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The 5 biggest myths about prediabetes
You may have heard that having this condition means you’ll develop diabetes. That’s not always the case. Here’s why.
You went to the doctor recently, and they told you that your blood sugar levels are high. They used the word “prediabetes” to describe your condition.1 Does that mean you have actual diabetes?
Thankfully, the answer is no. Prediabetes means your blood sugar numbers are elevated, but not to the point that you have diabetes.1
“Prediabetes is a warning,” says Alan Wong, MD. He’s a specialist in diabetes and endocrinology at the Everett Clinic, part of Optum, in Everett, Washington. “We tell patients that having it does not predestine you for anything. You’re the captain of the ship, and there’s plenty of time to change direction.”
Use that warning to your benefit. The good news is that there are steps you can take now to help prevent diabetes in the future.
Here, learn five common myths about prediabetes, and the facts to know to help you stay healthy.
Myth #1: You can easily tell if you have prediabetes
It’s actually hard to know unless you get tested. More than 1 in 3 adults in the United States have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).2 But 80% don’t know they have it. That’s because it doesn’t have visible signs or symptoms.2
Prediabetes is typically diagnosed with a simple blood test.1 Your doctor might do one, called the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, which you’d do in the morning after fasting (not eating). Another common blood test is the A1c test. That’s a measure of your average blood sugar over three months.
A fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL or an A1c of 5.7% to 6.4% tells your doctor that you have prediabetes.1 (By the way, “mg/dL” is a measurement that stands for milligrams per deciliter.)
Myth #2: If you have prediabetes, you’ll have to stop eating carbohydrates
It’s true that eating carbs raises your blood sugar. But not all carbs are bad for you. Whole grains, beans, many fruits and some vegetables contain carbs.3 But these foods are also a good source of fiber — and fiber helps you manage blood sugar levels.4
If you have prediabetes, you do not have to cut out carbs completely. You’ll be better off eating foods with healthier carbs than those from processed foods, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).3
Want a simple way to plan your portions? Try the ADA’s plate method.5 Use your plate as a guide to balance your meals:
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies. Good choices: peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus and lettuce.
- Fill one-quarter with lean protein foods, such as chicken, fish, lean beef or tofu.
- Fill one-quarter with healthy carb foods, such as whole grains, beans or starchy vegetables, like potatoes or corn.
- For your drink, choose water or low-calorie beverages, such as unsweetened flavored water, unsweetened tea or coffee, and diet drinks.
Your doctor can also refer you to a registered dietitian or diabetes educator. These experts can help you come up with a personalized meal plan.
Myth #3: If you have prediabetes, you’ll have to lose a lot of weight
One way your doctor will likely suggest reversing prediabetes is by losing weight. But you don’t always need to drop a ton of pounds.
In fact, losing just 5% to 7% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC.2 (That’s about 7 to 11 pounds for someone who weighs 150 pounds.)
“We recommend patients talk to a registered dietitian about creating a calorie-restricted diet,” says Dr. Wong. A dietitian can develop one based on the foods you like to eat, your health needs and your cultural background.
Myth #4: Only medication can treat prediabetes
For some people, medicine plays an important role in treating prediabetes. Whether it’s right for you is a decision made by you and your doctor, says Dr. Wong.
But healthy habits are also a big part of treating prediabetes. Lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and exercising more, can help bring your blood sugar levels back to normal, according to the ADA.6
Healthy eating means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and plant protein. It’s also a good idea to lower your intake of added sugars and ultra-processed foods, such as fast food and store-bought baked goods.
Exercising increases your muscle mass and decreases visceral fat (also called belly fat). Dr. Wong says that this type of fat is linked to some risk factors for prediabetes, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Insulin resistance, which means your body struggles to convert blood sugar into energy
You should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, according to CDC guidelines.7 That’s about 30 minutes, five days a week. Aim to do muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week, too.7
Myth #5: Only older adults need to worry about prediabetes
It’s true that as you get older, your chance of developing prediabetes goes up.2 Adults ages 45 and older are at higher risk. But age isn’t the only risk factor.
You’ll want to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of these risk factors:2
- Overweight or obese
- Have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- Don’t get enough exercise
- Have ever had gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy) or given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome (also called PCOS)
Having a better idea of the lifestyle changes you can make to take on prediabetes is one way to be in the driver’s seat of your health. Your next step: make a few changes to keep your health on track.
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- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes. Last reviewed May 2018. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes — Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Last reviewed December 30, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- American Diabetes Association. Understanding Carbs. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- American Diabetes Association. Get to Know Carbs. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- American Diabetes Association. Eat Good to Feel Good. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- American Diabetes Association. Prediabetes. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? Last reviewed June 2, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
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