Memorial Regional Health: Prevent prediabetes with diet, exercise |

Memorial Regional Health: Prevent prediabetes with diet, exercise

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

Prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels reach higher than normal levels but aren't high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. However, the long-term damage associated with diabetes may have already begun.

The heart, blood vessels and kidneys are what take the biggest hit with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Without intervention, prediabetes often progresses to type 2 diabetes — which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and amputations — so it's critical to stay ahead of the problem if you're at risk.

Who's at risk?

We've heard it a million times — our lifestyle choices affect our health, both positively and negatively. Exercise and a healthy diet lead to positive outcomes for our health, while poor diet and inactivity often lead to negative outcomes.

Family history and genetics play a role in the risk for prediabetes, but inactivity and excess fat — especially abdominal fat — are important factors, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The pancreas secretes insulin — the hormone required to move sugar from the bloodstream to the body's cells — into your bloodstream when you eat.

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"As insulin circulates, it allows sugar to enter your cells and lowers the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. As your blood sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from your pancreas," the Mayo Clinic reports.

"When you have prediabetes, this process begins to work improperly. Instead of fueling your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream. High blood sugar occurs when your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, or both."

Other lifestyle choices that can lead to prediabetes include smoking and poor eating habits.

"These risks can be controlled by weight loss in those who are overweight — even just a little bit of weight loss goes a long way in terms of diabetes prevention— eating healthy, exercising, refraining from smoking and drinking only moderately (limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and two for men),” said Madysen Jourgensen, registered dietitian at Memorial Regional Health.

While prediabetes doesn't always lead to type 2 diabetes, there's a high risk that it will for many people. Exercise and weight loss tend to be the two biggest factors in preventing this progression, Jourgensen said.

Switching to healthier food choices and consuming foods in appropriate portion sizes can really make a difference. Focus on getting enough fruits and vegetables — including different colors and types — and look for fruits and vegetables that are darker in color, which indicates more nutrients, she said. Lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fiber and limited sugar and saturated fats are also part of a healthy diet.

"I think it’s really important that people know they can prevent the progression of prediabetes to diabetes through lifestyle changes. For some, it may be easier to start small, and for others, a complete lifestyle change all at once may be best," Jourgensen said. "People need to find what works best for them — something they can do for the long term — and just go with it. Even small lifestyle changes to start can lead to major improvements in the future."

Health on a budget

There's a perception that eating healthier foods cost more, but there are ways to do it on a budget. Jourgensen recommends frozen fruits and vegetables as a more affordable option to fresh produce and canned as another option, as long as the fruit isn't canned in syrup and the vegetables are labeled low sodium.

"Making a list can be helpful to avoid any extra items that you may spend extra money on but may not really need. Really try and stick to proper portion sizes of foods and then freeze leftovers so that you can have them as a meal later in the week," she said. "Shop for fruits and vegetables that are in season if you prefer fresh, as they will be cheaper when in season. There are nutrient-dense foods that are more affordable than others, like peanut butter, beans, canned fish (like tuna or salmon), etc. Couponing can also be helpful."

Healthy eating tips

Madysen Jourgensen, a registered dietitian at Memorial Regional Health, recommends the following tips for a healthy diet:

  • Focus on getting enough fruits and vegetables (including different colors and types).
  • Eat nutrient-dense foods; a good general rule of thumb is, the darker the color, the more nutrient-dense the fruit or vegetable, so it is important to include all the colors, including blue, red, orange and dark green fruits and vegetables.
  • Opt for lean sources of protein, such as chicken without the skin, turkey, pork chops, pork loin, eggs, etc.
  • Choose whole grains (breads, pastas, brown rice, etc.) rather than white, refined grains. Whole grains have more fiber than white breads, pastas and rice. Fiber is also another important component of a healthy diet.
  • Select low fat dairy rather than 2 percent or full fat (this includes yogurts, cheeses, milk, etc.).
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages; this includes soda, as well as many juices, coffee drinks, sweet teas, etc.
  • Limit intake of saturated fat. Saturated fats are found in butter, red meats and full-fat dairy.
  • It is also important to not skip meals — try to get your three in each day.