The Best and Worst Foods for Your Prediabetes Diet Plan
One in three adults in the US have prediabetes—and half of them go on to develop diabetes within 10 years. Here’s how your eats can make a big difference in preventing full-blown type 2 diabetes.
Worst breakfast: bagels, breakfast cereals, or bacon
Highly refined grains like bagels made from white flour and cereals are bad breakfast choices for your prediabetes diet because they lack the fiber that blunts your blood sugar response. (Besides, some cereals are packed with sugar; you have to look at the nutrition label carefully.) You can still eat these on occasion, but you should aim to limit these in your diet, says Jill Weisenberger, RD, author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week By Week. Bacon also shouldn’t be an “everyday food,” she says. “People think, ‘oh, it doesn’t have carbs,’ but there are so many things about it that are not a good idea for prediabetics,” she says. For one, it’s linked to colon cancer, something people with type 2 diabetes are already at an increased risk of. These are the best foods for diabetics, according to science.
Best breakfast: eggs and avocado
Eggs are one food that Weisenberger likes to recommend to clients, mainly because there are so many ways to cook them. Besides being fast and easy to prepare, they’re also a good source of protein for people with prediabetes. And while you may be nervous about the cholesterol, research shows that in the context of a healthy diet, eating eggs doesn’t have a negative effect on your heart health. Avocado also tops this list because it’s rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, heart healthy fats that have been shown to improve fasting blood glucose levels.
Worst lunch: a deli sandwich
Veering away from processed meats, including deli meat, is a good idea for your prediabetes diet. In one 2010 Harvard review of the research, people who ate about 2 ounces of processed meats per day had 19 percent higher odds of type 2 diabetes, and 42 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease. (Unprocessed meats didn’t up likelihood of either disease, the researchers discovered.) Sodium and nitrates in processed meats may impair artery health, insulin secretion, and glucose tolerance, say study authors. Make sure you avoid these eating habits that are the worst for diabetics.
Best lunch: a mega salad
So cliché, but hear us out. Non-starchy veggies should make up the largest food group on your plate, says Weisenberger. “Your goal should be to eat more non-starchy vegetables than anything else. If you’re still hungry, eat more of them,” she says. These include picks like leafy greens of any type, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Not only does a larger intake of produce helps drive down type 2 diabetes risk, but these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, plus thousands of phytonutrients, which work in numerous ways to protect your heart and keep blood sugar under control. Feel free to top your salad with legumes, like lentils or beans, or lean meats like sliced chicken, plus an olive oil-based vinaigrette.
Worst snack: beef jerky, beef sticks, or pork rinds
“People eat these because they have zero carbs. But the focus shouldn’t be on that; it should be on the overall nutrient profile of the food,” says Weisenberger. And these products are lacking in that department, she says. Your aim should be to fit more nutrient-rich plant foods into your diet—not simply carb-free ones. Watch out for these common prediabetic mistakes.
Best snack: hummus and crudités
Remember: One goal of a prediabetes diet is to up your intake of fruits and veggies, and one way to do that is to include them in a snack. Dunking them into good-for-you dips is a smart move. Hummus is made from chickpeas, and legumes have been shown to improve fasting blood sugar levels in both the short- and long-term, says Weisenberger.
Worst dinner: fast food burger and fries
Beware the lure of the neon sign. In past research in The Lancet, people who visited fast food restaurants more than twice a week experienced more weight gain and a two-fold greater increase in insulin resistance compared to those who frequented less than once a week. If you’re craving a burger and fries, do yourself a favor and grill one up at home with a whole grain bun and a side of (homemade) roasted sweet potato fries. Try these simple tips for living well with diabetes—from people who have it.
Best dinner: veggies, fish, and barley
When you’re thinking about the best prediabetes diet, it’s all about building a smart plate. Like lunch, you should aim to fill most of your plate with those nutrient-rich non-starchy veggies, says Weisenberger. Fish will help safeguard your ticker, important since having prediabetes puts you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Whole grains are also important: One 2013 study found they prevent glucose tolerance from worsening by improving insulin sensitivity. Quinoa, wild rice, and farro are a few whole grains, but barley is especially great, as it contains a fiber called beta glucan that’s especially helpful for insulin. Keep your portion to a half to one cup, advises Weisenberger.
Worst desserts: cheesecake, sorbet, frozen yogurt
It’s not hard to understand why cheesecake is one of the foods to avoid for prediabetes. “Have you looked at the nutrition facts for cheesecake? It’s really scary,” says Weisenberger. For one, slices are rich in saturated fat, which can impair insulin sensitivity, plus a portion packs 27 grams of sugar, more than a woman should eat in an entire day. Weisenberger also isn’t a fan of the other side of the spectrum: fat-free desserts like sorbet or frozen yogurt. “These contain a ton of added sugar that increase your blood sugar but offer minimum nutrition,” she says.
Best dessert: dark chocolate covered almonds
Dark chocolate is packed with healthful antioxidants compared to milk chocolate. In addition, nuts like almonds are linked to better heart health, says Weisenberger. (And remember, what’s good for your heart is good for diabetes.) In terms of weight control—important for prediabetics—individual treats (like chocolate-covered almonds) are great because you can eat them slowly and savor the sweet treat. Next, read about these healthy habits that can prevent diabetes.