Food Network TV personality Paula Deen’s recent announcement of her diabetes diagnosis and subsequent partnership with a diabetes drug maker ignited a lot of passionate discussion. What is probably lost in the flurry is that a big part of managing diabetes (or a prediabetes diagnosis) involves diet and exercise. In some cases, medications are included as part of an overall treatment plan, but popping a pill does not equal managing your diabetes if the improved eating and exercising habits are absent.
What to Eat If You’re Prediabetic
So what do you eat when you are diagnosed with prediabetes? The good news is, there is no specific meal plan. Listen to our audio interview with dietitian Susan Burke March for more details on a prediabetes diagnosis as well as an appropriate eating plan. The general outlines of a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, legumes, and whole grains is a good place to start. Why heart-healthy? Because a prediabetes diagnosis often coexists with other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, out-of-whack cholesterol numbers, and being overweight.
Prediabetes Meal Planning
- Spread out the carbohydrate load evenly throughout the day to help minimize blood sugar spikes and crashes. Plan to eat every 4 to 5 hours. While this seems like a no-brainer, the execution requires some careful planning and preparation. If you work full-time, this means planning what foods to bring to the office, or, alternatively, knowing your food choices around the office.
- Always pair your carbohydrate with protein and some beneficial unsaturated fats. Both fat and protein slow down the uptake of carbohydrates and therefore help prevent abrupt spikes and drops in blood sugar levels after a high-carbohydrate meal.
- Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Get to know the glycemic index (GI). A low-glycemic index meal plan has been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes. Foods with lower GI do not cause big spikes in blood sugar levels as higher GI foods do. Generally, the highly refined, processed, “white” sources of carbohydrates have high GI, such as sugary baked goods or white rice. On the other hand, high-fiber, high-protein foods and fat-containing foods tend to have lower GI because all three slow down the uptake of carbohydrates.
Get to Know the Symptoms of Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia
Home blood glucose monitoring is the best way to find out what your blood sugar level is at throughout the day. If that’s not an option, you should learn to recognize symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) and hypoglycemia (low blood glucose).
Symptoms of Hyperglycemia:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia:
- Feeling dizzy or confused
- Feeling hungry
- Sudden mood change
The best way to treat hypoglycemia is to eat some form of sugar immediately. Have half a cup of juice, 1 Tbsp of honey, or 4 teaspoons of sugar immediately.
Prediabetic? Get moving
Yes, we mostly talk about food and nutrition. But it is worth noting that exercise alone has been shown to improve blood sugar control as well as raise the level of HDL (good) cholesterol. Add to that the improved cardiovascular fitness and gain in muscle mass, which help with weight management, and there really is no excuse to stay parked on that couch.
The Bottom Line
Someone who is prediabetic has higher blood sugar readings than what is considered to be normal, yet not high enough to qualify as having full-blown diabetes. Work out a diabetes care plan with your physician and take charge of your eating and physical activity patterns today to ward off the progression to diabetes and diabetes-related complications.