What to Eat and What to Limit

Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar levels are higher than usual but not enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Prediabetes puts you at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. However, lifestyle changes like consistently following a prediabetes eating plan can help delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes.Lowering your risk for developing type 2 diabetes can involve gradually adding manageable, healthy changes into your life. These changes may include being more active, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and maintaining a balanced nutrition plan.

A prediabetes nutrition plan can consist of foods high in fiber and low in added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats.

Read on to learn more about what to eat more and what to limit in your prediabetes eating plan.

What should you eat if you have prediabetes?

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When planning your prediabetes diet, knowing how prediabetes affects your body can be helpful. Prediabetes means your blood sugar is higher than usual but not high enough for diabetes.

Prediabetes occurs when the cells in your body cannot respond to the insulin your pancreas produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates how your cells use glucose, a type of sugar, in your blood. The body’s inability to respond to insulin is called insulin resistance. Because the cells do not use glucose as they should, the sugar builds up in the bloodstream.

A prediabetes meal plan revolves around controlling your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates break down into sugar when the body digests them. Limiting ultra-processed foods high in added sugars can help control your blood sugar levels.

Consider adding the following foods to your prediabetes meal plan:

  • Whole grains: Brown rice, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, bran, and bulgur are all examples of whole grains. Compared with people who do not regularly eat whole grains, people who eat 2–3 servings daily are almost 30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, spinach, and peppers, are good to eat raw or steamed. Additionally, fruit is a great substitute for sugary desserts. Look for lower-sugar fruits, such as strawberries or canned fruit without added sugar.
  • Lean protein: Protein helps you feel full without raising your blood sugar as much as carbohydrates do. Limit fatty red meat when you can. Instead, focus on turkey, chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, or yogurt. Limit fried foods and focus on baking, broiling, roasting, or grilling when possible.
  • Unsweetened drinks: Stay hydrated with water and other unsweetened beverages, such as tea, coffee, or unsweetened sparkling water.

These guidelines can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, which can keep your prediabetes from progressing to diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), losing just 5–7% of your body weight can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. For example, for a person weighing 170 pounds, losing 9–12 pounds may be beneficial.

Your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian for education and support. A dietitian can help you start incorporating more food aligned with a prediabetes nutrition plan.

What foods should you limit if you have prediabetes?

It can be helpful to limit certain foods when following a prediabetes diet. Foods to limit can include:

  • processed foods: Packaged and processed foods are more likely to have added sugar and fat. Limit potato chips, packaged meats, cookies, granola bars, and sugary bread in your eating plan.
  • Foods with trans fat: Some packaged snack foods and baked goods have trans fats, which can damage your heart. Look for “partially hydrogenated” fats on food labels to know what to limit.
  • fast food: When eating out, check the nutrition facts on the menu and limit your portions to match your eating plan.
  • Alcohol: Your liver processes alcohol and helps maintain your blood sugar, but it often has difficulty doing both simultaneously. Try to limit your intake and choose mixers that are lower in sugar or sugar-free.
  • Sugary drinks: Sugary drinks, such as juice drinks, juice blends, and sodas, contain calories and can raise your blood sugar. Choose 100% juices in smaller sizes, around 4 ounces. For any drink, choose the lower sugar or sugar-free option.

Can you reverse prediabetes?

You may not be able to control some of the risk factors for developing prediabetes, such as having a family history of diabetes. However, many people can reverse the condition through a combination of exercise and a healthy eating plan.

Experts believe obesity is one of the causes of insulin resistance. Evidence also suggests that fat around the stomach may create hormones that cause inflammation. This type of inflammation can contribute to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, losing weight by reducing fat around your midsection is important in managing prediabetes.

Keeping track of your waist measurement before and after changing your eating habits is a great way to tell if you are reducing your risk of developing diabetes.

Getting adequate physical activity is also important because it helps your body regulate blood sugar. Your doctor also might recommend a medication called metformin to help delay diabetes.

Other frequently asked questions

Here are a few other commonly asked questions about prediabetes and prediabetes eating plans. Kathy Warwick, RD, LD, has reviewed the answers.

How common is prediabetes?

According to the CDC, about 96 million adults in the United States — more than 1 in 3 — have prediabetes. Because prediabetes may not show symptoms, more than 80% of these people do not know they have it.

What fruits should someone with prediabetes limit?

People with prediabetes should limit fruits high in sugar, such as mangoes or grapes. Some dried fruits are higher in carbohydrates. If you eat canned fruit, choose options packed in 100% juice or water.

Is prediabetes reversible?

You can reverse prediabetes by eating balanced meals, exercising regularly, and losing weight. Quitting smoking and taking any medications per your doctor’s instructions are also beneficial.

Prediabetes is a common condition that puts you at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. However, you can manage it by exercising regularly, following a healthy nutrition plan, and maintaining a moderate weight.

People with prediabetes can eat whole grains, lean protein, and low-sugar foods and drinks as part of a prediabetes eating plan. People with prediabetes should limit their intake of processed foods, fatty foods, and sugary drinks.

Talk with your doctor and registered dietitian to create a prediabetes eating plan that works for you.

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