Prediabetes is a chronic condition with higher blood sugar levels than normal. It is related to how your body processes carbohydrates. People with prediabetes are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that a prediabetes diet can lower your blood sugar, reduce your risk for diabetes, or even reverse prediabetes.
Carbohydrates are the main focus of a healthy prediabetes diet because they affect your blood sugar and your weight. According to Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, both the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates you eat are important.
The prediabetic carbs per day that you eat should contribute to a healthy weight, and also come from nutritious sources.
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Carbs: What They Are, and Why They Matter
Carbohydrates are nutrients in your diet. Harvard Medical School explains that they are among the main sources of calories in your diet, along with protein and fat. Carbohydrates and protein each provide 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram.
Starches and sugars are types of calorie-providing carbohydrates in your food and some beverages. Starches are larger and more complex than sugars. When you eat starches or sugars, your body breaks them down into a simple type of sugar called glucose. This goes into your bloodstream and contributes to your blood sugar or blood glucose levels.
So why do carbs matter?
- They affect your weight. For most people, losing extra pounds is the single most effective thing you can do to lower your risk for diabetes. Research published in the journal Diabetes Care finds that each pound you lose can cut risk of getting diabetes by 16%! Since carbs contribute calories, too many carbs (even healthy carbs) in your diet can lead to weight gain. Reducing your carb intake (without increasing your fat and protein intake) helps you cut calories and lose weight.
- They affect your blood sugar. Carbohydrates from your diet lead to glucose in your blood. Dietary starches and sugars directly drive up blood sugar levels more than fat or protein do. Both the type and amount of carbohydrates are important.
Blood sugar can be hard to keep track of, so we’ve made a chart to help you monitor your blood sugar levels.
How Many Carbs per Day for Prediabetes?
Should you low-carb it? Actually… Maybe, or maybe not. Research shows that there is no single best answer to how many carbs should you have per day.
Grams of Carbs per Day for Prediabetics
Here are some common numbers for the recommended carb intake for prediabetics per day. As you can see, they vary quite a bit!
- Under 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day: very low-carb ketogenic diet.
- 130 grams: “Adequate Intake” (the amount considered adequate for most people).
- 150-200 grams per day, or 30-40% of total calories on a 2,000-calorie diet: the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) description of a standard “low-carb” diet.
- 244 grams per day: average daily intake of Americans over 20 years old.
- 300 grams per day, or 60% of total calories on a 2,000-calorie diet: the daily value (DV) that you see on nutrition labels.
Pros and Cons of Low-Carb Diets
- They can help you lose weight.
- They can discourage sugary foods.
- They can discourage low-nutrient, refined starches, such as white bread and pasta, and potatoes.
- They can help lower blood sugar, especially in the short term.
- They can discourage processed foods.
- They can be hard to follow over the long-term.
- They can be high in unhealthy choices, such as fatty and processed meats, butter, and cream.
- They can exclude healthy foods, such as whole grains, beans, and fruit.
- They could raise cholesterol or cause harm to your kidneys or bones.
How well a low-carb diet helps you lose weight and keep it off, and lower blood sugar, depends on your body type, the types of carbs you choose, and how healthy the fats and protein sources you choose are. Most of all, success depends on how well you follow your plan.
Carbs to Lower Blood Sugar in Prediabetes
Regardless of the total number of prediabetes carbs per day that you have, you will get better results if you choose healthier sources and stay aware of portion sizes. Look for high-fiber, high-nutrient sources, and know that a serving size may be smaller than you think!
Healthy Carbs for Prediabetes
(listed in serving sizes with about 15 grams of carbs each)
- ½ whole-grain English muffin or small pita pocket
- 1 whole-grain slice of bread, mini-bagel
- ½ cup wheat flakes or all-bran cereal
- ½ cup cooked oatmeal (½ instant oatmeal packet) or cream of wheat
- 1/3 cup brown rice, whole-grain pasta, or quinoa
- ½ oz. whole-wheat pretzels or crackers
- ½ cup cooked or low-sodium canned lentils, split or black-eyed peas, or garbanzo, black, pinto, fat-free refried, northern, or other beans
- 1 cup chili
- 1 cup cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, or raspberries
- ¾ cup blackberries or blueberries
- ½ cup pineapple
- 1 small apple, orange, pear, or nectarine
- ½ medium banana
- ½ cup corn, peas, or sweet potatoes
- ¾ cup winter squash (acorn, butternut, etc.)
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup milk
Carbs to Limit
Occasional treats are fine, but in general, your blood sugar (and your weight and overall health) will be better if you limit certain carbs. In general, limit carbs with added sugars, refined grains, and processed, packaged, fried, and fast foods. Often, your gut reaction is right.
Harvard Medical School suggests that you try to limit:
- Desserts, such as ice cream, pie, muffins, cakes, cookies, and brownies.
- Refined grains, such as white bread, pasta, and rice.
- Candy and sugar-sweetened chocolate (choose 100% chocolate).
- Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages, such as flavored coffee, juice drinks, sweet tea, and energy and sports drinks.
- Fried foods, such as fried chicken, onion rings, french fries, hash browns, and doughnuts.
- Sugar-sweetened cereal and flavored yogurt.
- Greasy fast foods, such as pizza, fried rice, and burgers.
Carbs for Prediabetic Meals and Snacks
There is something else to consider: meal planning. It’s not only a question of how many carbs to have each day, and which ones to have, but when to have them. The best bet for controlling blood sugar and hunger is to spread them throughout the day.
For most meals, aim for 2 to 3 servings (about 30 to 45 grams of carbs). Add a large portion of non-starchy vegetables (at most meals) and some healthy fat and lean protein, for a full meal. For example…
- A turkey burger on a whole-grain bun with lean turkey burger, lettuce, tomato, and avocado, with a side of baby carrots.
- ¾ cup of Wheaties with ½ oz. of sliced almonds, ¾ cup blueberries, and 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk.
- 2/3 cup cooked whole-wheat pasta tossed with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, fresh basil, 2 cups of spinach, and 3 oz. cooked salmon.
For most snacks, you might aim for 1 to 2 servings (about 15 to 30 grams of carbs). Then add a source of protein and/or healthy fat, and always keep non-starchy vegetables in mind! For example…
- ½ cup fat-free, low-sodium refried beans with diced tomatoes and 1 oz. melted cheese.
- 1 small baked sweet potato topped with broccoli and Greek yogurt.
- ½ sliced large apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
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Keeping your prediabetic carbs per day in check can lower your risk for diabetes by helping you lose weight and by preventing wild blood sugar swings. It’s not so difficult to be sensible about healthy carbs. Choose 1 to 3 small servings of healthy carbs per meal or snack, and you will be well on your way!
Friends, family, a personal trainer, and fitness instructors can help you along the way. A personal health coach can also help. Lark is a fully-automated program that is available to users 24/7. You can chat with your coach anytime, set and work towards exercise and diet goals, monitor your daily carb intake, and get customized feedback and coaching.
Do you need help losing weight and getting active? Would you like motivation, tips for healthy eating and healthy behavior change, and personal coaching? Lark digital Diabetes Prevention Program offers 24/7 customized coaching via your smartphone, and it may be available to you for free through your health insurance plan.