Around 670,000 New Zealanders are thought to have pre-diabetes, but that doesn’t have to progress into diabetes. Simple diet and lifestyle tweaks can stop type 2 diabetes in its tracks, says dietitian Karissa Woolfe.
Excess 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 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). Check out your risk at tinyurl.com/checkrisk.
What are the signs?
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 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.
1. Eat more fibre
It helps you feel full, and it steadies blood glucose levels. Good sources include grainy bread, oats, legumes, veges, fruit, nuts and seeds. A recent study found eating half a cup of lentils more than three times a week lowered type 2 diabetes risk by 35 per cent. Toss them into curries, spaghetti bolognese or a roasted vege salad.
2. Cut back on saturated fat
Saturated fat, found in foods such as butter, fried foods, muffins, pastries and biscuits, makes it harder for the hormone insulin to transport glucose into your cells. Studies show that swapping foods high in saturated fat for foods containing healthy fats, such as avocado or a small handful of nuts, can help your body respond to insulin better, which lowers your risk of diabetes.
3. Move more
Just 30 minutes of daily physical activity helps 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 helps prevent weight gain too, so think of a brisk walk or bike ride as a health investment, not a ‘job’.
4. 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!
5. 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.