Prediabetes is an early warning light for diabetes. If you’ve been told that you have prediabetes, it means you have a higher risk of developing diabetes. As a registered dietitian with more than two decades of experience supporting people with prediabetes, I know just how scary that can be to hear. The good news? It’s reversible. In this article, you’ll learn what prediabetes is and what to do if you have it.
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What Is Prediabetes?
People with prediabetes have higher than normal blood sugars, but the levels aren’t high enough to diagnose diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association uses the following criteria to identify prediabetes:
- Fasting Plasma Glucose Test (FPG) between 100–125 mg/dL (5.6–6.9 mmol/L). This test measures the glucose in your blood after you haven’t eaten for at least __ hours.
- 2-hour Plasma Glucose Test between 140–199 mg/dL (7.8–11.0 mmol/L). This test, which is sometimes called a glucose tolerance test, measures the glucose in your blood 2 hours after you consume a drink containing 75 grams of carbohydrate. This helps your healthcare provider understand how well your body manages blood sugar.
- Hemoglobin A1c between 5.7–6.4% (39–46 mmol/mol). This test shows your average blood sugar level over the past 3 months.
Who Is at Risk for Prediabetes?
Certain risk factors can increase your risks of developing prediabetes and diabetes. You may be at increased risk if:
- You have a first degree relative has prediabetes or diabetes. There is a strong correlation between developing prediabetes and having a parent or sibling with prediabetes or diabetes.
- You have a high waist circumference. A high waist circumference is defined as 35 or more inches for women and 40 inches for men.
- You have high blood pressure. Blood pressure above the normal range of 120/80 is considered early high blood pressure, and anything above 140/90 is considered high blood pressure.
- You have high triglycerides. A triglyceride level above 150 mg/dL is considered high, although lower levels can also be concerning when other heart-related disease risks are present. Factors that can raise triglycerides include excessive alcohol use, high consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates, certain medications, obesity, smoking, thyroid disease, and uncontrolled diabetes.
- You have low high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because it removes the “bad” LDL cholesterol as it travels through bloodstream. The best way to increase HDL cholesterol is to increase your level of physical activity.
- You drink a lot of sugary beverages. While there is little evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages causes diabetes directly, it has been linked to an increase in risk of prediabetes and diabetes.
- You’re not physically active. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for prediabetes and diabetes. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week. And if your health goals involve weight loss, this level needs to be closer to an hour each day.
- You’re over age 45. Beginning at age 45, the risks of developing prediabetes and diabetes increase.
- You’re of Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Island descent. These ethnicities have a higher incidence of prediabetes and diabetes.
- You’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the past. If you were diagnosed with gestational diabetes when you were pregnant you have a 50% chance of developing diabetes at some point in the future, so it’s a good idea to stay up to date with screenings.
- You’ve given birth to a baby weighing less than 5.5 pounds or more than 8.5 pounds. Low birth weight and high birth weight have both been associated with a higher risk of prediabetes and diabetes.
- You have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is associated with insulin resistance and a greater risk of developing prediabetes and diabetes.
- You have obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is linked to impaired glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, which increases the risks for prediabetes and diabetes.
- You smoke. Smoking is a independent risk factor for diabetes.
Fortunately, many of the risk factors are modifiable, meaning you can improve them with lifestyle changes. If you’re willing to make a few adjustments, there’s a good chance you can prevent prediabetes from progressing into diabetes.
Nutrition for Prediabetes
If you have prediabetes, there a number of dietary changes you can make to improve your health. Learn more about how to manage the condition with the Prediabetes Nutrition Guide and Prediabetes Food List – or get them both!
While prediabetes is an early indicator for diabetes, it can be reversed. The earlier you focus on self-care and make lifestyle changes, the better your chances of preventing the condition from progressing further.
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