Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Q: I’ve recently been diagnosed with prediabetes. Are there foods I should eat to prevent getting diabetes?

An estimated 22 per cent of Canadians have prediabetes and some Canadians may not even know they have it.

Prediabetes is diagnosed when fasting blood sugar (glucose) is higher than normal (6.1 – 6.9 mmol/L), but not yet high enough to be considered Type 2 diabetes (7.0 mmol/L or higher).

Story continues below advertisement

It occurs in people who have insulin resistance or whose pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to keep blood glucose in the normal range.

Insulin resistance is when cells in the muscles, fat and liver don’t respond properly to the blood-glucose-lowering action of insulin. Family history of Type 2 diabetes, abdominal obesity and physical inactivity can lead to insulin resistance.

If left unmanaged, prediabetes can cause damage to your blood vessels, nerves and kidneys and, eventually, it may progress to Type 2 diabetes.

The good news: Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. By making diet and lifestyle changes now, you can prevent or delay prediabetes from progressing to diabetes.

Manage prediabetes, prevent diabetes

Lifestyle modification is the cornerstone of diabetes prevention – the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program, a large randomized controlled trial published in 2002, proved this point. People with pre-diabetes who were assigned to the “lifestyle” group (healthy diet, physical activity, weight loss) dramatically cut their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The following strategies can help prevent prediabetes turning into Type 2 diabetes. (Some may even help reverse the effects.)

Lose excess weight. Being overweight is the strongest risk factor for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Excess abdominal fat can cause fat cells to release inflammatory chemicals which are involved in insulin resistance.

Story continues below advertisement

The Diabetes Prevention Program showed a modest 5 to 7 per cent weight loss significantly reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Choose whole grains. There’s convincing evidence that diets rich in whole grains protects against Type 2 diabetes.

The fibre in whole grains leads to lower and slower rises in glucose, meaning they have a low glycemic index. Whole grains also contain nutrients and phytochemicals that may help reduce diabetes risk.

Replace refined (white) grains with whole grains such as oats, quinoa, farro, freekeh, brown rice, millet, oats, de-hulled barley and whole grain pasta.

Choose breads made with whole or cracked grains such as stone-ground whole wheat, wholemeal rye and sprouted whole grains. Whole wheat bread is made with pulverized flour so, like white bread, its starch is quickly converted to glucose.

One-hundred-per-cent bran cereals aren’t technically whole grain since they contain only the bran portion of the grain. But since they’re a concentrated source of fibre that’s lacking in refined cereals, they’re good choices. Plus, they have a low glycemic index.

Story continues below advertisement

Add magnesium-rich foods. Studies have found that people with prediabetes who have higher intakes of dietary magnesium have a lower risk of developing diabetes. Magnesium plays an important role in insulin action and insulin sensitivity.

Excellent sources include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, hemp seeds, tempeh, tofu, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, cooked spinach, Swiss chard and 100-per-cent bran cereal.

Choose the right fats. Emphasize heart-healthy unsaturated fats in your diet, which are thought to have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity.

Good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocado, almonds and cashews. Polyunsaturated fats include sunflower oil, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds.

Limit added sugars. Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks which have a high glycemic index and are tied to a greater risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Limit cookies, pastries, cakes and other sweets.

Read labels on breakfast cereals, snack bars, flavoured yogurts and condiments. Some brands of “no added sugar” jams, for example, have 5 g of sugar (one teaspoon worth) per serving from fruit juice concentrate, an added sugar.

Story continues below advertisement

Be active. Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight. Aerobic exercise, high-intensity interval training and resistance training have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in prediabetes.

Participants in the Diabetes Prevention Program performed at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week (e.g., brisk walking).

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

Sign up for the weekly Health & Wellness newsletter for the latest news and advice.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies