What is the Best Prediabetes Diet?
Your best prediabetes diet uses 5 key strategies. And it doesn’t mean not eating carbs. Find sample meals and plenty of tips for healthy eating for prediabetes.
What you eat can help you avoid the problems that often accompany a diagnosis of prediabetes. You might even be able to reverse prediabetes!
Let’s take a look at what healthy eating for prediabetes is and why it matters. By the way, it matters to me personally because of my risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is more than just a blood sugar problem. It’s a metabolic disorder that’s measured and defined by elevated blood sugar levels. But high blood sugar isn’t the only problem associated with prediabetes, so it can’t be the only one that we treat.
Other problems associated with prediabetes
- fatty liver
- high blood pressure
- low levels of chronic inflammation
- high triglyceride levels
- low levels of HDL-cholesterol
- abdominal obesity
- increased blood clotting
- blood vessel dysfunction,
- increased risk for some forms of cancer
- double to quadruple risk of heart disease.
So the best prediabetes diet must address more than just blood sugar levels.
Low carb is not for me
A lot of people swear off carbs when they receive a prediabetes diagnosis. I don’t favor them, but low-carb diets can help manage blood sugar levels. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I take a more holistic view of eating. I want my diet to boost my overall health. So healthy eating for prediabetes has to mean healthy eating for overall health too. I care about inflammation, blood vessel health and all the problems associated with prediabetes listed above.
Instead of putting emphasis on carbs (or fat or protein, for that matter), I put emphasis on health-boosting foods. So much evidence tells us that wholesome carbohydrate-containing foods increase wellbeing and longevity. To me then, the best prediabetes diet is one that includes mostly wholesome foods, tastes good, is satisfying and helps to manage the insulin resistance that’s largely behind prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Get your own checklist for 4 domains of prediabetes health
Just fyi: Both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes involve loss of insulin-producing capacity in the presence of insulin resistance. Also fyi: I typically recommend carb-counting for diabetes, but not usually for prediabetes. That’s because if you have prediabetes, you are not at risk for very high blood sugar levels like you might be with diabetes.
What is the best prediabetes diet?
Science hasn’t yet – and probably never will – identify a single best diet for prediabetes. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to slow the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. Here are 5 keys to your best prediabetes diet.
- Plant-slant on your plate. When you focus on wholesome foods from the plant kingdom, you’re chowing down on lots more than just vitamins, minerals and fiber: You’re treating yourself to a diet rich in disease-fighting phytonutrients. In a long-term study, researchers found that moderately reducing animal foods was associated with less risk for type 2 diabetes. But the greatest protection – a 34% risk reduction – came from a diet built around mostly wholesome plants. It wasn’t necessary to omit all animal foods. That’s great news for me because my day without dairy or my week without seafood and eggs would be very sad indeed!
- Eat fruit. The best prediabetes diet doesn’t omit fruit. Yes, fruit contains carbohydrates, but it’s packed with health-shielding nutrients and phytonutrients. In general, eating fruit is associated with less chronic disease. Research identifies berries, in particular, as good choices for diabetes prevention.
- Eat as if you live near the Mediterranean Sea. Healthy eating for prediabetes looks a lot like a Mediterranean-style diet. A large meta-analysis of 10 studies involving more than 136,000 people from around the world found that those individuals whose diets most closely resembled a Mediterranean diet were 23% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A Mediterranean Diet includes beans, fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, herbs, spices, nuts and olive oil.
- Here are 8 Ways to Follow A Mediterranean Diet.
- Eat quality. This has really been said a few times already, but it deserves its own bullet. Choose whole-wheat toast over toaster pastries; chocolate-covered almonds over chocolate brownies; liquid oil over coconut oil or butter; baked fish over a fast food fish sandwich; a bowl of oats over a bowl of sugary cereal; an orange over orange sherbet; and bean and lentils a few times a week over a daily plate of beef, pork or poultry.
- The American Diabetes Association finds that higher intakes of nuts, berries, yogurt, coffee and tea are associated with less risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Check out what else to add to your prediabetes shopping list.
- Eat the right amount. Typically insulin resistance and blood sugar improve when we cut calories. If you don’t need to lose weight – and many people with diabetes and prediabetes don’t – eat the amount of food and calories needed to maintain a healthy weight. But if you carry extra pounds, trimming calories even a bit can make a significant improvement.
Healthy Eating for Prediabetes: Meal Ideas
(aka creating your best prediabetes diet)
With the guidelines above, you can create an infinite number of healthy meals for your prediabetes diet. To get you started, here’s a day’s worth of meals heavy on those foods that science says are good for type 2 diabetes prevention.
Be sure to take a look at Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. It’s definitely complete with chapters on diet, activity, sleep, mindset, goal setting, developing habits, grocery shopping, eating in restaurants and more.
Breakfast: Yogurt with berries, walnuts and muesli; coffee or tea
- Here you’ve got 5 prediabetes foods: coffee or tea, yogurt, berries, walnuts and oats in the muesliIf you haven’t had muesli before, it’s worth a try. It’s a lot like granola, but it’s uncooked and without the oil. I love it!
Lunch: Lentil soup, leafy greens with orange segments, a few whole-grain crackers, low-fat cottage cheese (for additional protein)
- The prediabetes foods are the lentils, oranges (because they have viscous fibers) and vegetables, of course.
Dinner: Baked salmon, mushroom-barley pilaf, roasted broccoli, 5 or 6 chocolate-covered almonds for dessert
- Barley is a prediabetes food because of the fiber called beta-glucan. Your dessert (which happens to be my usual dessert) gives you diabetes-fighting nuts. The salmon and broccoli are also health boosters.
Snacks: Snacks should fill in nutritional gaps, and you should eat them according to your hunger. You do not need snacks for weight loss or for prediabetes management.
- roasted chickpeas
- edamame beans
- hummus and veggies
- celery and peanut butter
All of the above are prediabetes foods. See this list of snacks for other ideas.Don’t forget to download your prediabetes self-care checklist that includes diet, sleep, physical activity and other lifestyle actions to prevent type 2 diabetes.
I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.
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Welcome to my Blog
Hi there! I'm Jill, a nutrition & diabetes expert and the author of 4 books.
I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.
And I believe willpower is way overrated.
Right here is where you can discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time - and drop the guilt when you don't.