the list of prediabetes foods to eat and avoid below.

Prediabetes Diet Foods List As Per Expert Recommendations

Prediabetes diet is all about making smart food choices. Mary Wirtz (MS, RDN, CSSD) advises, “Consider substituting fresh fruit or a handful of almonds for your nightly bowl of ice cream.” She adds, “Also, there are many nutritious foods to include regularly – vegetables, fruits, grains (ideally whole grains, more than 50% of the time), protein including fish, skinless poultry, beans and lentils, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats.”

Jill Weisenberger (MS, RDN, CDCES, CHWC, FAND, and Author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide) says, “I always recommend avoiding sugary drinks like sodas and teas. They are linked to an increased risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. I’m a big fan of a Mediterranean-style diet to dial back prediabetes. I also recommend low GI foods like oats and barley because they have the fiber called beta-glucan, which helps improve insulin sensitivity.”  Diana Gariglio-Clelland (RD, Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist) advises limiting sugar-sweetened beverages, refined carbs like sweets, white bread, etc., and focus on whole foods instead of overly-processed foods that are low in fiber and nutrients.

Keeping the experts’ recommendations in mind, here’s a downloadable list of foods to eat and avoid if you have prediabetes.


Prediabetes diet plan for people with high blood sugar levels

Weisenberger also reminds us not to overeat. She says, “Reducing your food intake will lessen insulin resistance even without large amounts of weight loss. For those people who are overweight or obese , I recommend aiming to lose 5-7% of your starting weight.” Also, practice portion control to get maximum benefits. Also don’t eat when not hungry and eat when you are. Listen to your body. But if you are not sure how to design your diet, here’s a sample prediabetes diet chart to get you started. Take a look!

Sample Prediabetes Diet Chart

MealsWhat To Eat
 Early Morning (6:00a.m.) 2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds soaked in a cup of water overnight
 Breakfast (7:00a.m.)2 soft-boiled eggs (or baked beans) + 4 almonds + 1 cup milk (or soy milk or green tea)
 Mid Morning (10:00a.m.)1 cup muskmelon/1 apple + ½ cup plain yogurt
 Lunch (12:30p.m.)3-5 oz tuna/chicken/tofu + 1 cup boiled/raw vegetables + ½ cup greens + 350 ml buttermilk
 Snack (3:30p.m.)1 cup green tea + 1 digestive biscuit
 Dinner (6:30p.m.)1 cup lentil soup with veggies or 3 oz. grilled fish with vegetables + 1 cup milk with a pinch of turmeric before bed

One may also add apple cider vinegar to the diet as it helps managing the blood glucose greatly.

Apart from eating healthy, you must also tweak your lifestyle. Here’s a list of favorable lifestyle changes that can help reverse prediabetes.

 Prediabetes Lifestyle Changes

Data suggests that lifestyle changes decrease the risk of prediabetes progressing to diabetes for about 10 years (10)! Here are the recommended lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise Regularly

Exercising is extremely beneficial if you are overweight, obese, or have PCOS. The American Diabetes Association confirms that exercising helps manage blood glucose levels (11). Working out also helps burn calories and improves fitness, balance, limb and eye coordination, reflex, and flexibility. Most importantly, exercising regularly helps release endorphins that improve your mood and mental wellbeing.

Choose an exercise routine that you love, have fun doing, and can adhere to. If you love sports, play sports to stay active. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends engaging in 30 minutes of brisk walking or an exercise of your choice daily to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (2). You can choose running, swimming, dancing, bodyweight exercises, weight lifting, HIIT, kickboxing, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all here. Mix up your workout routine (cardio and strength training every alternate day) to get the maximum output.

  • Sleep Well

Poor sleeping habits, not getting enough sleep, and sleep disorders are closely related to developing diabetes. Scientists believe a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, increased food intake, insulin resistance, and overuse of alcohol are interlinked with poor sleep quality and diabetes risk (12).

This is another reason to exercise regularly and eat healthily. Rebalancing the hormones, reducing inflammation and hunger hormones, and improving mental wellbeing are key to improving your sleep (13), (14). Turn off your electronic gadgets, read a book, and maintain a strict bedtime to sleep well.

  • Manage Stress

A study found a significant association between hypertension, physical activity, BMI, and diabetes. Scientists found that moderate to high stress levels caused a 2.3-fold increase in the odds of diabetes three years later (15). Reducing stress comes with practice and patience.

For starters, exercise to release the beneficial endorphins. Gradually get into practicing meditation. Pick up a hobby and learn a new skill to keep yourself occupied. Keep short-term goals and reward yourself for every milestone you achieve.

These are the main lifestyle changes that can help you reverse prediabetes and prevent it from progressing to full-blown diabetes. However, are dietary and lifestyle interventions enough? Scroll down to know more.

Are Food And Lifestyle Changes Enough To Reverse Prediabetes?

Food and lifestyle changes are effective most of the time. However, factors leading to prediabetes are complex, and different people respond differently to dietary and lifestyle interventions. Wirtz agrees. She says, “Each individual is truly different, though it [diet and lifetsyle] plays a large role in helping to prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes.”

The best way to know if you are responding to nutritional therapy and lifestyle change intervention is to get your blood glucose checked every four weeks. Talk to your doctor to see if you need to go on medications.

The prediabetes diet plan aims at managing your blood sugar levels and preventing progression to type-2 diabetes. The diet involves eating whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, skinless poultry, lentils, beans, and low-fat dairy and excludes all processed junk foods/drinks. Also, consume fiber-rich foods like oats to improve insulin sensitivity. Follow the diet chart and consume the list of foods mentioned above to kick-start your journey toward a diabetes-free life. Also, you need to make changes to your lifestyle by way of exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, leading a stress-free life, and getting a good night’s sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the treatments for prediabetes?

Changing your diet and lifestyle works well to reverse prediabetes. Choose vegetables, low GI fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Do not consume salty and sugary foods. Exercise regularly, meditate, and sleep well to see improvement.

What are the warning signs for prediabetes?

Fasting plasma glucose at 7.0 is a tell-tale sign that you have prediabetes. You can also experience blurred vision and frequent urination.

What level of A1C is dangerous?

A normal A1C is below 5.7, while prediabetes is diagnosed with an A1C of 5.7-6.4.

Key Takeaways

  • According to American Diabetes Association, about 70% of those with prediabetes are diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime.
  • Studies suggest that western diets are more susceptible to prediabetes.
  • Hence, it is recommended to go for foods low in carbs and rich in fiber. Also, make it a point to avoid sugary drinks and refined carbs.

References:

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Healthy Eating for people at risk of diabetes or with prediabetes
    https://www.yorkhousemedicalcentre.co.uk/website/m81040/files/prediabetes_diet_sheet.pdf
  2. Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
    https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html
  3. Prediabetes: A high-risk state for developing diabetes
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891203/
  4. The Effectiveness of Different Diet Strategies to Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Youth
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997399/
  5. Prediabetes: A high-risk state for developing diabetes
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891203/
  6. Pathophysiology of prediabetes
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16570762/
  7. Association between Dietary Quality and Prediabetes based on the Diet Balance Index
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-60153-9
  8. Association between dietary patterns and prediabetes risk in a middle-aged Chinese population
    https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-020-00593-1
  9. Dietary and nutritional approaches for prevention and management of type 2 diabetes
    https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2234
  10. Prediabetes and Lifestyle Modification: Time to Prevent a Preventable Disease
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4116271/
  11. Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association
    https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/39/11/2065
  12. Sleep Duration and Diabetes Risk: Population Trends and Potential Mechanisms
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5070477/
  13. Oxidative stress and inflammatory markers in prediabetes and diabetes
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32084643/
  14. Sleep Disturbance Sleep Duration and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Experimental Sleep Deprivation
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4666828/
  15. Stress increases the risk of type 2 diabetes onset in women: A 12-year longitudinal study using causal modelling
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5319684/
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Garima Singh

(MSc (Nutrition), DNHE, DDHN)
Garima Singh is a certified nutritionist and dietitian with over 7 years of experience. She provides both in-office and virtual... more

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