Insulin-Resistance Diet for Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 09, 2023
4 min read

When it comes to preventing diabetes, your diet can make a big difference. And if you already have it, a diet change may help you manage it better.

The right mix of foods keeps your insulin and blood sugar in check. When you have insulin resistance, that balance gets out of whack. It’s harder for your body to burn foods for energy. And when too much sugar builds up in your bloodstream, you may be on the path to type 2 prediabetes or diabetes.

And that might lead you to an insulin-resistance diet.

You don’t need special foods for the insulin-resistance diet. In a nutshell, you’ll eat less unhealthy fat, sugar, meats, and processed starches, and more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and lean poultry. But it can be hard to change habits. So keep some simple tips in mind before you start.

Adopt healthy habits. A crash diet won’t help you. This is about changing your approach to food. Go slowly and build new habits that can become permanent. Maybe you can drink less sugary sodas. Or quit altogether.

Make it work for you. You may enjoy different foods than what others like to eat. A diet needs to fit your taste buds and your lifestyle for you to stick with it. Most people need support along the way, so a good dietitian can be a big ally.

Don’t skip meals. You might think missing a meal means fewer calories and more weight loss. That just makes your insulin and blood sugar levels swing up and down. And that can lead to more belly fat, which makes your body more likely to resist insulin.

Focus on calories and quality. The debate over the best mix of carbs, proteins, and fats has no clear answers. Your best bet is to watch your total calories and to really make them count. So skip the white rice and go whole grain instead.

Mix it up. There’s no magic food that’ll fix everything, so vary what you eat. When you have a choice, choose the food with more vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

When you fix meals and snacks, here’s what to aim for.

Tons of vegetables. It’s hard to go wrong here. Take dark green, leafy veggies like spinach. They’re low in carbs and calories, and they’re packed with nutrients, so you can eat as much as you want.

Fresh vegetables are best. If you go frozen or canned, make sure there’s no added fat, salt, or sugar.

Watch out for starchy vegetables, like potatoes, peas, and corn. They have more carbs, so treat them more like grains, and don’t overdo it.

Plenty of fruit. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they’re another great choice. Swap a fruit for sweets to tame your cravings. Add berries to plain, non-fat yogurt to make it into a dessert.

Again, fresh is best. Make sure to avoid canned fruits with syrup added. And remember that fruits count as carbs.

High fiber. When you eat more than 50 grams of fiber a day, it helps balance your blood sugar. Almonds, black beans, broccoli, lentils, and oatmeal and are all rich in fiber.

Limited carbs. You can eat carbs, but cut back on them and pick wisely. Go for carbs in fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy instead of processed foods like white bread and pasta.

Whole grains that haven’t been turned into flour are even better. So for breakfast, choose oats over toast.

Lean protein. You want to make sure to get enough protein, but not when it’s loaded with fat. Limit beef, lamb, and pork, and stick with:

  • Chicken or turkey without the skin
  • Fish, such as albacore tuna, sardines, and salmon
  • Low-fat cheese and egg whites
  • Proteins from plants, like beans, lentils, and nut butters

Healthy fats. Swapping out saturated and trans fats for healthy ones can lower insulin resistance. That means less meat, full-fat dairy, and butter, and more olive, sunflower, and sesame oils.

Low-fat dairy. With low-fat milk and plain, nonfat yogurt, you get calcium, protein, and fewer calories. Plus, several studies show that low-fat dairy lowers insulin resistance.

If you’re used to full-fat, you can dial it down slowly. So maybe try 1% or 2% milk for a while before switching to skim.

Try your best to stay away from:

Processed foods, which often have added sugar, fat, and salt. If it comes in cans, boxes, wrappers, and other packaging, it’s probably processed.

Saturated and trans fats, which can boost insulin resistance. These come mainly from animal sources, such as meats and cheese, as well as foods fried in partially hydrogenated oils.

Sweetened drinks, like soda, fruit drinks, iced teas, and vitamin water, which can make you gain weight.