If you have insulin resistance, it is important to follow a healthy diet.
When you eat foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels will rise which can lead to insulin resistance.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to improve your health and reduce your risk of insulin resistance.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of diet for insulin resistance, provide some tips on how to follow a healthy diet, and tell you which foods you need to avoid to help you best combat your insulin resistance.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is when your cells do not respond to insulin due to being less sensitive to it.
Insulin is a hormone that helps move glucose from your bloodstream into your cells, where it is used for energy.
Glucose is a type of sugar in your blood and when it becomes too high it leads to prediabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes.
If you have insulin resistance, your body makes insulin, but your cells do not use it properly.
As a result, glucose does not enter your cells, so it builds up in your blood which can lead to health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and nerve damage among many others.
Why is diet important for insulin resistance?
Diet is important for insulin resistance because the foods you eat can affect your blood sugar levels which are also called blood glucose levels.
If your cells become insulin resistant, you need to be careful about the types of food you eat as well as how much food you eat. You need to also pay attention to when you eat and how often you eat.
Typically, you will have to count carbs if you have insulin resistance because carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body and can raise your blood sugar levels.
What diet do you follow if you have insulin resistance?
If you have insulin resistance, it’s important to work with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator to create a meal plan that is right for you.
It’s also important to eat regular meals and snacks that include protein and high-fiber foods which can help you feel full and can slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
Unprocessed foods are also essential as they provide your body with the nutrients it needs without the added sugar and carbohydrates.
The foods you generally want to eat are non-starchy vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, lean protein, and whole grains.
You want to avoid sugary drinks, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates.
The types of food you need to incorporate into an insulin resistance diet include:
Non-starchy vegetables are better than starchy vegetables if you have insulin resistance because they have a lower glycemic index which means they don’t raise your blood sugar levels as much as starchy vegetables.
Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables are fine as long as there is no salt, sugar, or fat added.
The lower in calories and the higher in fiber the better as fiber slows down the absorption of glucose and makes you feel more full. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include:
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
You want to choose fruits that are lower in sugar if you have insulin resistance.
The best is fresh or frozen fruits with no added sugar. You can also eat canned fruit as long as it’s packed in water or its own juice and not syrup.
Dried fruit is also an option, but limit yourself to a small handful because they are more concentrated in sugar. The following fruits are lower in sugar:
- Berries such as strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries
- Honeydew melon
Please note that fruits can contain lots of natural sugars and can cause blood sugar spikes if you eat too much, so it’s important to limit yourself to one or two servings per day.
You want to include lean protein in your diet if you have insulin resistance as it can help you feel full and provides your body with the amino acids it needs to function properly.
Good sources of lean protein include:
- Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and trout
- Shellfish such as clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs, lobster, and scallops
Dairy is also essential for a balanced diet as it is a primary source of calcium.
When choosing dairy products, look for those that are lower in fat such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Non-fat or low-fat dairy is a good choice.
You can also eat full-fat dairy as long as you limit yourself to small portions. Almond milk and soy milk are also good choices if you are looking for a dairy-free option.
Whole grains are vital in your insulin resistance diet as they are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Although you need to limit your carbs when you have insulin resistance, it is still important to have them in your diet. Whole grains are the healthiest way to do this as they are unprocessed.
When choosing whole-grain products, look for the word “whole” on the label such as whole wheat bread or brown rice. Whole grains products that you can eat include:
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Whole-grain barley
Eggs are a good source of protein and fat.
They are also low in carbs, making them a good choice if you have insulin resistance.
You can eat eggs any way you like as long as they are cooked without adding sugar, salt, or fat, which means not frying them and using olive oil or another healthy fat to cook them instead of butter.
Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes are good sources of protein, fiber, and carbs.
They are also low in fat which can be beneficial for insulin resistance. Examples of healthy beans and legumes include:
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Pinto beans
- Edamame which are also called soybeans
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein, fat, and fiber.
They are also low in carbs which can be crucial when carb counting for your diet. Examples of healthy nuts and seeds include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds which are also called pepitas
Due to nuts and seeds usually having a high-fat content, it is important to follow portion control when snacking on them.
Other healthy fats
Besides nuts and seeds, you need to include healthy fats in your insulin-resistance diet.
They help you feel full and provide your body with energy.
Good sources of healthy fats include avocados and olives. Avocado oil and olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, are great alternatives to using butter when cooking too.
Vegetarian protein options
If you don’t eat meat, fish, or poultry, or follow a plant-based diet you can get your protein from the following vegetarian sources:
- Beans and legumes such as soy
- Nuts and seeds
What foods do you need to avoid if you have insulin resistance?
You need to avoid sugary foods and drinks, processed foods, and unhealthy fats if you have insulin resistance. Sugary foods and drinks contain simple carbs that can spike your blood sugar levels.
Processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats, salt, and calories.
Unhealthy fats can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
Fruit juices also contain added sugar and need to be avoided too.
Is there anything else you can do to treat insulin resistance?
In addition to following a healthy diet, there are other things you can do to treat insulin resistance. These include:
Getting regular exercise
Exercise and physical activity help with insulin resistance by making your cells more sensitive to insulin by lowering your insulin tolerance.
Coupled with a healthy diet, a daily exercise regimen can also help you lose excess weight and achieve your weight loss goals, which can also improve insulin resistance.
Maintaining a healthy weight
If you are overweight or obese, losing excess body fat can help improve insulin resistance.
Smoking is a risk factor for insulin resistance. If you smoke, quitting can help improve insulin resistance.
Stress can make insulin resistance worse.
Try to find ways to manage your stress such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
Getting enough sleep
Sleep is important for overall health and well-being and can also help with insulin resistance.
Taking insulin resistance medication
If diet and lifestyle changes are not enough to improve insulin resistance, your doctor may prescribe medication. Medications used to treat insulin resistance include metformin and pioglitazone.
If you have insulin resistance, it’s important to follow a healthy diet to help increase your body’s insulin sensitivity.
A healthy diet for insulin resistance includes eating eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, other healthy fats, and vegetarian protein options all in balanced portions.
You also need to avoid sugary foods and drinks, processed foods, and unhealthy fats.
In addition to diet, you can treat insulin resistance with exercise, losing excess body weight, stress management, sleep, and insulin-resistance medication to help lower your blood glucose levels to keep them in the normal range.
If you have any more questions or think you may have insulin resistance, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.
References and sources:
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