Can Someone Who's Prediabetic Make Dietary Changes to Avoid Full-Blown Diabetes?

Find out if it's possible to stop full-blown diabetes in its tracks.
A fellow caregiver asked...

Are there changes in diet that someone who's been diagnosed as prediabetic can make to avoid developing full-blown diabetes?

Expert Answer

Beth Reardon, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is Caring.com senior food and nutrition editor and the director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine. As a practitioner of integrative nutrition, Reardon takes a holistic approach to wellness, recognizing that the foundation for optimal health and healing begins with a health-promoting diet. As a practitioner of integrative nutrition, Reardon takes a holistic approach to wellness, recognizing that the foundation for optimal health and healing begins with a health-promoting diet.

Yes -- and the single most important thing to do to reverse a prediabetic condition and make insulin resistance go away is to lose weight, preferably through a combination of diet and exercise.

The diet part doesn't require a special "diabetic diet," however. The very best diet for this situation is the quintessential approach to eating that everyone should follow: a plant-based, whole-grain, lean-protein, healthy-fat diet. This diet has been shown to protect against major health problems including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer's -- conditions for which someone with a history of diabetes is at increased risk.

Making a dietary about-face requires a commitment to changing one's lifestyle. Specifically:

Before you eat a carb, consider what type it is. Choose whole-grains over processed types. Eat whole fruit rather than juice. Avoid white flour and white sugar, which are found in many processed foods.

Boost the total amount of fiber you consume, especially soluble fiber. The average American eats 15 grams per day -- but adults need 45 grams per day. Of that total, half (20 to 25 grams) should be soluble fibers, the sticky-gummy fibers found in oatmeal, oat bran, legumes, barley, peas, and citrus fruits. Soluble fibers bind with cholesterol in the digestive system to help eliminate it, they lower lipids, and they help keep blood sugar in check. (Insoluble fibers include wheat, wheat bran, rye, and rice.)

To get 45 grams a day, you might start with a bowl of whole-grain cereal, such as steel-cut oats; add ground flaxseed and chopped nuts and a serving of fruit. Throughout the day, choose whole grains, beans, or whole-grain pasta. Substitute brown rice or barley for white rice.

Choose healthy fats for eating and cooking. Good choices include nuts, avocadoes, seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, and canola oil.

Add cinnamon to your diet. This spice helps to decrease insulin resistance -- and most people enjoy the taste. Use it to flavor oatmeal, sweet potatoes, coffee, or tea.

Choose protein that's lean, and eat less animal protein overall. Best choices: cold-water fish, whole soybeans, and any variety of legume, such as black beans, red beans, lentils, and edamame.

Take a good daily multivitamin. Choose one that provides 100 percent of the recommended daily value for most major vitamins and minerals. Certain microminerals, such as zinc and magnesium, are critical to blood sugar regulation. For most folks over 50 years of age, however, iron should not be included.

Check that your supplement contains the USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) seal of approval. It's possible to purchase an annual subscription to Consumerlab.com if you'd like to be able to review independent analyses of select supplements and vitamins.