How to Prevent Prediabetes

In the United States, 38% of people aged 18 years or older have prediabetes. While you can’t control genetics, you can lower your chances of getting prediabetes or having the condition progress into type 2 diabetes by making dietary and lifestyle changes.

This article will discuss steps to prevent or reverse prediabetes and improve overall health.

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Who Is at Risk for Prediabetes?

Around 1 out of every 3 adults has prediabetes. Because there are usually no clear symptoms of prediabetes, many people with the condition do not know they have it.

While researchers don't fully understand what causes prediabetes (high blood sugar levels that are not yet high enough to be considered diabetes), it generally develops in people who already have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when your cells stop responding to insulin and your body can't produce enough insulin to keep up.

Prediabetes is more common in individuals who:

If you are at risk for prediabetes, you can prevent or delay its onset by eating healthy, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Eat a Healthy Diet

A diet low in nutrients, high in sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats (processed food) increases your risk of prediabetes. A diet high in red meat can also increase your risk.

Improving the quality of your diet by consuming a variety of whole, unprocessed foods can help keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range and help you maintain a healthy weight.

Facts About Sugar and Carbs

Carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source and are a vital part of a healthful diet. Simple and complex carbohydrates are the two main types of carbohydrates in foods.

Simple carbs are sugars that your body breaks down quickly, leading to spikes in blood sugar. While naturally present in some foods (fruit and milk), simple carbs are commonly found in processed and refined sugars, such as candy and table sugar, that lack essential nutrients.

Complex carbs (beans, whole grains, and vegetables) take longer to digest and are less likely to cause blood sugar spikes. They also are higher in nutrients and fiber, which slows down digestion and can help keep you feeling full.

A review of studies found that people who consume sugary beverages have a 248% higher risk of prediabetes than individuals who never or rarely consume them.

Foods to Eat

A balanced diet is key for preventing or reversing prediabetes. Including more fiber-rich foods, such as beans, peas, lentils, and whole grains, can help improve blood sugar control, protect against chronic disease, help with weight management, and protect your heart.

Protein can help increase feelings of fullness. Additionally, studies show that adding protein to a carb-based meal can help reduce spikes in blood sugar following a meal.

Eating more foods high in healthy fats in place of carbohydrates and saturated fat can help improve blood sugar levels. Foods that are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • Lean proteins (fish, chicken, and tofu)
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts, seeds, avocados

Should I Watch My Fruit Intake?

Fresh fruit contains fructose, which can increase blood sugar levels. However, it also has vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which can slow down carbohydrate digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. When eaten in moderation, it's unlikely whole fruit will contribute to prediabetes. Some studies suggest that eating fruit can help prevent diabetes.

Foods to Avoid

Reducing sugary, processed foods can help stabilize your blood sugar and improve overall health, thus reducing your risk of prediabetes. Some foods to limit or avoid include:

  • Candy
  • Fruit juice and other sugary beverages
  • Pastries
  • Pasta from white flour
  • Processed foods with added sugar
  • White bread and white rice
  • Breakfast cereals

Medication Options

If you find it challenging to keep your blood sugar under control with diet and lifestyle modifications, your healthcare provider may suggest trying metformin to help manage blood sugar levels. One study found that metformin can reduce diabetes risk by as much as 31%.

Achieve a Healthy Weight

While your overall health cannot be measured by your body weight alone, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent and control prediabetes and other chronic health conditions.

What Is a Healthy Weight?

For adults, a "healthy weight" is a number that is associated with a lower risk of health issues and weight-related diseases. Everyone has a different healthy weight based on their body frame, muscle mass, age, gender, and genetics.

How Weight Affects Diabetes Risk

Excess weight can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It can also increase your risk for other prediabetes factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.

An increased waist circumference is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes. A waist circumference larger than 35 inches in people assigned female at birth or 40 inches in those assigned male at birth indicates excessive abdominal fat, which increases your risk of developing certain conditions, such as diabetes.

Losing 5% to 7% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For a 200-pound individual, this is about 10–14 pounds.

Exercise Every Day

Regular physical activity reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. It can also improve your mental health and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Exercise can drastically reduce insulin resistance, a hallmark of prediabetes. This means your body will absorb sugar from your blood more effectively, reducing the amount of insulin needed.

Most adults should aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days per week. Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Biking
  • Light yard work
  • Weight-lifting
  • Dancing
  • Hiking

If you're new to exercising, begin with light-intensity exercise and gradually build up to moderate intensity.

Treat Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that happens when your breathing stops and restarts many times while you sleep, is associated with obesity, prediabetes, and insulin resistance.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air when you sleep
  • Waking up to a dry mouth or headache
  • Daytime fatigue

Sleep apnea treatment includes lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol and smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device to keep your airway open while you sleep.


While you can't change some contributing factors to prediabetes, like age or genetics, you can reduce your chance of getting prediabetes or having it progress to type 2 diabetes by making diet and lifestyle changes. These include maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly. It's also important to receive proper treatment for any health conditions you may have, such as sleep apnea.

A Word From Verywell

If you have been told you have prediabetes or are at risk for the condition, you may feel overwhelmed. The good news is that with early detection and lifestyle modifications, it can be reversed. Try to stay positive and focus on making slow, gradual diet and lifestyle changes that can last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does stress cause prediabetes?

    Stress doesn't directly cause prediabetes, but it can contribute to overeating and cravings for sugary, processed foods, increasing a person's risk.

  • Do people with prediabetes always get diabetes?

    No. Studies show that two-thirds of individuals with prediabetes will not develop diabetes, even after several years. Reducing sugar intake, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight decreases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have prediabetes.

22 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lindsey DeSoto, RD, LD
Lindsey Desoto is a registered dietitian with experience working with clients to improve their diet for health-related reasons. She enjoys staying up to date on the latest research and translating nutrition science into practical eating advice to help others live healthier lives.