Nearly 25% of Americans are thought to have prediabetes—a condition of slightly elevated blood sugar levels that often develops into diabetes within 10 years—but only 4% of people know it.
What’s worse, of those who are aware, less than half really tried to reduce their risk by losing weight, eating less, and exercising more.
These are just a few of the good-for-you habits that can reverse prediabetes and ensure you never get the real thing, which can mean a lifetime of drugs and blood sugar monitoring, an increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other scary health threats. Read on for some key healthy lifestyle habits everyone can start today.
1. Nudge the scale
Shedding even 10 pounds can significantly slash your risk. Even extremely overweight people were 70% less likely to develop diabetes when they lost just 5% of their weight—even if they didn’t exercise. If you weigh 175 pounds, that’s a little less than 9 pounds! Use our calorie calculator to see how many calories you consume—and how many you need to shave off your diet—if you want to lose a little.
To help you lose weight
Check your BMI here (Body Mass Index)
2. Pick the right appetizer
May we recommend the salad? Eating greens with a vinaigrette before a starchy entrée may help control your blood sugar levels. In an Arizona State University study, people with type 2 diabetes or a precursor condition called insulin resistance had lower blood sugar levels if they consumed about 2 tablespoons of vinegar just before a high-carb meal. "Vinegar contains acetic acid, which may inactivate certain starch-digesting enzymes, slowing carbohydrate digestion," says lead researcher Carol Johnston, PhD. In fact, vinegar’s effects may be similar to those of the blood sugar—lowering medication acarbose (Precose).
Before you eat that fettuccine, enjoy a salad with this dressing: Olive oil or Grapeseed Oil, fresh lemon, parsley, garlic and a bit of curry powder, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. (Suggested dressing from Four Winds Nutrition)
3. Ditch your car
Walk as much as you can every day. You’ll be healthier—even if you don’t lose any weight. People in a Finnish study who exercised the most—up to 4 hours a week, or about 35 minutes a day—dropped their risk of diabetes by 80%, even if they didn’t lose any weight. This pattern holds up in study after study: The famed Nurses’ Health Study, for example, found that women who worked up a sweat more than once a week reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 30%. And Chinese researchers determined that people with high blood sugar who engaged in moderate exercise (and made other lifestyle changes) were 40% less likely to develop full-blown diabetes.
Why is walking so wonderful?
Studies show that exercise helps your body utilize the hormone insulin more efficiently by increasing the number of insulin receptors on your cells. Insulin helps blood sugar move into cells, where it needs to go to provide energy and nutrition. Otherwise it just sloshes around in your bloodstream, gumming up blood vessel walls and eventually causing serious health problems.
3. Be a cereal connoisseur
Selecting the right cereal can help you slim down and steady blood sugar. A higher whole grain intake is also linked to lower rates of breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke—and cereal is one of the best sources of these lifesaving grains, if you know what to shop for.
Some tips: Look for the words high fiber on the box; that ensures at least 5 g per serving. But don’t stop there. Check the label; in some brands, the benefits of fiber are overshadowed by the addition of refined grains, added sugar, or cholesterol-raising fats.
Decode the grains: Where that fiber comes from matters too, so check the ingredient list to find out exactly what those flakes or squares are made from. Millet, amaranth, quinoa, and oats are always whole grain, but if you don’t see whole in front of wheat, corn, barley, or rice, these grains have been refined and aren’t as healthy.
Watch for hidden sugar: The "total sugars" listing doesn’t distinguish between added and naturally occurring sugars; the best way to tell is scan the ingredients again. The following terms represent added sugars: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, sugar, and sucrose. Skip cereals that list any of these within the first three ingredients (which are listed by weight).
4. Unwind every day
Chronic stress can send blood sugar levels soaring. When you’re stressed, your body is primed to take action. This gearing up causes your heart to beat faster, your breath to quicken, and your stomach to knot. But it also triggers your blood sugar levels to skyrocket. "Under stress, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, raising blood sugar levels to prepare you for action," says Richard Surwit, PhD, author of The Mind-Body Diabetes Revolution and chief of medical psychology at Duke University.
If your cells are insulin resistant, the sugar builds up in your blood, with nowhere to go—leading to chronically high levels. The good news is, simple relaxation exercises and other stress management moves can help you gain control over blood sugar levels, according to a study conducted at Duke University.
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