5 simple ways to help reverse prediabetes and maintain healthy blood sugar levels - Episode 29

So, your doctor delivered the news: your blood work suggests you are prediabetic. If you’re anything like me, panic begins. Your mind is racing. How could this happen? Questions flood your mind, especially about your diet. What should you eat? What should you avoid? How can you control this condition? Is it reversible?

In this article, we’ll discuss prediabetes and share 5 simple steps you can take to manage, or even reverse this condition. These tips are based on research from Tara Seymour, advanced practice clinical dietitian and diabetes educator at Johns Hopkins, and Dr. Rick Gallop, past president of the heart and stroke foundation of Ontario, and author of the groundbreaking book, The Glycemic Index Diet.

What is prediabetes?

According to Seymour, people with prediabetes have fasting blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not to the point that they meet the criteria of type 2 diabetes. So what can you do to help your body maintain healthy blood sugar levels? 

  1. Adopt a balanced, nutrient dense diet.

Seymour emphasizes that it's not about cutting out entire food groups or hopping on crash diets promising quick fixes. It's about gradual changes, where every small tweak in your habits leads to sustainable results.

Her golden rule? The Mediterranean diet takes the crown for prediabetes. Why? It champions whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. If you are a visual learner, she also recommends CDC's diabetes meal planning and adapted MyPlate guidelines for crafting a wholesome diet. Imagine a plate: 

CDC MyPlate Guide

  • 50% filled with non-starchy veggies/leafy greens such as broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, bok choy, etc.
  • 25% with carb foods. Foods that are higher in carbs include grains, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and peas), rice, pasta, beans, fruit, and yogurt. Opt for whole grains whenever possible. Limit refined grains, such as white bread, rice, and pasta with less than 2 grams of fiber per serving.
  • 25% with lean proteins like fish or tofu (steer clear of frying!). 
  • Final note: Focus on whole foods instead of highly processed foods as much as possible.

What’s a good breakfast?

Tara suggests a balanced meal with lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and fiber-rich options like cereals with at least five grams of fiber per serving. And if you're contemplating skipping breakfast, you might opt for a low-carb meal replacement to keep you fueled.

Should you eat fruit?

All fruits are generally safe for prediabetes except for grapefruit and pomegranate juice, which can interact with certain medications. Tara advises whole fruits over juices for their added fiber content.

The Not-So-Sweet Story of Sugar

Seymour’s advice? Watch those labels! Aim for less than 10% of your total energy intake from added sugars, with the ultimate goal of 5% or less for added health benefits. And those sneaky sugars hide in cereals, snacks, and dressings, so read those labels diligently. Don’t just look at the front of the box, flip it around and read the full nutritional information.

According to Dr. Gallop, “sugar is quickly converted into glucose, which dissolves in your bloodstream, spiking the blood’s glucose level.” The Glycemic Index measures the speed at which you digest food and convert it to glucose, your body’s energy source. The index sets glucose (sugar) at 100 and measures all foods against that number. Here are a few examples from his book: 

Note: The lower the number, the better it is for your blood sugar management

The problem with the way many of us today is that we tend to eat a lot of highly processed foods that are packed with added fat and sugars to make them taste delicious. “The more a food is processed beyond its natural state, the less processing your body has to do to digest it.” This causes big spikes in the blood sugar levels. Dr. Gallop adds, “Our fundamental problem then is that we're eating foods that are too easily digested by our bodies…we have to eat foods that are “slow release” that break down at a slow and steady rate in our digestive system, leaving us feeling fuller for longer periods of time.” This is why eating whole foods is so important. 

  1. Avoid sugary drinks

Did you know, a medium sized caramel frappuccino from Starbucks contains 48 grams of sugar. That is A LOT considering the guidelines from the American Heart Association. For people at risk for heart disease, including those with prediabetes, it recommends less than six teaspoons of sugar a day for women (about 25 grams) and less than nine teaspoons (about 36 grams) a day for men.”

Seymour points out that one can of soda contains about 32 grams of sugar, which is about eight teaspoons. “We urge our patients to watch what they drink,” Seymour says, noting that sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, juices and gourmet coffee shop creations account for some of the biggest concentrated sources of added sugar. “Just one of these beverages can take up your entire recommended allotment of sugar for the day ― or even several days.”

Instead of a sugary drink, opt for water, tea, or a zero calorie beverage. Just this small change can make a huge difference over time.

  1. Know your numbers, and manage them accordingly

Meet with your primary care practitioner at least once per year and complete blood work so you can see trends over time. If you want tailored advice for your specific needs, you can ask them for a referral to a local registered dietitian. 

Remember, one size doesn’t fit all. Cholesterol on the high side? Perhaps a lower-fat approach would work well. High A1C? A meal plan with fewer carbs might be the key. These are the types of things that a skilled dietitian can help you navigate. 

It is important to stay on top of your numbers. Seymour advises, “Know your ABCs. That’s A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol. And if you’re at risk or have prediabetes, make sure you follow up with your A1C level with a blood test at least yearly.”

  1. Stay active

Move your body daily. Find an exercise plan that is sustainable and enjoyable over the long-term. Seymour recommends ramping up physical activity to at least 150 minutes per week and keeping an eye on weight and waist circumference. 

To help prevent progression to type 2 diabetes, Seymour says men and women should try to achieve and maintain a body mass index of 25 or lower. Waist circumference should be under 35 inches for women and under 40 inches for men.

Just losing a few pounds can make a difference. “The ADA states that moderate rate reduction of 5% to 10% of your body weight can significantly lower your A1C level,” says Seymour. “So, for instance, for a person weighing 200 pounds, a weight loss of 10 to 20 pounds could make a difference.”

  1. Think about your entire lifestyle: sleep, stress management, and more

Getting enough sleep is critical to your long-term health. For some people there is a powerful link between sleep, weight gain, and diabetes. “Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase people’s cravings for sugary foods,” Seymour says. “People with prediabetes should make sure they’re getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely a stress-eater. Stress can trigger the urge to eat sugary foods and unhealthy meals that are oh-so-convenient-and-delicious. Much like that fast food burger, fries, and shake that I ate way too much during the pandemic…If you notice you’re in a season of stress, take some time to pause, reflect, and recharge, even if it’s just a 5-minute break. Sometimes that little respite can give you the space to make mindful decisions about what to eat or drink next. If you’re dealing with overwhelming stress that is ongoing, consider seeking help from a licensed therapist or psychologist. They can provide many helpful tools for managing stress and promoting your well-being.

Avoid excessive alcohol and all tobacco. “These are modifiable lifestyle factors that can significantly lower your risk of several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, vascular problems and metabolic syndrome,” Seymour explains.

Is it possible to reverse prediabetes?

Here’s the best part: prediabetes doesn’t always seal your fate. Alongside medications, embracing a balanced diet and an active lifestyle can be game-changers. It’s all about taking charge of your health, slowing down or even reversing the process. Positive change happens one decision and one day at a time. Cheers to your health! 



Seymour, T. (2023). Prediabetes Diet. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/prediabetes-diet

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Diabetes Meal Planning. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/meal-plan-method.html

Gallop, R. (2009). The Glycemic Index Diet. Workman Publishing.

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