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Diet Tips for Insulin Resistance

fruits and vegetables

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is a natural hormone produced by the pancreas, a glandular organ behind your stomach. It helps your body’s cells to metabolize glucose so it can be used for energy. If you have insulin resistance, your body produces enough insulin, but it cannot be used effectively. Instead of being absorbed by the cells, glucose builds up in your blood. 

When the cells are insulin resistant, your pancreas is pressured to produce more of the insulin hormone. Insulin resistance increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. It also increases your likelihood of having prediabetes. This condition means your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. 

Insulin resistance, however, doesn’t always lead to diabetes. You may be able to prevent type 2 diabetes by reducing your weight, managing your diet carefully, and exercising on a consistent basis.

Read on for weight-loss and diet-planning tips. 

Why Weight Loss Matters

Being obese or overweight increases your risk for diabetes and diabetes-related complications. However, losing even a few pounds can reduce your risk for health problems, while also helping control your glucose levels. Studies have shown that losing 7 percent of your body weight might help reduce your risk for diabetes by more than 50 percent.

The best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you typically do, and to exercise regularly each day. It’s important to be realistic in your eating plan and exercise schedule. Set small goals that are achievable and specific. For example, start with one healthy change to your diet, and one addition to your activity level. And remember, losing weight won’t happen overnight.


How you eat, and how much you eat, affects your weight. Certain foods can help you lose weight and even manage your blood sugar, which can prevent diabetes. Here are some foods that you can mix and match to create satisfying but healthy dishes for any meal. 


Vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates, making them an ideal food for people trying to manage their blood sugar. Your best bets are fresh, low-sodium canned, and frozen vegetables. Vegetable juices may seem healthy, but they tend to be not as filling and aren’t as fibrous as fresh vegetables. Healthful options include tomatoes, spinach, yams, collard greens, corn, and kale.


Munch on some fruit for fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Choose fresh, frozen, or canned varieties without added sugars. Go for fruits that slowly raise blood glucose, such as apples, bananas, grapes, plums, and peaches. Avoid fruit juices since they can raise blood sugar as quickly as regular soda.


Dairy gives you the calcium you need to help promote strong teeth and bones. Opt for fat-free, low-fat, or nonfat milk and yogurt. Skip whole milk and full-fat yogurts because insulin resistance can worsen when you consume foods high in saturated fat. If you’re lactose intolerant, try alternative milks like rice, almond, or fortified soy milk.

Whole Grains

Rich in vitamins, fiber, and minerals, whole-grain foods are great for a diabetes-friendly menu. To get the optimum amount of nutrients, aim for products that list whole-grain ingredients first on the label. Examples are whole-wheat flour, whole oats/oatmeal, bulgur, whole-grain corn or corn meal, and brown rice. You can also look for whole-grain barley, whole rye, wild rice, whole faro, quinoa, and buckwheat.


Nuts, seeds, and nut and seed butters offer healthy fats, magnesium, protein, and fiber. Nuts and seeds are also low in carbohydrates, which will benefit anyone trying to manage their blood sugar. Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids are also found in some nuts and seeds like flax seeds and walnuts. But be careful: nuts, while very healthy, are high in calories and can add too many calories to the day if they’re not properly portioned. 

Be mindful of how nuts and seeds are prepared. Some snacks and nut and seed butters contain added sodium and sugar. This could increase the calories and decrease the nutritional value of the nuts or nut butter. 


Beans, an excellent source of fiber, raise blood sugar levels slowly. This is a plus for people with insulin resistance. Some good options are pinto, Lima, and black beans. If you’re short on time, canned beans are a good alternative to dried beans. Just make sure to drain and rinse canned beans since they can be high in sodium.


Fish that is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease, a common condition for people with diabetes. Fish rich in omega-3 include:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • herring
  • sardines
  • rainbow trout

Tilapia, cod, flounder, halibut, and haddock are also good for you. Shellfish fans can enjoy lobster, scallops, shrimp, oysters, clams, or crabs, but take note that these foods tend to be high in cholesterol. However, as with all foods, avoid fish that is breaded or fried.


To keep your poultry consumption healthy, peel and toss the skin. Poultry skin has much more fat than the meat. Try chicken breasts, Cornish hen, or turkey. When eating eggs, stick with egg whites, which are lower in calories than the whole egg and do not contain fat. 

Other Lean Meats

As long as they’re lean, you can still eat pork, veal, lamb, and beef if you have insulin resistance. Opt for pork tenderloin or center loin chops, veal loin chops or roasts, lamb chops, roasts, or legs, and choice or select lean beef with the fat trimmed.

Get Moving

Exercise can help prevent diabetes by lowering your blood sugar, trimming body fat, and reducing weight. It also helps your cells become more sensitive to insulin. You don’t have to complete a triathlon to get fit. Anything that gets you moving qualifies as exercise. Do something you enjoy such as gardening, walking, running, swimming, or dancing. Keep moving to burn calories, and keep your blood glucose levels on target. 

Even if you’re short on time, you can easily incorporate exercise into your day. At work, take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk around the block during your lunch hour. At home, play a game of catch with your kids and walk in place as you watch television. When you’re running errands, park far enough away from your destination to get a good walk in.

Start Early

Many people don’t know they have insulin resistance until it develops into type 2 diabetes. Diabetes doesn’t typically have a cure, but by watching your waistline and monitoring what you eat, you may be able to prevent the disease.

If you’re at risk for prediabetes or diabetes, ask your doctor for a screening blood test. If you discover insulin resistance early, you can make important changes to reduce your risk for diabetes and the serious health complications that often come with it. 

Remember to consult your doctor or dietician before changing your diet or exercise routine. They will create a healthy menu and an exercise regimen that best suits your needs.