Incredibly, one in four Americans over age 20 has prediabetes -- and most don't even know it. Being prediabetic means that your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but short of being classified as diabetic levels. Studies show that most people with prediabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, unless they lose weight and make dietary and exercise changes.
Because prediabetes develops gradually over years, it's often said that there are no obvious symptoms. But it's possible to notice certain warning signs of growing insulin resistance, the inability to process the energy in food properly that's a key aspect of prediabetes, says Beth Reardon, director of nutrition for Duke Integrative Medicine at Duke University.
Paying close attention to such warning signs gives you plenty of time to make changes before the situation progresses to type 2 diabetes, she says.
"These symptoms usually occur in tandem with one another; together they create a bigger picture that says insulin resistance is going on," Reardon says. "Some signs can be measured, some we feel, some we can just see."
If you're experiencing the following signs, you should ask your doctor about an insulin response test to measure your insulin and blood sugar levels. If the tests confirm that your body is starting to have trouble managing its glucose, it may be incentive for you to commit to the diet and exercise changes that can help move you away from the path toward diabetes.
What Feeling Tired and Sluggish After Eating Might Mean
Ready to nap right after a big meal? This is a normal response to an influx of carbs (think of that post-Thanksgiving dinner feeling). But if it happens often, your body may be sending a message that your diet is too diabetes-friendly.
After eating, all carbohydrates -- whether in a doughnut or a carrot -- are broken down into the bloodstream as glucose (blood sugar), the body's main energy source. When the blood containing the glucose hits the pancreas, this organ gets the message to release insulin, a hormone it produces to help the cells throughout the body use glucose. Cells have insulin receptors that allow glucose to enter and either be stored as future energy or used right away.
It's a great system. But a diet that's high in simple carbs like sugar, white flour, and sweet beverages -- especially when consumed in large quantities at one sitting -- overwhelms it. According to Reardon, the cells' insulin receptors eventually stop receiving the insulin, which means they can't take in the glucose. The glucose builds up in the blood while the needy cells don't get any. The pancreas, meanwhile, notes the glucose level is still high in the blood that flows through it, and it pumps out still more insulin in response. Net result: You feel sleepy and may find it hard to think, because your brain and body are depleted until the system rights itself.
"Over time, this cycle can cause someone to become chronically insulin resistant. The body simply can't keep up with the demands that all those simple sugars and fats are placing on it," Reardon says.
What helps: Slow your carb load. Choose more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains (barley, oats, quinoa, spelt, brown rice), vegetables, and whole fruits (not juices) that the body has to work harder to digest. This means blood sugar stays stable longer. Move around right after eating -- take a 15-minute walk; even washing the dishes helps -- rather than plopping in front of the TV. The activity will help your body begin to process the big glucose intake faster and more efficiently. In fact, a Mayo Clinic study presented at the 2011 American Diabetes Association annual meeting reported blood sugar levels rose only half as much after eating in a group that was moderately active after a meal, compared to a control group that ate, then rested.
What Carb Cravings Might Mean
Among the most craved foods: chocolate, chips, and French fries. They're loaded with sugar, salt, and fat -- three substances that taste so good, they light up the reward system of the brain, which begs for more, more, more.
But what happens next in the body can be dangerous, says nutritionist Beth Reardon. Simple carbs such as sugars and white flour break down very quickly, providing a fast hit of energy. Soon, however -- because the insulin-resistant cells essentially ignore this entry of glucose into the blood -- the pancreas overcompensates, releasing more and more insulin to handle the glucose. What follows is a dramatic drop in blood sugar as the extra insulin quickly shuttles the glucose to the cells -- and energy levels plummet. The body is caught in a wave of fatigue. So, naturally, it craves another quick hit of energy to bring blood sugar back up. The brain becomes obsessed with this mission. And before you know it, you're reaching for a pick-me-up guzzle of soda, another handful of pretzels, a second cookie (or three).
People get sucked into a vicious cycle before they realize it, getting hooked on problematic foods they think they're craving -- while gaining weight.
What helps: Kick your food cravings. It's challenging, but one starting place is to avoid triggers that you associate with these foods. Just seeing a fast-food sign or the cookie package in your cupboard can be enough to set off the pleasure system in the brain that fixates on having the craved food.
Instead of quick-hit snacks like candy bars or chips, substitute slower-to-digest choices, like a handful of nuts, a banana, or raw carrots dipped into a tablespoon of peanut butter, which will keep you feeling sated longer. Be persistent: It can take as many as a dozen "successes" in resisting an old craving before your new habit is established.
diabetes and blood sugar help
These simple steps may be all it takes to stay healthy and stop worrying about sugar problems.
U.S. News evaluated 25 of the most popular diets and identified the best.
Understanding how insulin affects your blood sugar can help you better manage your condition.
How much sugar is too much, and simple ways to eat less added sugar.
Give your body a good once-over to see if trouble may be lurking.
These aspects of your office may be dangerous to your health.
The year's top health headlines, from federal health policy to celebrity controversy.
Try these expert tips on how to deal with your biggest sexual roadblocks and boost your pleasure in the bedroom tonight.