How to cope with pre-diabetes

When her mother was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, registered dietitian Sue Mah went into action. Here’s her advice for how to cope

How to cope with pre-diabetes

Source: Best Health Magazine, Summer 2011

My mom called recently to tell me her doctor had diagnosed her with pre-diabetes. She’s now among the six million Canadians with the condition, which means her blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough for her to be officially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The key risk factors for pre-diabetes and diabetes are the same’over 40 years old, overweight, high blood pressure and family history. People of aboriginal, Asian, South Asian, African and Hispanic descent are particularly at risk.

My mom has all of these risk factors. Her doctor advised her to try and control her blood sugar levels through exercise and healthy eating, which is usually the first line of defence. Research shows if you manage your blood sugar levels when you have pre-diabetes, you can delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes from developing.

As a registered dietitian, that’s where my skills come in. I assessed and modified Mom’s diet so she understands how foods affect her blood sugar levels, and how to better manage her condition. She already eats quite healthily, but still had things to learn. Here are some tips I shared with her that are useful for anyone trying to manage their blood sugar.

Choose healthier carbs

All carbohydrates break down into glucose (sugar), so my mom’s reaction after her diagnosis was to shun them completely. Not only is this not necessary, it’s not recommended. We need carbohydrates for energy. The key is to choose healthier options, such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

Whole grains and unprocessed carbohydrates typically have more fibre and a lower glycemic index (GI) than processed foods, which means they won’t cause blood sugar to spike. A few simple food swaps could make a big difference. Here are some to try:

‘ Whole-wheat or pumpernickel bread instead of white bread or bagels.
‘ A bowl of bran cereal or hot oatmeal (steel-cut or quick-cooking are good choices) instead of rice or corn-based cereals.
‘ Barley, bulgur, parboiled rice or brown rice instead of white rice.
‘ A sweet potato or sweet potato fries instead of a baked potato or french fries.
‘ A low-fat bran or whole-grain muffin instead of cookies or donuts.

Keep food in proportion

Fill half of your plate with at least two kinds of vegetables‘they’re high in fibre without being high in carbohydrates. Mom loves Chinese greens such as bok choy and Chinese broccoli, so she now loads up her plate with them. Other good choices are green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes and peppers.

Then one quarter of your plate should be whole grains such as barley, bulgur, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. The last quarter of your plate should be saved for a small piece of lean meat, chicken, fish, or a meat alternative such as ¾ cup (175 mL) of beans, lentils or tofu. Accompany the meal with a glass of low-fat milk or fortified soy beverage; for dessert, have some summer berries or a piece of fruit.

Get enough fibre

Fibre, especially the soluble type (which is good for maintaining regularity and is found in beans, lentils and oats), can slow down ‘the rise in blood sugar caused by the foods you eat. Adults over the age of 19 need up to 38 grams of fibre every day. Look for breads, cereals, crackers, pasta, beans and soups that have at least two grams per serving. Mom checked the nutrition facts of her favourite whole-grain bread and was happy to see it contains three grams of fibre per slice.

Ask for help

My dad, who is a chef, does most of the cooking and grocery shopping at my parents’ house. He often cooks stir-fries with lots of veggies and a small amount of lean meat’which is just what Mom needs to keep her plate in proportion. Since leftovers can lead to overeating for Mom, Dad now makes just enough for one meal for both of them.

Get some exercise!

A healthy diet and exercise can help with weight loss. Losing just five to 10 percent of your body weight can do wonders for your blood sugar levels. Since her diagnosis, Mom has started walking for an hour every day and has already dropped eight pounds (and two inches from her waistline), and has improved her heart health to boot. Keep up the good work, Mom: I’m so proud of you!

This article was originally titled "Stave off diabetes" in the Summer 2011 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!