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Diet Tips for Insulin Resistance

fruits and vegetables

Overview

Insulin resistance increases your risk for developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. But a diagnosis of insulin resistance is only a warning sign. You may be able to prevent diabetes with healthy lifestyle choices, including regular exercise and eating a balanced diet.

Diet tips

Generally, it’s best to choose whole, unprocessed foods and avoid highly processed and prepared foods. Foods that are highly processed, such as white breads, pastas, rice, and soda, digest very quickly and spike blood sugar levels. This puts extra stress on the pancreas, which makes the hormone insulin.

Saturated fats have also been associated with insulin resistance. Healthy, unsaturated fats, such as those recommended below, are a better choice. Eating high-fiber foods and mixed meals, not just carbohydrates alone, can help slow digestion and take pressure off the pancreas.

Here are some foods that you can mix and match to create satisfying but healthy dishes for any meal. 

Vegetables

Vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, making them an ideal food for people trying to manage their blood sugar. The best options 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. Healthy options include tomatoes, spinach, yams, collard greens, corn, and kale.

Fruits

Munch on some fruit for fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Choose fresh or frozen fruits. Canned varieties without added sugars are fine in a pinch, but they don’t have the fiber that fresh and frozen fruits do since the skins are removed. Go for fruits that are higher in fiber, such as apples, bananas, grapes, plums, and peaches. Avoid fruit juices since they can raise blood sugar as quickly as regular soda.

Dairy

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 a high intake of saturated fat, found in animal fats, has been linked to insulin resistance. 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 people with insulin resistance. 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 and 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, millet, and buckwheat.

Beans

Beans are an excellent source of fiber, which means they 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

Fish that is loaded with 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 but lower in omega-3 since they’re lower in total fat. Shellfish fans can enjoy lobster, scallops, shrimp, oysters, clams, or crabs, but these foods tend to be high in cholesterol. However, as with all foods, avoid fish that is breaded or fried.

Poultry

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, protein such as pork, veal, lamb, and beef are fine 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.

Healthy fats

Choose healthy unsaturated fat sources. These fats can slow down digestion and provide essential fatty acids. 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. Avocados and olives are also ideal choices. 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 your diet 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.

Exercise

Regular 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 or 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. Exercise adds up — ten minutes three times a day adds up to 30 minutes of movement.

Weight loss

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 5 to 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 burn, 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.

Early monitoring

Many people don’t know they have insulin resistance until it develops into type 2 diabetes. If you’re at risk for prediabetes or diabetes, ask your doctor to test for it. If you discover insulin resistance early, you can make important changes to reduce your risk for diabetes and the serious health complications that can come with it. 

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

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