Diabetes: Best Foods for a Prediabetes Diet

Reviewed on 4/26/2021

Eat More Veggies

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

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.

Cut Back on Starchy Vegetables

Eat fewer starchy carbs like potatoes.

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.

Snack on Fruit

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

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.

Choose Whole Grains

Whole-grain foods are better for you than refined 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.

Add More Nuts and Seeds

Eat a few servings of unsalted nuts each week.

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.

Add Some Protein

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

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.

Avoid Sugary Drinks

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

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 Added Sugars

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

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.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

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.

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.

Talk to a Dietitian

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

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.

Explore Healthy Eating Patterns

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

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.

What About the Glycemic Index (GI)?

It's better to eat meals balanced with carbohydrates, fats and protein rather than to try to eat according to 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.

Diabetes: Best Foods for a Prediabetes Diet

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