“Pre-diabetes” is a term we’re hearing increasingly often. It’s a kind of grey area between health and illness, and although it can be a stand-alone medical diagnosis there’s still a great deal of controversy over how—or even if—it should be treated.
In pre-diabetes, blood sugar is above the normal range yet not high enough to qualify as type 2 diabetes. And while some doctors recommend treating it as aggressively as full-blown diabetes, others opt for more of a “wait and see” attitude. The general medical consensus is that pre-diabetes nearly always progresses to type 2 diabetes and that it’s only a matter of time.
Of course the general medical consensus is also that type 2 diabetes is invariably progressive and incurable, in spite of the mounting evidence that it is in fact a reversible condition. Study after study shows that full-blown type 2 diabetes can be reversed in the majority of cases, and that the key to reversal is changing your eating habits.
The same studies show that the earlier you begin making changes, the more likely you are to succeed. The takeaway is this: pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes both arise from the same source—dietary patterns. Pre-diabetes is simply the earliest, pre-clinical stage of type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes can be reversed, just as type 2 diabetes can, and through the same means: by changing your diet.
Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
These immortal words come from food writer Michael Pollan in a speech he gave to the CDC back in 2009, and they might be the most concise guide to healthy eating ever written. In seven short words, he sums up the most important things. Whether you have pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or you simply want to lose weight, taking this rule to heart can have a profound impact on your health. Let’s break it down and take a closer look:
Eat REAL FOOD
The vast majority of what we eat today consists of hyper-processed, nutritionally-empty substances that, in order to make them palatable, have been treated with artificial flavors or laden with some form of sugar. We’ve even coined a phrase to describe them: industrial food “products.” We may call them food, but it’s true only in the most technical sense, and although we can eat these industrial products, it doesn’t mean they’re good for us. In fact, they’re a large part of the driving force behind the current obesity and diabetes epidemics.
One of the most important things you can do for your health is to cut out industrial food “products” and eat real food—fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy, eggs, and so on. If it didn’t come from the garden, the orchard, the barnyard, or the fish pond/stream/ocean, it probably shouldn’t be part of a healthy diet.
Eat more vegetables and fewer grains
“Mostly plants” doesn’t mean going vegetarian. What it does mean is that most of us don’t eat nearly the amount of vegetables and fruit our bodies need. Relying on processed industrial food products, as the majority of Americans do, leaves little room for fruits and even less for vegetables—which should make up at least half your plate at every meal.
And for those with pre-diabetes or diabetes, it means radically cutting down on the amount of grains and starchy foods we eat. High-carb foods like grains—even whole grains—and starchy vegetables raise your blood sugar, and eating a consistently high-carb diet—again, as the majority of Americans do—ensures that it stays that way. Time and again, reducing carbohydrates in your diet has been shown to lower blood sugar. If you have pre-diabetes, cutting down on carbs is a powerful tool.
Reduce your portion size
Whether we want to believe it or not, nearly all of us eat far more than we should. Today nearly 40% of American adults are obese and even more of us are overweight. And while sugar is to blame for some of this weight, it’s not the sole cause. Part of the problem is massive portion sizes both when eating out and at home.
In the 1950s and 60s, when both obesity and type 2 diabetes were uncommon, the standard dinner plate size was 10 inches. Today, the standard plate size is 11 or 11 ½ inches—and 12-inch plates are increasingly common. That may not sound like a big difference. After all, it’s only an inch. However, this increase in plate size actually translates into a whopping thirty-five square inches. So when we fill our plates today, we’re eating far, far more than we did in the past without even realizing it.
The good news is this: keeping your portion size in check is actually fairly easy. You have the only tools you need at your fingertips—literally. Your hands are, not to make a pun, a handy guide to gauging the correct portion size for your body. Here’s how it works:
- 1 serving of protein (such as meat or fish, yogurt or cottage cheese) = the palm of your hand
- 1 serving of vegetables = 1 closed fist
- 1 serving of carbs = no more than will fit in your cupped hand
- 1 serving of fat = 1 thumb
In general, men need two servings of each while women need only one.
The bottom line? A healthy diet for someone with pre-diabetes is, in reality, not radically different from a healthy diet for anyone else. However, the high-carb, hyper-processed, super-sized standard American diet is far from healthy for anyone. When we cut out the processed industrial food “products”, the added sugar, and the overabundance of grain-based carbs, what are we left with?
Real food, mostly plants. After that, we just need to take care not to eat too much.