If you have prediabetes, you have lots of company! Prediabetes – which is the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes – is on the rise. A whopping 84 million Americans have prediabetes. Sadly only about 12% of them know that have it. That’s still about 10 million people looking for 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.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a metabolic disorder that is measured and defined by a major symptom: 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.
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 this is why a diet for prediabetes must address more than just blood sugar levels.
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. Our diets should boost overall health. So instead of putting most of my emphasis on carbs (or fat or protein, for that matter), I put my emphasis on health-boosting foods. We have so much evidence that several 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.
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?
Any balanced diet made up of health-boosting foods is ideal. 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 helping to ensure a diet rich in disease-fighting phytonutrients. In a long-term study of more than 200,000 health professionals, 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.
- 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. Berries, in particular, are linked to less risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Eat as if you live near the Mediterranean Sea. 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.
Prediabetes Meal Ideas
By using 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 muesli
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 gives you diabetes-fighting nuts. The salmon and broccoli are also health-boosting foods.
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.
Have you got other ideas for prediabetes meals and snacks?