Prediabetes Diet

Looking for some easier ways to know if a food is good for prediabetes or not?  In this article we will cover the basics and give you some simple, practical advice to help you as you design your own personal prediabetes diet.

Low Fat or Low Carb for a Prediabetes Diet?

The main goal of a prediabetes diet is weight loss. This means cutting back on calories. It would seem the easiest way to do this is to replace carbohydrates out for fats since fat has more than 2x the calories. This is the approach that the 3 largest studies on prediabetes have taken. A low fat diet, low in calories, was prescribed and found to be successful in all three studies. One small problem in taking this info at face value- each of the participants was given extensive diet counseling.

< % Fat ≠ < Obesity or Blood Sugar Issues

If you look at the last 50 years of diet pattern in the US you find that as we increased the percentage of carbohydrates in our diets we have actually gained more weight. In the research setting the low fat diet seems to work but in the real world a simple “low-fat” dietary advice doesn’t seem to translate. Unless you are getting consistent dietary advice from an expert, you may not see the same results as found in the major prediabetes studies.

The issue goes beyond asking the simple question “low carb or low fat?” To evaluate all the diet advice for prediabetes we need to ask ourselves a different question, what kinds of fats and carbs?

The Right Kind of Carbs for a Prediabetes Diet

The fastest and simplest way to understand the right and wrong types of carbs for prediabetes is to think of carbs in 2 categories- processed and whole food. Let’s look at a handful of whole foods to get started. Some easy to recognize whole food carbs are beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables (with the exception of potatoes.) As you read each of these foods you can picture the actual food in its unprocessed, whole form. (While you can picture a potato in its whole form, it is typically eaten in its processed form.) Oddly enough the whole foods I mentioned are not where we get the majority of our carbs from.

Most of our carbs come from grains and sugars. You should consider all grains in the processed camp unless they contain the word “whole” in front of them. (Don’t rely on the front of the package for this info, read your ingredient labels!) While there are exceptions, this is a pretty good guide. The sugar conversation is a little more complex.  There are a few forms of sugar I would consider to be “whole food” forms such as honey, real maple syrup, organic cane juice crystals, molasses and dates. Most processed foods don’t contain these forms of sugar.  It is probably best to consider sugar in processed foods as processed and try to avoid them when possible.

The Processed Carb Problem

The issue with processed carbs is they more easily spike blood sugar levels. Insulin is released to counteract blood sugar spikes, increasing fat storage and decreasing fat burning. Since insulin is cleared more slowly than blood sugar, it can linger and cause low blood sugar. This can result in cravings for more processed carbs, which can lead to another round of blood sugar spikes.

Whole food sources of carbs help to keep blood sugar balanced and increase the lasting feeling of fullness.  One of the keys to whole food’s ability to fight blood sugar spikes and hunger is fiber.  Beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains are great sources of fiber, along with other beneficial nutrients, which makes them good carbs.

Whenever you are researching any prediabetes diet, make sure you judge whether it encourages you to eat more whole food sources of carbs.

The Right Kinds of Fats for a Prediabetes Diet

Once again to simplify our understanding we will rely on the 2 categories of food we mentioned earlier- processed and whole food.  The most processed of all fat is trans fat, which have been shown to increase insulin resistance, inflammation, bad cholesterol and triglycerides and decrease good cholesterol.  Trans fat are founds in all foods containing partially hydrogenated oils.

Essential Fats

Even when corn, soy, safflower and cottonseed oils are not partially hydrogenated, they are generally highly processed. They also contain high amounts of omega-6 fat. This fat may have negative effects on inflammation in the body, a common problem seen in metabolic syndrome.  It is believed that an increased ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 may diminish omega-3’s effects as an anti-inflammatory agent. Replace these sources of fat with more omega 3s from whole food sources such as walnuts, flax seeds and cold water, wild-caught fish.

Once again it is best to get fat from whole food sources. Try to limit added fat like you would limit added sugar. Stick with less processed “extra virgin” oil sources when possible. Animal sources of fat can contribute excess calories, so cut down portions appropriately.

What About Protein?

Protein is definitely the trendiest of the caloric nutrients, since fats and carbs have both been demonized. Protein is important from a blood sugar balance standpoint but not much is needed at each meal to accomplish this benefit. Most Americans get enough protein each day, but it is important to try to get some with each meal.  The research is still inconclusive on whether or not there are advantages to a high protein diet.  If you do decide to opt for a high protein diet, choose less processed forms of protein like beans and raw, unsalted nuts and seeds.  Also, watch the calories of animal protein sources and choose lower fat varieties.

Different Diets; Similar Results

Most diet studies that attempt to modify different amounts of carbs, fats and protein all tend to have similar results after a year or 2 of follow up. The biggest issue is that all participants of these diet studies end up gaining the weight when they quit the diet (even though most eat less calories than before the study began.) The main goal continues to be less calories each day.  This is what makes cutting fat so appealing to most clinicians and researchers.

Control Food’s Destiny, I Mean Density

The danger with fat is that it is calorie(energy) dense and, like sugar, it is hiding in many of the foods we eat everyday. Research has shown “energy dense” foods are an independent predictor of obesity, elevated fasting insulin levels and metabolic syndrome.  Fat is not the only ingredient that makes food energy dense.  Refined grains and sugar also contribute to food energy density.

While energy density appears to play a role in obesity and blood sugar issues, fat content of the diet is less telling. It is important to remember before we end this conversation that eating fat does not necessarily make us fat and eating the right kind of carbs can have positive effects on blood sugar.  It is not always about the percentage of carbs, protein and fats, but it’s often the sources.  Choose whole foods because they are generally balanced in healthy carbs, fats, protein and fiber.

Fight Hunger to Decrease Calories

If less calories is the key then the calories you choose should help fight hunger.  Fiber, fat and protein all help increase the feeling of fullness.  Including a good combination of all three at a meal  is critical to balancing calories at the meal and subsequent hunger after the meal.  Most whole foods provide a balance of hunger fighting nutrients along with nutrients that meet the bodies needs.

More Than Calories

Besides fighting hunger, whole foods also support the bodies many daily functions. It is important to remember that we eat to meet a need and that need goes way beyond calories.  Our bodies needed the various nutrients found in whole, unprocessed foods to feel more energy, cope with stress and restore health.