According to the American Diabetes Association, 96 million Americans 18 years and older had prediabetes in 2019. But having prediabetes doesn’t mean you’ll develop type 2 diabetes, especially if you follow a treatment plan and make healthy lifestyle choices. For some folks with prediabetes, moderate lifestyle changes can actually bring blood sugar levels back to a normal range, which can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Below are six healthy habits you can do daily that are recommended by registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) who specialize in prediabetes.
1. Fill half (or more) of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1 in 10 Americans consume the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and veggies per day. These foods are brimming with nutrients and fiber and are lower in calories. Plus, according to Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook, “The antioxidants and phytochemicals in fruits and veggies can play a role in improving insulin resistance, which can help to better control blood sugar.” Filling your plate at least half full of them at each meal or snack is a great way to make sure you’re meeting your needs.
“Once you do this, you’ll find you’ll never be hungry eating moderate-sized portions of starchy foods and protein-rich foods,” says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RDN, CDCES, CHWC, FAND, creator of the free guide Can I Eat That with Prediabetes? “The nonstarchy vegetables are low-calorie, low-carb and very filling. Plus, they’re jam-packed with health-boosting phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.”
2. Manage your stress.
Harris-Pincus explains, “Chronic stress can wreak havoc on health and well-being by hindering your immunity, making you susceptible to many types of illnesses. Plus, stress hormones like cortisol can contribute to weight gain and elevated blood sugar.” She suggests adding stretching exercises, meditation or deep breathing exercises to your daily routine: “Make time for self-care by choosing a relaxing activity you enjoy—preferably off of screens, like knitting, painting, word puzzles, listening to music or reading a good book.”
3. Get your zzz’s.
Did you know that not getting enough sleep not only makes you cranky, but also makes you less likely to stick to your healthy-eating goals? In addition, Weisenberger says it actually messes with your body’s response to insulin. “Short-sleeping changes levels of growth hormone and cortisol, which makes us more insulin-resistant. Even a single night of lousy sleep can make you more insulin-resistant the following day.” According to the CDC, adults should aim for seven hours of sleep per night.
4. Avoid binge drinking.
According to Lorena Drago, M.S., RDN, CDN, CDCES, a certified diabetes care and education specialist, binge drinking is defined as “four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in about two hours, which can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.” Binge drinking can cause the pancreas to become inflamed and unable to secrete insulin as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. If you choose to drink alcohol, the recommendation is no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor like rum or vodka.
5. Get moving.
“Prolonged sitting, including spending many hours watching television or in front of a computer, may accelerate your risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” Drago explains. “Lack of exercise is a major contributor to chronic disease. Physical activity enhances insulin sensitivity, increases how the muscles use blood glucose (sugar), and improves insulin resistance.” Drago recommends doing at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week (so almost every day). To help you stick with it, pick a type of movement you really enjoy instead of trying to force yourself to do something you don’t like. That could be yoga, dancing, lifting weights, swimming, cycling, running or more.
6. Follow a plant-based diet.
“Powerful plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes contain disease-fighting nutrients that can reduce your risk for heart disease, lower your cholesterol, help manage your blood sugar and improve your mood,” says Toby Smithson, RDN, LD, CDCES, FAND, a diabetes lifestyle expert and founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies. “A plant-based diet is effective in lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes because it is higher in fiber, lower in saturated fat, and improves insulin sensitivity. Proof is in the pudding, as long as your pudding is plant-based. The research shows this type of eating pattern is associated with a 30% reduction in diabetes risk.”
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