When you have prediabetes you need to be especially careful about the food that you eat.
Prediabetes is when your blood sugar, also called glucose, is at an elevated level but slightly lower than diabetes.
It is a preventable and reversible condition, but if left untreated, prediabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes and a number of other health problems.
In this article, we will discuss what to eat and what to avoid on a prediabetes diet and we will also explore other treatment options for prediabetes.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels that are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
When you have prediabetes, your pancreas is still able to produce some insulin.
However, either your body does not use insulin effectively, a condition called insulin resistance, or your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin to keep up with the demand, a condition called beta-cell dysfunction.
Thankfully, prediabetes can often be treated and even reversed with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.
You may not have symptoms if you have prediabetes and if left untreated it can lead to type 2 diabetes and other medical conditions including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Liver damage
- Eye damage including blindness and vision loss
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy
- Damaged blood vessels
- Chronic kidney disease
How does my diet affect prediabetes?
The way your body makes glucose is determined in part by the type of foods you eat because glucose is absorbed from your stomach into your bloodstream.
When you have prediabetes, your diet can help to lower your blood sugar levels and prevent the progression from prediabetes to diabetes. The prediabetes diet is very similar to the diet that someone with diabetes would follow to help with glycemic control by increasing your insulin sensitivity.
It includes a healthy eating plan with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats all being a part of a balanced diet.
Carb counting may also be a part of your prediabetes diet to help you manage your blood sugar levels as carbohydrates are quickly converted into glucose which can cause your blood glucose level to spike.
The goal of the prediabetes diet is to help control blood sugar levels, also called glycemic control.
For these reasons, your diet is important and an unhealthy diet with processed foods, lots of added sweeteners, and unhealthy fats can be a risk factor for developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
It is not the only factor that affects blood sugar levels as other risk factors include being obese, lack of physical activity, stress, family history of diabetes, and certain medical conditions along with several others.
Prediabetes can often be treated and even reversed without medication by making lifestyle changes.
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What foods can I eat on a prediabetes diet?
Just as with a diabetes diet, you will want to eat foods that are low on the glycemic index which means they will not cause your blood sugar to spike.
Fiber intake is also helpful as they slow down the absorption of glucose and helps you feel full.
Portion control is also important as eating too much of even healthy foods can cause weight gain which is a risk factor for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
You may also want to count your daily carbohydrate intake to help with your glycemic control too. Some specific examples of healthy prediabetes diet foods include:
Choose vegetables that are high in fiber such as leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, winter squash, and cauliflower.
Non-starchy vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cucumbers are also good prediabetes diet foods.
Fresh vegetables are always best but if you must buy canned or frozen vegetables read the labels to ensure no sugar was added and that it is low in salt.
Fruits high in fiber such as raspberries, pears, apples, and oranges are good prediabetes diet foods.
You will want to avoid fruits that are high in sugar such as grapes, bananas, and mangoes while also reading any labels so you do not eat more than the correct portion size as fruits can be high in natural sugars.
Dried fruits also tend to be higher in sugar as they are more concentrated.
As with vegetables, fresh fruits are always best, and remember to be cognizant to read the label to make sure there are no added sugars and it is low in sodium.
Whole grains are fiber-rich which will help to keep you full and your blood sugar levels stable.
Whole grains in a prediabetes diet include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, oats, and barley.
You will want to avoid white bread and pasta as well as anything made with refined flour.
Legumes are also a good source of protein and high in dietary fiber and examples include beans, peas, soybeans, and lentils.
You can add them to soups and salads or make a vegetarian chili while also helping make you feel more full.
You will want to choose lean protein sources such as grilled chicken or fish, tofu, and eggs.
Fish such as salmon are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are also very healthy and have beneficial effects.
Avoid processed meats such as bacon and sausage as well as red meat.
Unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are foods that can be part of a balanced diet and help you avoid unhealthy fats.
You will want to avoid trans fats and saturated fats found in processed foods, butter, fried foods, and baked goods.
Good examples of nuts and seeds for you to eat include pepitas, walnuts, almonds, and chia seeds.
What foods do I need to avoid on a prediabetes diet?
You will want to avoid processed foods, refined carbs, and sugary beverages.
You will also need to limit red meat and alcohol consumption as well as unhealthy fats.
Some specific examples of prediabetes diet foods to avoid include:
Fruit juices, sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks are all sugary drinks that you will want to avoid or limit on a prediabetes diet.
Be careful with flavored waters as they can also be high in sugar too. Also, if you regularly drink a sugar-sweetened beverage such as hot tea, coffee drinks, or iced tea it is best avoided unless you choose to enjoy them without added sweeteners.
It is best to stick with water or sparkling water with a wedge of lemon or lime.
Chips, crackers, pastries, and sweets are all processed foods that you will want to limit or avoid on a prediabetes diet as they have adverse effects on your prediabetes and also cause weight gain.
You need to also limit processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and deli meats.
White bread, pasta, rice, and cereal are all made from refined grains that you will want to limit or avoid.
These types of carbs are quickly absorbed and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike.
Limit your consumption of red meat such as steak, pork, and lamb.
You can still enjoy small portions of leaner cuts of meat such as chicken or fish.
Alcoholic beverages are allowed on a prediabetes diet but you must moderate your alcohol intake to one drink of alcohol per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Portion control is also crucial so make sure to follow the standard pour sizes for whatever you choose to drink.
Steer clear of any drinks with a high sugar content or drinks that have sugary mixers added to them.
Unhealthy fats are found in fried foods, processed foods, butter, and margarine.
You will want to avoid these types of fats as they can contribute to weight gain and make it harder to control your blood sugar levels.
As you can see, there are many prediabetes diet foods that you can eat as well as some that you will need to avoid. It is important to speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian to create a prediabetes diet plan that is right for you.
They can help you create a prediabetes diet menu as well as offer prediabetes diet tips on how to make healthy choices when eating out.
What other treatment options are available for prediabetes?
There are also other prediabetes treatments besides diet changes that your doctor may recommend which can be key factors in treating your prediabetes such as regular exercise and weight loss therapy.
Losing any excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight management goal is one of the best ways to limit your risk of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
Following a prediabetes diet and making other lifestyle changes to keep your body weight down will help you become more insulin sensitive and burn excess glucose in your blood.
If diet and exercise do not work, your doctor may also prescribe medication such as metformin to help control your blood sugar levels.
Daily insulin doses are usually only used if you have type 1 diabetes although in rare cases it may be used in the progression to type 2 diabetes from prediabetes.
Finally, if you smoke you need to quit smoking as it also increases your risk of diabetes and prediabetes.
Prediabetes is a condition that affects millions in the United States and can lead to diabetes and other medical problems if left untreated.
A prediabetes diet is a great way to help control your blood sugar levels and the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
There are many prediabetes diet foods that you can eat as well as some that you will need to avoid.
By following a prediabetes diet, you may even be able to reverse your prediabetes and bring your blood glucose level down to the normal range.
If you have any questions about prediabetes or what diet to follow, please talk to your doctor or health care provider as they can help you create an individualized eating plan that is right for you.
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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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