Two million Aussies have pre-diabetes, but ‘pre’ doesn’t have to turn into ‘diabetes’. Simple diet and lifestyle tweaks can stop diabetes in its tracks, says HFG dietitian Karissa Woolfe.
Sugar in your bloodstream sounds alarming, but it can also be the wake-up call you need to give your lifestyle a healthy overhaul. Here’s what you need to know — and do — to dodge type 2 diabetes.
What is it?
Pre-diabetes (or impaired glucose tolerance) is a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than the norm. Although your blood sugar isn’t high enough for you to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it shows that’s where you’re heading.
Am I at risk?
Diabetes has several risk factors — some you can change, and others you can’t. Things you can’t change that increase your risk include a family history of type 2 diabetes and/or heart disease, being over the age of 40, your ethnicity, gestational diabetes in pregnancy, and having polycystic ovarian syndrome.
However, there are many other risk factors that you can change or minimise (see How to reverse it, below).
Pre-diabetes exhibits no signs or symptoms, which explains why you could have it and not realise. It’s important you find out, because unless you intervene, you could be one of the one-in-three people with pre-diabetes who go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
Pre-diabetes also increases your risk of heart disease by 20 per cent, so the earlier you can take action, the better for your health.
How to reverse it
Studies suggest 58 per cent of people with pre-diabetes can reverse it by making and sustaining these five lifestyle improvements.
Eat more fibre: It helps you feel full, and it steadies blood glucose levels. Good sources include grainy bread, oats, legumes, vegies, fruit, nuts and seeds. A recent study found you lower your risk by 35 per cent when you eat half a cup of lentils more than three times a week. Toss them into curries, spag bol or a roasted vegie salad.
Cut back on saturated fat: Saturated fat, found in foods like butter, fried foods, muffins, pastries and biscuits, make it harder for the hormone insulin to transport glucose into your cells. Studies show that swapping saturated fat for healthy fats — like avocado or a small handful of nuts — can help your body respond to insulin better, which lowers your risk of diabetes.
Move more: Just 30 minutes of daily physical activity can keep diabetes away, according to leading diabetes prevention studies. Exercise works by helping your muscles become more receptive to insulin, so sugar gets burned up as fuel. We know this level of physical activity prevents weight gain too, so think of a brisk walk or bike ride as a health investment, not a ‘job’.
Quit smoking: Smoking worsens insulin resistance, resulting in raised blood sugar levels, which explains why smokers are up to 40 per cent more likely to develop diabetes. It also hardens your blood vessels, which increases your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Don’t smoke? Then you’re almost halfway there!
Drop a size: That’s approximately six kilograms, or a couple of belt notches. This is the weight drop that can fend off diabetes, according to the latest evidence. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to success.