Prediabetes Diet: Foods to Eat

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 22, 2022

Prediabetes is a health condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes and other health concerns, including heart disease and stroke. 

Though the condition can put you at risk for serious health conditions, it is reversible. Lifestyle modifications, including dietary changes, can help to treat the condition and prevent its progression to type 2 diabetes.

In fact, research shows that intensive lifestyle interventions can help decrease new diabetes cases by up to 58%

Changing your diet is just one component of these lifestyle interventions, but there isn’t always a one-size fits all approach. Still, making lifelong and sustainable modifications to what you eat can help to reverse the condition and improve your health in the long run. 

How Diet Impacts Prediabetes

Prediabetes is a condition in which the cells in your body don’t respond normally to insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that helps to control blood sugar levels.

When your cells don’t use insulin properly, your pancreas responds by making more of the hormone.

With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to indicate type 2 diabetes.

Certain foods can also impact your blood sugar, which is why it’s important to eat a balanced diet and avoid foods that can raise your blood sugar even further if you have prediabetes. 

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Prediabetes Diet

Nutritional modifications are an important part of prediabetes treatment. However, dietary recommendations for the treatment of prediabetes have evolved over time. 

The most common approaches include a low-glycemic index diet, a low-calorie diet, and a diet that eliminates specific foods. 

One review found that each approach can help to improve blood sugar and reverse prediabetes when it best suits an individual’s lifestyle and needs. 

Finding the right approach for you may take some trial and error and support from your healthcare provider and/or a licensed nutritionist. 

Use the glycemic index

The glycemic index rates carbohydrate-containing foods based on how they affect your blood sugar levels when consumed. 

Foods that are low on the glycemic index are less likely to cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, e.g.,  green vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and whole grains. In practice, eating a low-glycemic diet will limit simple and processed carbohydrates and emphasize eating a balance of complex carbohydrates, fiber, lean meats, and healthy fats.

Studies show that a low-glycemic index (GI) diet can be effective at reducing fasting glucose, body mass index, and total cholesterol levels. 

Research also shows that a low-GI diet is associated with normal glucose regulation. However, this approach on its own may not have an effect on fasting insulin or triglyceride levels. 

Practice portion control

Limiting your portion sizes is a popular approach when following a reduced-calorie diet. Put simply: the smaller your portions, the fewer total calories you consume. 

Depending on the recommendation you receive from your provider, you may choose to reduce your consumption of all foods or of one specific food group, like carbohydrates. 

Research shows that a low-calorie diet can help to reduce fasting blood glucose levels, which corresponds to a decrease in insulin resistance. 

Eat fiber-rich foods

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Because fiber passes through our system undigested, it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar like other carbohydrates. 

Eating a fiber-rich diet can also help to protect the heart, keep you feeling fuller longer, and maintain your digestive health.

Choose water 

Sugary drinks like sodas, fruit juice, and energy drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. 

Choosing water over these sugar-based alternatives can help to keep blood sugar levels more stable. 

Eat lean meat

In several studies, regular processed meat consumption was related to increased diabetes risk.

This is in part because the high-saturated fat content of non-lean meats, including pork and beef, can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. 

Eating lean meats can help to reduce cholesterol levels. 

And some studies show that eating a plant-based diet rich in plant-based proteins may be even more optimal when it comes to reversing prediabetes, as long as unrefined carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plant-based proteins are prioritized.

Limit alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption is a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and many types of mixed drinks can raise blood sugar levels. 

At the end of the day, moderation is key when it comes to managing prediabetes. 

Other Ways to Manage Prediabetes

Diet is an important component of reversing prediabetes, but there are other approaches that can help too. 

Whether practiced on their own or in combination with dietary changes, these actions can also help to prevent and treat prediabetes.

Exercise

Exercise is very important for weight control. It also helps your body to use sugar for energy.

If you’re not regularly active, try increasing your weekly activity to at least 150 minutes a week.

Even low-to-moderate forms of exercise, like brisk walking or jogging, can help to decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Stop smoking

Smoking can increase your risk of several serious health conditions, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. If you smoke, reach out to your provider for help on how to quit. 

Lose weight

Having overweight or obesity increases your risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. 

Research shows that losing a minimal amount of weight, specifically just 5-7% of your body weight, can significantly lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

However, it’s important to note that more extreme and short-term dieting can be harmful to your health. 

For tips on how to safely lose 5-7% of your body weight, reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.

Medications

In some cases, your provider may recommend taking medication to treat prediabetes. Metformin is often prescribed for this purpose. 

Other medications your provider might recommend include high blood pressure and cholesterol medications.

When to See a Medical Provider

Since most people with prediabetes don’t experience symptoms, it’s a good idea to speak to your medical provider about prediabetes screening if you are at high risk. 

Risk factors for prediabetes include being overweight or having obesity, having certain medical conditions (including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), high cholesterol, or high blood pressure), and being over the age of 45.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with prediabetes, talk to your medical provider about your treatment options.

Intensive lifestyle changes, including dietary modifications, can help to reverse the condition.

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How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What to avoid eating if you are prediabetic?
Speaking with your provider about recommended dietary changes after a prediabetes diagnosis is important. In general, avoiding refined carbohydrates and foods that are high in sugar, ultra-processed, and high in saturated fats is recommended.
What should a prediabetic eat?
In general, people with prediabetes should limit foods that spike their blood sugar, including foods that are high in starch and sugar. Some providers may also recommend limiting daily fat and calorie intake.
What foods get rid of prediabetes?
There are no specific foods that “get rid of prediabetes,” but making healthier changes to your diet can help to reverse the condition, especially when combined with other lifestyle modifications, like exercise. In general, it’s good to avoid foods that are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fat.
What fruits should a prediabetic avoid?
Most fruits are a healthy source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also a healthier alternative to more traditional desserts, like cakes and cookies. However, fruits are also a natural source of sugar. In most cases, fruits don’t have to be avoided if you have prediabetes. However, you may want to limit your consumption of fruits, especially those that are higher in sugar, like mangoes or cherries.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.

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