It’s estimated that roughly 34 percent of adults have prediabetes—making it nearly three times more common than diabetes. This condition signifies that blood glucose levels are above the normal range, but still below those indicating diabetes.
Prediabetes is the first recognizable stage in the (potential) development of type 2 diabetes. Luckily, with certain lifestyle interventions, prediabetic blood glucose levels can be brought back down into a healthy range before diabetes ever fully develops.
So if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, don’t despair! While this condition is no walk in the park, it at least offers a silver lining: a chance to address developing diabetes before it ever rears its face.
Building a Healthy Plate for Prediabetes
According to the American Diabetes Association, prediabetes and diabetes can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and other metabolic conditions. With healthy eating and good portion control, it may be possible to reverse prediabetes in some cases.
The obvious culprits—the sugar-loaded snacks and soft drinks—are best left on the shelf, or at least consumed only on occasion in small amounts. But it’s not just the sweet stuff that can send blood sugar levels soaring: starchy foods and refined carbohydrates—things like bagels, white bread, and white rice—can have as high of a glycemic load as high-sugar foods.
Foods to Include
So if we know what to avoid, what should we look for when it comes to a healthy diet? There are two big things to focus on when it comes to choosing foods for a prediabetic diet: protein and fiber.
Both of these nutrients are shown to have a positive impact on glycemic control. A diet rich in both protein and fiber can be beneficial in many ways including:
- Keeping you feeling satiated for longer
- Increasing metabolic rate
- Potentially reducing the risk of metabolic conditions like heart disease
- Improving insulin sensitivity
In addition to protein and fiber, eating a diet with a high level of variety within food groups, and adequate (not excessive) intake of vitamins and minerals is shown to have a significant positive impact on body weight. This can include colorful non-starchy veggies, different types of protein sources, some low glycemic whole grains and fruits and favoring whole foods over ultra-processed options.
Prediabetes Grocery List: Essential Foods for Prediabetes
To help you create a healthy meal plan for prediabetes, here’s a helpful grocery list broken down by food groups.
Low Glycemic Index (GI) Carbohydrates
Here are some examples of low GI carbohydrates you might want to add to your cart. You can mix and match any of these foods based on your personal preferences.
- Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, and steel cut oats
- Legumes such as black beans and lentils
- Boiled winter squash such as butternut squash
- Berries and other lower glycemic whole fruits
While many carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, have a tendency to result in hyperglycemia when eaten on their own, not all foods rich in carbohydrates will cause blood glucose to spike. What is it about some carbohydrates, then, and not others, that accounts for this difference in response?
According to research, carbohydrate-rich foods with a high GI tend to have some combination of the following: high starch composition, low fiber, high sugar content, and low protein. By choosing carbohydrates with a low GI, you’ll be on your way to controlling your body’s glycemic response, potentially reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
However, the glycemic index doesn’t tell the full story. Glycemic load is often a more accurate way to account for the impact on glucose. Any low glycemic index carb can become a high glycemic index carb if you eat it in larger quantities! Amount matters, and glycemic load takes that factor into consideration.
Dietary fiber is an invaluable tool for managing prediabetes. Here are some high-fiber foods that are great for any prediabetes meal:
- Beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Whole fruits such as kiwi and berries
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, and whole wheat
- Non-starchy veggies such as leafy greens, bell peppers, and zucchini
Increasing daily fiber intake toward a target of 21 to 25 grams per day for women and 30 to 38 grams for men can help to regulate postprandial glucose response, as well as to significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Here’s a selection of lean protein sources for your weekly shopping cart:
- Greek yogurt
- Chicken, turkey, or other lean meats
- Tofu and tempeh
- Fish and seafood of choice
Not only that, but a diet high in lean protein may aid significantly in weight-loss—a definite plus when it comes to prediabetes, as being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes.
Here are some examples of healthy fats that are right at home on any prediabetes grocery list:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, etc.)
- Lean grass-fed animal products
Not all fats are created equal, and that’s especially true when it comes to glucose response. Including plenty of monounsaturated and certain types of polyunsaturated fats like omega 3 fats can lead to a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity and a reduced risk of developing diabetes.
Grass-fed animal products may also contain higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may have heart-healthy benefits and holds potential for anti-obesity effects in animal model studies.
Here are some great non-starchy veggies for your shopping list:
- Leafy greens
- Zucchini or yellow squash
- Bell peppers
It wouldn’t be fair to say that all starchy foods are bad for prediabetic and diabetic individuals. However, many starchy foods, especially those with rapidly digestible starches, can cause rapid elevations in blood glucose.
Vegetables such as those listed above are not only great sources of fiber, but also of important nutrients, such as A, C, K, magnesium, potassium, and folate. Not to mention, they may also help to reduce cholesterol.
Other Smart Snacking Options
Managing prediabetes doesn’t have to be a drag—there are plenty of delicious options when it comes to healthy snacking. Given the central role of diet in managing the condition, it’s important to avoid the foods that spike your blood glucose, while also choosing the foods that aid in glucose regulation.
Just because a meal is low in carbs and sugar and high in fiber and protein doesn’t mean it has to be bland! Here are some delicious, nutritious snack ideas that are suitable for prediabetes, and can be made using the items from this shopping list.
- Greek yogurt bowl with nuts and berries
- Hard-boiled eggs with salt and pepper
- Turkey, avocado, bell pepper and cheese roll ups
- Blanched edamame beans
- Small sliced apple with peanut butter
Shopping Tips for Prediabetes
1) Reading Food Labels For Informed Choices
Food labels can be deceiving. Sure, a particular food may seem to have reasonable nutritional content—but if the listed portion size is one-tenth of what would actually satiate you, is it really that healthy, after all?
When reading nutrition labels, be sure to also consider the portion size, and compare that against your actual intended portion size. Look out for any hidden ingredients and added sugars as well.
2) Avoiding Ultra-Processed Foods And Sugary Beverages
From added sugars to high sodium and trans-fats (not to mention additives), highly processed foods can be lacking when it comes to nutritional profile. They are also associated with a number of potential adverse health outcomes, from obesity and diabetes to cardiovascular disease.
While they may taste good, such sugary drinks are often loaded with added sugar, which may elevate blood sugar and increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.
3) Planning Meals And Creating A Grocery List
Knowing beforehand which food items fit into your prediabetes diet plan can keep you focused, and ensure that when it comes time to prepare a meal, you’ll have everything you need. By putting together an informed grocery list beforehand using the foods listed above, a quick trip to the grocery store will leave you with everything you need to get your glucose response back on track.
4) Working with a Nutritionist
Working with a highly qualified nutritionist such as a registered dietitian can also be a great resource to guide you in creating a healthy meal plan. Having a skilled professional there to help you customize can be key—and they can also hold you accountable when it comes to sticking to your plan.
Meal Prepping for Prediabetes
Any diet can benefit from a little planning, and that’s especially true when it comes to specific dietary needs. The key to a successful diet is consistency, and it’s far easier to stay on track when you’ve already done the work.
Consider batch-cooking some tasty, nutritious meals to keep you going throughout the week with minimal effort. Even if it’s just a couple of days in advance, having meals already prepared makes it that much more likely you’ll stick to the plan, and not settle for fast-food out of convenience.
Additional Tips for Addressing Prediabetes
Nutrition is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to prediabetes. But it’s not the only thing you can do to help get your glucose response back to ideal levels.
Regular physical activity of moderate intensity may significantly enhance blood glucose control and prevent the development of diabetes. Beyond that, appropriate types and amounts of exercise for your individual tolerance and needs may also help to reduce stress—which happens to be another risk factor in prediabetes.
Prediabetes doesn’t have to mean diabetes. With these few simple lifestyle changes, paired with regular monitoring and communication with your healthcare professional, your glucose response can be back to normal before you know it.
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.