Each year, up to 10% of people who are diagnosed with prediabetes go on to develop diabetes. But just as many get their blood sugar levels back to normal. How it turns out for you may depend, in great part, on lifestyle choices you make, including how you eat. For many people with prediabetes, preventing diabetes means losing weight.
Your goal now is to eat balanced meals and snacks that not only improve your glucose metabolism but also help you get to and maintain a healthy weight, if you’re not already there. According to the American Diabetes Association, losing just 7% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That’s just 15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds; 10 or 11 pounds if you currently weigh 150 pounds.
A diet to prevent diabetes is good for the whole family, so there’s no need to buy and prepare special foods just for one person. Just like anyone else who wants to be healthy, you need to avoid (or at least greatly limit) all the usual sugary and fatty junk food suspects: cakes, candies, sodas, pastries, and chips, along with deep-fried foods, cold cuts, heavy sauces and gravies and flavored coffee drinks. Overall, being on a prediabetes diet simply means paying attention to portion sizes and nutritional balance.
While some food choices are better than others, you have a lot of leeway and few restrictions on a prediabetes diet. The good news is you can choose whether your diet is a little lower in carbs or a little higher in protein than average, depending on how you like to eat. You can eat a Mediterranean-style diet, an Asian-style diet, or a healthy American-style diet that borrows from the best of many cuisines. Be sure to watch calories but you don’t have to make yourself crazy counting them as long as you eat healthy portion sizes and skip second helpings. (Print out this handy portion-size guide with visual clues produced by the National Institutes of Health.)
Once you understand the following rules for healthy eating to stabilize blood sugar, you can tweak your diet a bit to suit your personal food preferences
Whether you need to lose weight by cutting back on the total amount of food you eat, or you need to reduce the amount of a specific type of food you like to eat, the way to do it is to learn recommended portion sizes for different types of foods (see Create a Healthy Plate, below). Until you have that down, you trying serving yourself half the amount, or at least a lesser amount, than you normally eat. Use smaller dinner plates—no more than 9” in diameter—so that a full plate of food contains less food overall than what you’re used to eating.
Stop random eating right now. No more grabbing a handful of chips or a hunk of cheese as you’re running out the door, or giving in to temptation whenever you see food you like. Whenever you eat, eat mindfully, which simply means “pay attention.” Fill your dinner plate or snack plate with small portions of a variety of foods, and sit down while you eat. Eating slowly will help you feel more satisfied at the end of the meal so you’ll be less likely to go looking for “seconds.”
Whether you’re having a meal or a snack, your plate should be made up of a combination of foods that provide some carb, some protein, and some fat in appropriate portion sizes. There are several ways to do this: You can learn standard portion sizes and use measuring cups to dish out exact portions, you can buy a divided plate designed just for this purpose (search online for “portion control plate”), or you can mentally divide your plate.
A conventional meal plan for managing blood sugar consists of a plate half-filled with fresh non-starchy vegetables like steamed green beans with chopped tomatoes or kale salad, one-quarter with a starchy, high-fiber food, such a small sweet potato or brown rice, and the remaining quarter with a high-protein food, such a small burger, a tofu cutlet or a couple of eggs.
Drink water with and between meals. Carry a water bottle with you when you’re on the move and keep a glass or bottle of water on hand at work. You can flavor your water with calorie-free add-ins such as citrus slices, cucumber slices, or a couple of smashed berries.
To help kick-start a healthier eating plan and prevent random eating, it helps to have a written plan that includes a couple of portion-controlled sample menus to work from. These menus, which are nutritionally varied, high in fiber, and contain approximately 1,500-1,600 calories per day, are based on traditional diet advice for managing blood sugar.
Depending on your personal food preferences and your individual response to different combinations of foods, you can tweak these mix-and-match menus by substituting similar foods. For instance, if you are vegetarian, beans as a starchy side dish might also be your main source of protein and, in combination with brown rice, or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or winter squash, could end up taking up half your plate. Or, if you lean toward animal protein, you may want to increase the amount of seafood, lean meats or reduced-fat dairy in your meals and serve fewer carbs. You may want to substitute tofu for beans, chicken for pork (Note that you can add up to 1 teaspoon of fat from cooking oil, spreads, or dressings, to each meal.)
Snack or Dessert
1 sliced apple with 1 oz cheese and 2 whole-wheat crackers
*If you’re not a snacker, you can add these foods to your meals