Prediabetes Diet: Foods to Eat & Avoid + Tips | Signos

The prediabetes diet is not a one-size-fits-all eating plan. This article will review how to manage your blood sugar levels with balanced nutrition.

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by
Chelsea Rae Bourgeois, MS, RD
— Signos
Health writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
July 11, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Prediabetes is characterized by higher-than-normal blood glucose levels – levels that aren’t quite in the diabetes range just yet. It’s a relatively common health condition, affecting more than 88 million people in 2018.1

It’s most often caused by insulin resistance, where the body doesn’t use the insulin hormone effectively. While we can’t control every risk factor for prediabetes, healthy lifestyle choices can help maintain balanced blood sugar levels. And that’s good news because prediabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

This article will discuss the science behind prediabetes and nutrition’s role in managing our blood sugars.

The Link Between Diet and Prediabetes

While we can’t control all risk factors for prediabetes (looking at you, genetics), some lifestyle choices may contribute to developing the condition. Meeting your physical activity needs and maintaining a healthy body weight can help keep prediabetes at bay. And, of course, your nutrition choices play a significant role in preventing or managing the condition.

Since prediabetes affects how your body moves sugar into your cells, the foods you eat may cause sugar to build up in your bloodstream. The types and amounts of carbohydrates you consume can significantly influence your blood sugar levels and contribute to insulin resistance. A diet that contains a large amount of easy-to-digest carbs can cause high blood sugar spikes.

Monitoring your carb intake can help you avoid unwanted blood sugar spikes and may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Some people living with diabetes have found success with the Mediterranean diet, while others have designed eating patterns that fit their unique preferences. 

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6 Things to Consider for a Balanced Prediabetes Diet 

Because no two bodies are the same, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all prediabetes diet. Still, there are several modifications you can make to help manage the condition with your overall health in mind.

Choose More Foods Rich in Fiber

If you ask a registered dietitian to list their BFFs, fiber will likely be at the top. Fiber plays many important roles in the body, making it an essential part of any healthy diet. Eating fiber-rich foods can help satiate your hunger and keep you from overeating. Less overeating means improved blood sugar control and weight management.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults consume between 25 to 36 grams of fiber daily, depending on their age and sex.2 Getting enough fiber can help support a healthy gastrointestinal system, prevent cardiovascular disease, and more.

Examples of high-fiber foods include:

  • Beans, lentils, and legumes.
  • Fruits and veggies with the skin.
  • Whole grains like quinoa and brown rice.
  • Whole grain breads and cereals.
  • Whole wheat pasta.

Pay Attention to Portion Sizes

You don’t have to cut out carbs entirely if diagnosed with prediabetes. You don’t even have to follow a low-carb diet. In fact, a 2018 study found that a lower-carb diet presented the same mortality risk as a high-carb diet.3

Monitoring your portion sizes is the name of the game. Spreading carbohydrate intake evenly throughout the day can help control your blood sugar levels and prevent unwanted highs and lows. Be sure to read nutrition labels to understand your meals' impact on your blood sugar, and consider meeting with a registered dietitian to assess your daily carbohydrate needs.

Eat Low-Fat Meats and Other Proteins

Carbohydrates get a lot of hype when it comes to managing blood sugars. However, fat intake can also play a role in diabetes management. Research has found that high-fat diets, particularly those high in trans and saturated fats, can adversely affect insulin sensitivity.4

Animal fats and processed foods can be high in saturated and trans fat. If you have prediabetes, being mindful of your fat intake can help control your blood sugars and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Lean protein sources include:

  • Bean, lentil, and legumes
  • Eggs
  • Soybean products, like tofu
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Lean beef cuts

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Moderation is key to a healthy diet, and alcohol intake is no exception. Alcoholic drinks can dehydrate, and many cocktails contain high amounts of sugar. If your eating plan can safely include moderate amounts of alcohol, avoid adding sugary fruit juices or liqueurs. And don’t forget to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Drink Water Instead of Sweetened Drinks 

Water is essential to all healthy diets, and if you have prediabetes, it’s a better option than sugary beverages like sodas and juices. One 12-ounce can of regular cola contains almost 40 grams of carbohydrates.5 And since it has virtually no protein, fat, or fiber, your body digests it quickly — meaning it spikes your sugar quickly and typically leaves you with a sugar crash.

Don’t Forget About Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is critical, especially if you have prediabetes. Staying active can support weight loss efforts and help your body better respond to insulin.6 The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.7

The American Diabetes Association also emphasizes the importance of regular physical activity, as it may help manage blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.8 Talk with your healthcare provider to design an exercise schedule that fits your needs.

Prediabetes Food List: 8 Best Foods for Prediabetes

There’s no magic formula for designing a prediabetes-friendly meal plan, but some foods may be more beneficial than others. Let’s check out a few:

Vegetables 

Including various vegetables, especially non-starchy vegetables, in your well-balanced diet is vital. Veggies are packed with nutrients and fiber. And since fiber slows digestion, you’re more likely to stay full and less likely to reach for a sugary snack between meals.

Asparagus

One cup of asparagus contains three grams of fiber and just five grams of carbs.9 Plus, it’s packed with other important nutrients like vitamins C, A, and K. Try roasting this veggie alone or add it to your favorite stir-fry.

Broccoli

Broccoli comes from the family of cruciferous veggies. It’s packed with prebiotic fiber that supports gut health and may help manage glucose and cholesterol. One cup of chopped broccoli provides two grams of fiber and six grams of carbs.10

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens like kale and spinach are loaded with vitamins and fiber. Mix them in a refreshing salad or add them to your favorite dishes. 

Protein Sources

Protein can slow the rate at which carbohydrates enter the bloodstream. Including a lean protein source at meal times can help manage blood glucose.

Fish

Fish, if not cooked in high-fat or high-sodium sauces, can be an excellent source of protein for people with prediabetes. Fish, such as salmon and cod, are rich in healthy fats that can support heart health and prevent blood sugar spikes. There are endless ways to include fish in your diet. Consider trying a salmon rice bowl or delicious fish tacos.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a delicious way to include lean protein and many beneficial probiotics in your diet. 

Lean meats

Lean meats, like chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef, are a great source of protein and other nutrients. And since they’re low in carbohydrates, they have minimal effect on your blood sugars.

Whole Grains

Replacing refined sugars with complex carbohydrates like whole grain products can be a game changer for blood sugar management. Foods like brown rice, bulgar wheat, quinoa, and oats are rich in protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients.

Fruits

Fruits provide a list of essential vitamins and minerals. Of course, they’re also a great source of carbohydrates, so it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes. You might also consider combining your fruits with a protein source to slow digestion and help lower glucose levels. 

plate-of-fruits

Foods to Avoid with Prediabetes

If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, you may wonder if some foods are totally off-limits. Good news! All foods can fit within a well-balanced diet. However, when it comes to diabetes care, it may be in your best interest to limit certain foods as they may cause blood sugar spikes without offering much nutritional value. Examples of these foods include:

  • Sweetened beverages like sodas, lemonade, and teas.
  • Foods with added sugars, like candies, cakes, and cookies.

Additionally, grapefruit and pomegranate may interact with some medications. Be sure to consult with your doctor or registered dietitian if you have questions about potential interactions.

The Relationship Between Sugar and Prediabetes

Our bodies depend on our carbohydrate intake to function, but eating too many carbs can contribute to or worsen prediabetes. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that individuals two years old and older limit their sugar intake to less than 10% of their total daily calories.

However, we all have unique nutrition needs. Consult your registered dietitian to address your specific needs related to your body’s food response and medical history.

Prediabetes Self-Care: What to Do for Prediabetes 

In addition to eating healthy foods, several other lifestyle changes can support you and your prediabetes management goals.

Consult a Dietitian

Registered dietitians can provide individualized counseling to help guide you in your blood glucose management.

Try Healthier Eating Patterns

Healthy eating involves more than just eating the right foods. The timing of your meals also plays a critical role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Do not skip meals. Instead, try to schedule your meals and snacks to prevent drops in blood sugar.

Increase Physical Activity 

Physical activity can help reduce your risk of developing diabetes while also supporting your heart health. Check with your doctor before starting a new workout routine or significantly increasing your activity level.

Reach Your Ideal Weight and Strive to Maintain It 

For those living with obesity, a modest 5-10% weight loss may improve your insulin sensitivity and other obesity-related metabolic risk factors.11

Give Up Smoking If You’re a Smoker

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking makes it more challenging to manage any type of diabetes. Per the CDC, smoking puts you at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.12

Don’t Skip Sleep

Getting adequate sleep is vital to our overall health. And, as it turns out, sleep also plays a significant role in blood sugar management.

When You Should Consider Seeing a Specialist 

Symptoms like excessive thirst, frequent urination, and unintentional weight loss often characterize diabetes. Prediabetes, however, typically doesn’t come with glaringly apparent symptoms. Therefore, routine screening is critical.

The American Diabetes Association recommends all adults get screened for diabetes starting at age 35. However, your doctor may recommend early screening if you have other risk factors. These risk factors may include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Extra weight or obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Being of African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, or Pacific Islander descent

And, of course, prevention is key. Implementing healthy lifestyle choices can help maintain proper glucose control and reduce your risk of developing prediabetes. Consider meeting with a registered dietitian to design a food plan based on your individualized nutrition needs.

Learn More About Healthy Habits and How to Improve Blood Sugar Health with Signos’ Expert Advice

Regular wellness check-ups and monitoring your blood sugar levels are crucial to your overall health, especially in the case of prediabetes. Continuous glucose monitoring and Signos’ experts’ advice can help. They may even help reverse prediabetes under the care of your medical doctor.

Learn more about nutrition and how Signos can improve health on Signos’ blog. And find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz.

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References

  1. National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf?1687004427422
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  3. National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf?1687004427422 
  4. von Frankenberg, A. D., Marina, A., Song, X., Callahan, H. S., Kratz, M., & Utzschneider, K. M. (2017). A high-fat, high-saturated fat diet decreases insulin sensitivity without changing intra-abdominal fat in weight-stable overweight and obese adults. European Journal of nutrition, 56(1), 431–443. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-015-1108-6
  5. Beverages, carbonated, cola, regular. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174852/nutrients 
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018, May). Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance#prevent 
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018
  8. American Diabetes Association Professional Practice Committee; 5. Facilitating Behavior Change and Well-being to Improve Health Outcomes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2022. Diabetes Care 1 January 2022; 45 (Supplement_1): S60–S82. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc22-S005
  9. Asparagus, raw. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168389/nutrients
  10. Broccoli, raw. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170379/nutrients
  11. Franz M. J. (2017). Weight Management: Obesity to Diabetes. Diabetes spectrum : a publication of the American Diabetes Association, 30(3), 149–153. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0011
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, May 5). Smoking and Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/diabetes.html#:~:text=The%20more%20cigarettes%20you%20smoke,risk%20for%20type%202%20diabetes.&text=No%20matter%20what%20type%20of,health%20problems%20from%20diabetes%2C%20including%3A&text=Heart%20disease,-Kidney%20disease 

About the author

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois is a registered dietitian nutritionist with several years of experience working in the clinical setting. Once a track and field athlete on a competitive stage, she now finds joy in combining her passions as a health writer to help people embrace their wellness through nutrition and fitness.

View Author Bio

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