12 Prediabetes Foods to Avoid—and Plenty More to Enjoy

Eighty eight million American adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you know which prediabetes foods to avoid, it can make a big difference in averting type 2 diabetes.

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What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal—but not high enough to be considered full-blown diabetes. You can prevent prediabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes with healthy lifestyle choices, including the right diet and exercise. It’s important not to cut out carbohydrates completely when managing prediabetes, but to eat enough of them spaced out throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels steady.

Here are some examples of foods to limit—and others to add—while building a prediabetes diet plan.

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Worst breakfast: Bagels, breakfast cereals and bacon

Highly refined grains like bagels made from white flour and cereals aren’t the best breakfast choices for your prediabetes because they lack the fiber that blunts your blood sugar response. (Besides, some cereals are packed with sugar; it’s important to read the nutrition label carefully.) You can still eat these on occasion, but you should aim to limit these in your diet. Bacon also shouldn’t be a frequent food. While it’s low in carbs, it’s high in saturated fat and preservatives like nitrates.

There are healthy alternatives available, like whole grain cereals and breads, as well as turkey and vegan bacon. Just make sure to choose products with minimal additives.

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Best breakfast: Eggs and avocado

Eggs are a great food to enjoy as they’re so versatile. Besides being fast and easy to prepare, they’re also a good source of protein for a prediabetes diet. And while you may be nervous about the cholesterol, research shows that in the context of a healthy diet, eating eggs in moderation doesn’t have a negative effect on your heart health. Avocado also tops this list because it’s rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, heart-healthy fats that have been shown to improve fasting blood glucose levels. Find more breakfast ideas for managing diabetes.

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Ham and Cheese Sandwich with Lettuce,Cucumber and red onion
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Worst lunch: Deli sandwiches

Veering away from processed meats, including deli meat, is a good idea for people with prediabetes. In one 2018 study published in the Journal of Hepatology, people who ate more processed and grilled red meats were at increased risk of insulin resistance (a sign of unhealthy blood sugar levels) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which has been linked to type 2 diabetes.

The sodium and nitrates in processed meats may impair artery health, insulin secretion and glucose tolerance, while grilling can release chemicals that also affect insulin resistance. Rather than deli meat, choose one of the best meats for people with diabetes.

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Best lunch: Mega salads

No surprise for any meal plan, but particularly for a prediabetes diet, non-starchy veggies should take up the most space on your plate. This includes picks like leafy greens, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms…the list goes on! Not only does a larger intake of produce help drive down type 2 diabetes risk, but these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber, plus thousands of phytonutrients, which work in numerous ways to protect your heart and keep blood sugar under control.

Feel free to top your mega salad with legumes, like lentils or beans, or lean meats like sliced chicken, plus an olive oil-based vinaigrette.

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Worst snack: Beef jerky, beef sticks and pork rinds

Snacks like this may be a go-to for prediabetics because they’re low in carbs, but their overall nutrition profile is lacking. Typically high in saturated fat and sodium, these products can contribute to heart disease. Instead, aim to fit more nutrient-rich foods into your diet over simply carb-free ones.

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Best snack: Hummus and crudités

One goal of a prediabetes diet is to up your intake of fruits and veggies, and one way to do that is to include them in a snack. Healthy dips like hummus makes it easy. Made from chickpeas, legumes have been shown to improve fasting blood sugar levels in both the short- and long-term. You’ll definitely want to try this easy-to-make hummus recipe and crudités platter.

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prediabetes foods to avoid Fast Food Chain Mcdonald's
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Worst dinner: Fast-food burger and fries

Beware the lure of the neon sign when you’re working on a prediabetes diet. In a long-term study published in The Lancet, people who visited fast-food restaurants more than twice a week experienced more weight gain and a two-fold greater increase in insulin resistance compared to those who frequented less than once a week. This is due to the high amount of saturated fat, sodium and red meat on the menu. If you’re craving a burger and fries, do yourself a favor and cook it up at home with a whole grain bun and a side of sweet potato fries.

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Best dinner: Veggies, fish and barley

When you’re thinking about the best prediabetes diet, it’s all about building a smart plate. Like lunch, you should aim to fill most of your plate with nutrient-rich non-starchy veggies. Fish has heart-healthy properties, important since having prediabetes puts you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Barley is an especially great whole grain, as it contains a fiber called beta-glucan that’s especially helpful for insulin resistance.

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Worst desserts: Cheesecake, sorbet and frozen yogurt

It’s not hard to understand why cheesecake is one of the foods to avoid for prediabetes. For one, slices are rich in saturated fat, which can impair insulin sensitivity, plus a portion packs 27 grams of sugar, more than a woman should eat in an entire day.

But beware of fat-free desserts like sorbet or frozen yogurt, as they typically contain a lot of added sugar, increasing your blood sugar while offering minimal nutrition. Instead, whip up your own dessert at home like a smoothie bowl or plain yogurt mixed with fruit and cocoa powder.

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Best dessert: Dark chocolate-covered almonds

Dark chocolate is packed with health benefits, especially when compared to milk chocolate. In addition, nuts like almonds are full of healthy fats that are great for your health. In terms of weight control—important for people with prediabetes—individual treats (like chocolate-covered almonds) are great because you can eat them slowly, savor the sweet treat and keep portion sizes reasonable.

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Best Drink: Water

Water should be everyone’s staple beverage throughout the day, but it is particularly important for those with prediabetes. Increasing your water intake (at least 64 ounces per day) can help your body better manage blood sugars by keeping your cells and organs hydrated, but also, in a sense, diluting the blood so blood sugar concentration isn’t so high. Read more about the best and worst drinks for managing diabetes.

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Best Vegetables: Leafy greens, spinach, peppers, asparagus, cauliflower…

Honestly, any non-starchy vegetable is a great go-to for those with prediabetes, as they are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The fiber in vegetables also helps to regulate blood sugar response after consumption. There are a few non-starchy vegetables that contain more natural sugar than the others, including carrots and tomatoes, but enjoying those is still a better choice than not eating vegetables at all. Learn more about the best vegetables for people with diabetes.

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Best Fruits: Apples, berries, oranges, pears, bananas, mangoes…

Just like vegetables, most fruits are a healthy choice for those with diabetes if consumed in moderation. Fruits should be part of your daily carb count, and not avoided, because they’re full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fruits where you consume the skin and/or seeds (think berries, apples, pears) will boast the highest amount of fiber so those are the best choices among a food group of good options. However, people with diabetes should avoid dried fruit and fruit juices.

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Best Grains: Whole wheat, brown rice, farro, quinoa, oats, buckwheat

If you’re consuming the “whole” grain, then you’re making a good choice. Whole grains mean that they haven’t been processed to remove their outer two layers, where the majority of their nutrition and fiber live. When removed, the grain is considered refined and will be metabolized and increase your blood sugar much quicker. Some great whole grains to try include farro, quinoa, buckwheat and rye.

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prediabetes foods to avoid Baked Sweet Potato
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Best Starchy Vegetable: Sweet potato, winter squash, beans, lentils, parsnips

The starchy vegetables family includes potatoes, corn, beans, lentils, winter squash, parsnips, yams and peas. While all of these choices are healthy and can be enjoyed as part of your carb count, there are ways to make even healthier choices within this group. Choosing raw, unseasoned options will allow you to get the most from these veggies without mystery ingredients or hidden sugars. And when it comes to potatoes and squash, consuming the skin is important as it contains most of the fiber and micronutrients.

Choosing the most colorful options like sweet potato and bright orange winter squash will equate to more phytonutrients, too—meaning more nutrition for you.

Christina Manian, RDN
Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Boulder, Colorado. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, she has been involved with the nutrition departments of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass General Hospital. She completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy and most recently practiced clinical nutrition at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. While her background has largely been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces and is shifting her focus towards wellness nutrition as the backbone to optimum health.