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Diet for Pre-Diabetics

author image David B. Ryan
David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.
Diet for Pre-Diabetics
A couple jogs through a field. Photo Credit: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

People suffering from pre-diabetes have blood sugar levels higher than normal, but not yet high enough to qualify as diabetes. The University of Pittsburgh reports that over 25 million American adults have pre-diabetes. Diet is an important element in treating the condition, and a diet geared toward controlling blood sugar levels can help get them back under control. However, weight loss and exercise also play essential roles in reversing pre-diabetes, so make sure you incorporate your diet into an overall active and healthful lifestyle.

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Foods to Eat

A piece of tofu sushi.
A piece of tofu sushi. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/ Images

Protein from fish, including sardines, tuna, haddock, halibut, herring, cod, catfish, flounder and tilapia, is recommended by the ADA, but only two to three times a week. Seafood may also include shellfish such as shrimp, oysters, lobster, crab and clams. The main source of protein should come from daily portions of skinless poultry and dried beans, lentils and peas. These may be consumed in soy meat products, vegetarian baked beans, or fat-free pinto refried beans. The ADA lists pinto, black and lima beans as excellent dietary choices for the bean category. Eggs and pork, cut as tenderloin and center loin or Canadian bacon, are also recommended to provide protein requirements. Vegetables are the key to a healthy diet for people diagnosed with pre-diabetes. “Non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, broccoli or green beans” should be the most frequent meal choices, according to the ADA.

Foods to Limit

A woman eats a bowl of yogurt.
A woman eats a bowl of yogurt. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Calcium intake is a necessary part of the daily requirements but the calcium should come from high-quality protein, according to the ADA. This includes fat-free or non-fat yogurt, soy milk and non-fat or 1 percent milk, and occasionally non-fat cottage cheese. Foods high in sugar should also be avoided on a pre-diabetes diet. Take soft drinks, sweets, ice cream, cake and cookies off the shopping list and in plan a treat of an orange slice or two to add vitamins in addition to a taste of sweets. Avoid fruit juices since these typically have additional sugar and additives.

Focus on Fiber

Sliced whole grain bread on a cutting board.
Sliced whole grain bread on a cutting board. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/ Images

Whole grain foods, such as brown rice and whole wheat pasta provide fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals without adding excessive amounts of sugar to the diet. Whole grain foods are defined as products that use the entire grain (the germ, bran and endosperm). Refined and enriched wheat flours eliminate many of the vitamins and minerals in the milling process and should be avoided. Whole grain should be listed as the first ingredient on the product label. The ADA also recommends buckwheat, millet, sorghum, quinoa, cracked wheat, oatmeal, corn meal, popcorn, wild rice, barley and rye for this category.

Foods to Avoid

A woman puts frosting on cupcakes.
A woman puts frosting on cupcakes. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/ Images

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), an agency under the auspices of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, states that foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugar and salt are major contributors to diabetes. The Mayo Clinic, ADA and NDEP agree that foods containing large amounts of the items on this list should be used only in small, regulated helpings.


A piece of grilled salmon and salad.
A piece of grilled salmon and salad. Photo Credit: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

Changes in diet are the most important elements in avoiding the progression from pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes. Of the 54 million adults diagnosed with pre-diabetes, the majority will have the disease progress to a more severe type 2 in less than 10 years, according to the Mayo Clinic. Focusing on the foods listed above, adding physical activity, and practicing food portion control will assist in ensuring diabetes will not become a chronic health problem.

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