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The Silent Path to Type 2 Diabetes and How to Take Control

The term ‘prediabetes’ might not sound as alarming as ‘diabetes’, but make no mistake, it’s a pivotal health juncture. Understanding prediabetes is crucial, especially in the face of rising diabetes rates. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, type 2 diabetes affects more than 3 million Canadians and prediabetes is also prevalent, with over 1.8 million adult Canadians at risk. Prediabetes can often go unnoticed, gradually leading to the onset of a diabetic state. By understanding prediabetes and monitoring key biomarkers with regular preventive assessments, we can help prevent diabetes from taking hold, positively impacting both your quality of life and your overall longevity.

Unpacking Prediabetes: What it is and Why it Matters

When your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, you have prediabetes. This condition is often a precursor to the onset of type 2 diabetes and can persist for a substantial period without showing any notable symptoms. In essence, prediabetes is a warning sign; your opportunity to make significant lifestyle changes before type 2 diabetes takes hold.

The earlier prediabetes is detected, the easier lifestyle changes will be to make. Small, manageable adjustments can make a big impact at this earlier stage. As the disease progresses, the lifestyle changes will need to be more significant and could be more difficult to implement and sustain.

Avoiding Type 2 diabetes all together is the most important reason to take your blood sugar and a prediabetes diagnosis seriously. Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition that can stabilize for a time, but often continues to progress, requiring continuous management and treatment modifications. In addition to this, type 2 diabetes can cause damage to nerves, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, and feet, while increasing the risk fora number of other serious conditions. Making changes now will save you from years of chronic illness management and potential complications to your overall health.

The first step is to know your blood sugar levels. From here, you can start to make effective changes based on your unique needs.

3 Ways to Detect Prediabetes

Pre-diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to its effects. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels. When insulin resistance occurs, the body is unable to use insulin effectively, causing an increase in blood sugar levels.

Prediabetes is detected 3 main ways:

  1. Through a fasting blood glucose test: In this scenario, blood is drawn after a minimum of 8 hours of fasting. If your blood glucose level is between 6.1-6.9mmol/L this is known as impaired fasting glucose, which is another term for prediabetes.
  2. Through a fasting or non-fasting HbA1c test (hemoglobin A1c, or simply A1c): This is a measure of your average blood sugar over the last three months. If this number is between 6.0% – 6.4%, you would be diagnosed with prediabetes.
  3. Through a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test. For this test, you drink a beverage containing 75g of sugar. You then remain at the lab where your blood sugars are measured after 1 hour and then again after 2 hours. If your blood sugars are between 7.8-11.0 mmol/L, two hours after the beverage was consumed, this is known as impaired glucose tolerance, yet another term for prediabetes.

The Path Forward: Lifestyle Changes and Prevention

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, don’t worry. With the right lifestyle changes and support from your healthcare team you have the power to reverse your diagnosis.

The goal of your lifestyle changes is to correct your blood sugar levels. It’s important for your blood sugars to be carefully regulated because too much sugar in the bloodstream can cause damage to organs, blood vessels, and nerves. The good news is that medication may not be required. With personalized guidance, it is possible to bring blood sugars back to a normal range through lifestyle alone (link to success story).

5 Ways to Regulate Blood Sugar

There are several things you can do that will have a significantly positive effect towards blood sugar regulation. Here are our top 5 recommendations:

1. Maintain a healthy weight & waist circumference

Carrying extra weight, particularly in the abdominal area can lead to insulin resistance, leading to sugar not effectively clearing the bloodstream. Work with your Registered Dietitian to come up with a healthy, sustainable plan to meet your personalized weight and waist circumference goals. Even if weight loss is something you’ve struggled with in the past, we have the advice and tools to support your success.

2. Increase exercise

Moving your muscles draws sugar out of the bloodstream to be used for energy. Exercise also makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. Both factors improve blood sugar control. Consult your Harrison Exercise Physiologist for a custom plan to move your body in a way that will help you combat prediabetes in a manageable way.

3. Know what foods impact your blood sugars

Foods that affect your blood sugar contain carbohydrates (“carbs”). These break down into sugar during the digestion process. Foods containing significant amounts of carbohydrates include:

  • Starches (e.g., rice, pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, barley)
  • Starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, turnip, corn)
  • Fruit and fruit juice
  • Cow’s milk
  • Sugar, syrup, sweets, pop, or other sugar sweetened beverages

Prediabetes - Glycemic Responses of Food Groups graph

4. Slow down the release of sugar in your bloodstream. 

To optimize blood sugar, we need to slow down digestion and the release of sugar entering the blood stream. This will keep your body from working on overdrive to bring blood sugar levels back down. We can do this in two ways:

  • You can slow down the digestion of carbohydrate rich foods by choosing carbohydrates that are high in fibre. High fibre grains and starches are those that contain more than 4 grams of fibre per serving on a food label. Some examples include:
    • Barley
    • Beans
    • Lentils
    • Sprouted grain bread
    • Oats
    • Whole grain or lentil pastas
    • Quinoa
    • Whole grain bread.
  • You can also eat a carbohydrate with a protein or fat, rather than on its own. These act as anchors to slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Simply having a protein source with every meal or snack helps with blood sugar management.

Added sugars will enter the blood stream quicker and will be harder on your body to process. For example, try to avoid added or concentrated sugars by restricting juice, pop, or sweetened coffee and lattes in your diet. If you’re thirsty, drink water and choose unsweetened or unflavoured products and beverages to avoid this blood sugar spike. 

5. Manage your portion sizes

Focusing on balanced meals and keeping carbohydrates to a limited portion can help keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day. Try focusing on having three balanced meals per day, and if your meals are more than six hours apart, it is suggested to have a planned snack to keep your blood sugar stable. Your meals should include the following portions of each food group:

  • Grains, starches, and fruit
    Keep your portion of high fibre starches and grains or fruit to ¼ plate or your fist size.
  • Protein
    Ensure you have ¼ plate or 1 palm sized portion of protein to anchor the release of sugar in your bloodstream.
  • Vegetables
    Load up ½ plate or 2 handfuls of non-starchy vegetables at each meal. This is your nutritional life insurance providing you with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre.
  • Fat
    A little bit of healthy fat (the size of your thumb) helps to absorb fat soluble vitamins and further slow digestion.

Healthy Plate Model

Replacing, reducing, or adjusting how you eat carbohydrates will go a long way to bringing your blood sugar levels back to a normal range, while also helping you maintain a healthy weight. If your blood sugar levels are currently within a healthy range, these strategies will help keep them that way as well.

Managing Prediabetes for a Healthier Future

Prediabetes is a serious health condition that serves as an early warning for type 2 diabetes. If detected early, lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, and adjusting your diet can restore healthy blood sugar levels. This can potentially eliminate the need for medication and avoid the serious health complications associated with type 2 diabetes. If you’re concerned about your blood sugar levels or have been diagnosed with prediabetes, Harrison Healthcare can help you turn things around. Our team of dedicated professionals is ready to support you through personalized diet and lifestyle adjustments to protect your long-term health and well-being.


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