When you visit your doctor’s office, they may order some tests to check your glucose (blood sugar) levels. There are a few different blood tests that can be done, but generally, these tests are looking for levels that are higher than normal.
If your blood sugar levels are too high, you have a condition called diabetes. Your doctor can then work with you to develop a treatment plan to control your blood sugar levels.
If your blood sugar levels are high but not quite high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, you will likely be diagnosed with prediabetes.
What Does Prediabetes Mean?
If you’ve been given a prediabetes diagnosis, it means that even though your blood sugar levels aren’t high enough to be classified as diabetes, they are still higher than they should be.
You can think of prediabetes as a kind of early-stage warning sign of diabetes. It’s a way for your doctor to tell you that your blood sugar levels are starting to become a concern and that you need to take steps to lower them.
If you continue on the same path, your prediabetes will likely develop into type 2 diabetes—and all the complications that come with it.
You might also view your prediabetes diagnosis as an opportunity. If you make some changes to your diet, lose some weight, and start exercising more, you may be able to lower your blood sugar levels enough to prevent diabetes from ever developing.
What Causes Prediabetes?
The primary mechanism that leads to prediabetes and diabetes is insulin resistance.
Insulin is a hormone that’s produced by your pancreas. Its job is to help transport your blood sugars from your bloodstream into your cells, where it can be used for energy.
This process is often described as a lock-and-key system. Insulin “unlocks” the door to your cells so that sugar can enter.
Following this metaphor, insulin resistance means that the “locks” (insulin receptor sites) are clogged, so the “keys” (insulin molecules) can’t open up the cell doors. Since glucose (blood sugar) can’t get into the cells, it stays in the bloodstream, where it can cause all sorts of problems to your nerves and tissues.
How You Can Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Preventing diabetes starts with improving insulin sensitivity. There are two main ways to do this: diet and exercise.
Type 2 diabetes is often directly connected to being overweight or obese, so one of the best things you can do to improve your insulin sensitivity is to lose weight. Even a small weight loss of 5-10% of your body weight can make a huge difference.
One of the big culprits behind insulin resistance is saturated fat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature (for example, butter is saturated fat, while olive oil is an unsaturated fat). This is one of the materials that can clog up your insulin receptor sites and contribute to insulin resistance.
If you continue to consume lots of saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products), your insulin resistance will likely worsen. On the other hand, if you replace some of the saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, and seeds), you can help improve your insulin sensitivity.
You should also limit your carbohydrate intake. This includes foods such as:
- snacks and sweets
These foods are broken down into glucose, so eating them will cause your blood sugar to rise.
In addition to dietary changes, regular exercise is another important way to improve insulin sensitivity. Aim for at least 150 minutes weekly—more would be even better. This could involve a combination of activities, such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking, lifting weights, or playing sports.
These activities will also help you burn more calories and lose weight, further improving your insulin sensitivity.