Diabetes: Best Foods for a Prediabetes Diet

Eat 3 to 5 servings of vegetables a day to help control your blood pressure.

Eat More Veggies

Plant-based fiber fills you up without raising blood sugar. Vegetables are also full of nutrients. Aim for at least 3-5 servings a day. That's ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw. You can choose fresh, frozen, or canned. But be sure to go for the low- or no-sodium kind. Fill half your plate with colorful, nonstarchy vegetables. Examples include carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, and leafy greens like spinach or kale.

Eat fewer starchy carbs like potatoes.

Cut Back on Starchy Vegetables

These have more carbohydrates than their nonstarchy counterparts. But they have healthy nutrients, too. If you use the plate method, give them a quarter of the space. Starchy vegetables include white potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and winter squash like acorn or butternut.

It's okay to eat 2 or 3 pieces of low-sugar fruit per day.

Snack on Fruit

These plant-based sweets have sugar, but that doesn't mean you should avoid them. Fruit is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Aim for two to three servings a day. That could be one small apple or ½ cup of strawberries. Ask your doctor if you should opt for low-sugar choices. That includes berries, kiwi, melons, and oranges. Try pairing your fruit with healthy proteins like natural nut butter, Greek yogurt, or almonds.

Whole-grain foods are better for you than refined grains.

Choose Whole Grains

Unlike refined grains, whole grains have all their original fiber and other nutrients. You can eat them for breakfast or as a side dish for lunch or dinner. They come in lots of forms, including oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread or pasta, and quinoa. You can even make cookies with whole-grain flours. If you buy a packaged product, make sure you see the word “whole” before grain on the label.

Eat a few servings of unsalted nuts each week.

Add More Nuts and Seeds

Grab a handful of any kind you like. Just make sure they're unsalted. And stick to the serving size, about an ounce. Nuts and seeds have healthy fats, but they're also high in calories. Good choices include walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and cashews.

Eat more lean sources of protein to help keep your blood sugar steady.

Add Some Protein

Try including protein with all your meals and snacks. It helps you feel full and slows how fast carbohydrates go into your bloodstream. That's important when it comes to keeping your blood sugar steady. Sources include fatty fish and seafood, plant-based protein like beans and lentils, eggs and low-fat dairy, and lean meats.

Skip sugary drinks if you have diabetes or prediabetes to keep your blood sugar levels lower.

Avoid Sugary Drinks

These beverages spike blood sugar because they don't come with other nutrients -- like fiber and protein -- to slow down the digestion process. If you have prediabetes, it's a good idea to limit or skip the following 100% fruit juice, soda, and sweetened coffee drinks. Try to avoid energy or sports drinks, mixed alcohol cocktails, and lemonade or sweet tea. Experts aren't sure how artificial sweeteners affect people with prediabetes. Ask your doctor if they're OK for you.

Limit your intake of added sugars that may be in foods you may not think of like ketchup.

Limit Added Sugars

Read the Nutrition Facts label to see how much added sugar is in a packaged food or drink. You can use the 5-20 rule: 5% daily value (DV) or less means it's a low source of sugar. If it's 20% DV or higher, then you'll want to put it back. You'll find added sugar in lots of processed foods, such as cookies, candy, and cakes. It's also in flavored oatmeal, ketchup, and jelly.

Eat breakfast within 2 hours of when you wake up so it helps keep your blood sugar under control for the rest of the day.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Try to eat within 2 hours of when you wake up. That may help control your blood sugar later in the day. In general, it's a good idea to eat when you feel hungry. That's because you might overeat or grab something easy -- and possibly less healthy -- if you go a long time without food.

Recruit the help of a dietitian if you need help planning out your diet.

Talk to a Dietitian

You don't have to figure all this out on your own. Ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). That's a trained professional who'll help you make simple dietary changes based on your lifestyle.

The Mediterranean diet, a plant-based diet and the DASH diet are good to follow if you have prediabetes or diabetes.

Explore Healthy Eating Patterns

If you're looking for a specific eating plan, a Mediterranean or plant-based (vegetarian or vegan) diet may help. The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet is also an option.

It's better to eat meals balanced with carbohydrates, fats and protein rather than to try to eat according to the glycemic index (GI).

What About the Glycemic Index (GI)?

The GI ranks food according to how much it spikes your blood sugar. In general, experts don't think it's a great tool for people with prediabetes. It can be really confusing. And you might leave out foods that are healthy. Instead, it's better to make sure your meals and snacks are a mix of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. If you're not sure how to do that, ask your doctor or dietitian.

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REFERENCES:

  • Jerlyn Jones, registered dietitian nutritionist; spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Diabetes Care: "Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report."
  • American Diabetes Association: "Eating right doesn’t have to be boring," "Non-starchy Vegetables," "Get to Know Carbs," "Fruit," "Protein."
  • The Johns Hopkins Patient Guide to Diabetes: "The Truth About Starchy Vegetables."
  • University of Michigan: "Nutrition: Grains and Starchy Vegetables."
  • Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition and healthy eating -- Whole grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet."
  • Cleveland Clinic: "Nutrition: Nuts & Heart Health," "What to Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes."
  • The Journal of Nutrition: "Sugar-Sweetened Beverage but Not Diet Soda Consumption Is Positively Associated with Progression of Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes."
  • University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital: "Foods to avoid with type 2 diabetes."
  • Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care: "Effect of artificial sweeteners on insulin resistance among type-2 diabetes mellitus patients."
  • FDA: "Added Sugars on the New Nutrition Facts Label."
  • Nutrition: "Skipping breakfast is associated with glycemic variability in patients with type 2 diabetes."
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