If you have prediabetes or are at high risk for diabetes based on being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, you have the chance to do something about your risk for diabetes. With healthy lifestyle changes such as weight loss and physical activity, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next 3 years by 58%, according to a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
A smart diet for prediabetes is packed with nutritious foods such as vegetables, lean proteins, fresh fruit, whole grains, and healthy fats. Needless to say, there are also a few foods that you may want to limit if you want to lower blood sugar. Foods to avoid on a diet for prediabetes tend to be low in nutrients and high in sugar, saturated fat, and/or excessive calories. Here are a few foods to avoid on a diet for prediabetes.
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The first “food” to avoid on a diet for prediabetes is not even a food. It is a beverage. Specifically, it is a group of beverages called sugar-sweetened beverages or SSBs. They rank top on the list because of the research showing their risks.
For example, research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found a 26% greater risk of diabetes among people who drink one or more SSB servings daily compared to 1 or fewer per month. Similarly, each additional serving of a SSB per day is associated with 18 to 22% greater risk of diabetes.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, SSBs contribute 24% of total added sugar in the typical American diet. Soft drinks make up two-thirds of these.
These are the most common SSBs.
- Energy drinks
- Sports drinks
- Fruit drinks
Water is a naturally calorie-free, sugar-free beverage for quenching thirst. If you are looking for something sweet, a piece of fruit is a high-fiber alternative to sugary fruit drinks or sodas.
Another “food” to avoid on a diet for prediabetes also a beverage. A caffe mocha is a coffee beverage with milk, chocolate, and whipped cream. Many other blended beverages are just as bad if not worse when it comes to calories or sugar, and it shows. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, coffee and tea contribute 11% of sugar to the typical American diet. Frappuccinos, sweet tea, and coffee with cream and sugar are all sources of sugar and excess calories, sometimes more than should be in an entire meal.
Coffee and black, green, and herbal tea themselves are sugar-free, and make sensible alternatives to sugar-sweetened versions. If you do not like your coffee black or your tea plain, consider adding unsweetened almond milk to add creaminess without calories, or cinnamon to add sweetness without sugar.
What’s wrong with a typical order of fettuccini alfredo? Knowing that the dish can have at least 500 to 1000 calories, 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates, and up to 100 grams of fat might explain why fettuccini alfredo is on the list of foods to avoid if you have prediabetes. It is bad for weight loss, and it has an excess of carbohydrates and saturated fat from ingredients such as pasta, butter, and heavy cream.
A healthier alternative may be to cut back on the butter, while using some low-fat cream cheese and some milk instead of heavy cream. You can also try whole-grain pasta tossed with any of the following combinations.
- Tomato sauce mixed with green peppers, mushrooms, onions, and a lean protein such as chicken, shrimp, or turkey meatballs.
- Pesto made with olive oil, basil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese.
- Olive oil, garlic, and shrimp.
Any time you use pasta, using half whole-grain pasta and half zucchini noodles (“zoodles’ or spiralized zucchini) gives extra fiber and yields fewer calories.
Beef and potato stew is hearty, but it may not be heart-healthy. Each 3-ounce serving of beef chuck has 250 calories – more than twice the amount in chicken or turkey – and starchy potatoes often overwhelm the other vegetables.
This may not sound that bad, but keep in mind that each extra daily serving of red meat can increase the risk for diabetes by 19%, according to a review article and meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Still, it’s easy to lower your risk by about 16 to 35% by substituting one daily serving of red meat with nuts, dairy, or whole grains. There are plenty of meatless, high-protein, high-fiber alternatives for one-pot comfort foods. Consider the following.
- Pea, lentil, or bean soup.
- Vegetarian or turkey chili with beans and tomatoes.
- Butternut squash and mushroom risotto made with brown rice.
About 47% of adults eat sandwiches on any day, according to the Department of Agriculture, but what are those sandwiches doing for your health? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sandwiches are leading contributors of saturated fat (19%), sugar (7%), and sodium (21%) in Americans’ diets. Where do these components come from? These are some possibilities.
- Saturated fat: fatty red and processed meats, butter, cheese, beef patties
- Sugar: ketchup, relish, jam, jelly, white bread, honey wheat bread, barbecue sauce, pulled pork, peanut butter
- Sodium: bread, processed meats, cheese, olives, pickles, dressings
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds an increase by 50 grams of processed meat, such as ham, hot dogs, bologna, pepperoni, and sausages, per day to be associated with a 51% greater risk of developing diabetes.
Still, there are plenty of ways to enjoy healthier sandwiches that can be valuable sources of whole grains, fiber, vegetables, and healthy fats. Choosing whole grain bread, English muffins, or pita whenever possible is a good start. These are some possible toppings and spreads.
- Cooked chicken breast, veggie burger patty, or feta or low-fat cheese
- Lettuce and tomatoes
- Any other raw or cooked vegetables
- Dijon, yellow, or brown mustard
- Pureed avocado
- Natural peanut or almond butter
- Fresh fruit, such as blueberries or banana slices
For breakfast, sandwiches on English muffins instead of bagels, biscuits, or croissants can be lower in carbs and calories, and it can be a good idea to skip sausage and bacon in favor of egg whites and cheese.
Burger and Fries
If your gut is telling you that fast food probably is not the best for prediabetes, your gut is right, in most cases. Fast food is typically high in calories and it can contain extra fats and carbs.
The research backs up the theory. Among African American women, for example, research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating hamburgers at least weekly was linked to a 40% increase in diabetes incidence over 10 years. Furthermore, consuming fried chicken that often was linked to 68% greater risk of diabetes. Fried fish and Chinese food were similarly linked to increased risk, though likely the associations for each of these foods was due to weight gain.Along with burgers, pizza, fried rice and noodles, and oversized burritos, deep-fried foods are classic fast food culprits.
- French fries
- Fried chicken, shrimp, and fish
- Onion rings, fried cheese sticks, zucchini sticks, battered mushrooms
Each of these is higher in carbohydrates and fat than the food in its natural form.
At a fast food restaurant, these are some healthier alternatives that may be lower in calories, carbohydrates, and extra fat, and/or higher in protein and/or fiber.
- Grilled chicken sandwich or veggie burger with mustard, lettuce, and tomatoes.
- Grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side.
- Side salad or baby carrots.
- Apple slices, whole piece of fruit (such as an apple or banana), or fresh fruit cup.
- Protein bowls or plates with chicken, fish, beans, or tofu, and vegetables.
- Thin-crust pizza with light or no cheese.
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It is true: you can walk into nearly any fast food restaurant in the world and make a decision to lower risk for diabetes, whether that means finding a healthier menu item or simple eating a smaller portion.
The Bottom Line on Foods to Avoid on a Diet for Prediabetes
The foods to avoid on a diet for prediabetes are the ones that spike blood sugar, are associated with weight gain, or interfere with insulin sensitivity. As you try to limit these foods, it helps to look for healthy alternatives that can have the opposite effect. Lark Diabetes Prevention Program can guide you every day as you make smart choices about what to eat and what to avoid with prediabetes.