Low-carbohydrate diets have gotten a lot of attention recently as strategies for reversing prediabetes. The carbohydrates in your diet that provide calories include sugars and starches. Starches are in grains and flour, beans, and starchy vegetables. Added sugars include sugars in sweets, sweetened foods such as flavored oatmeal and ketchup, and sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda. There are also natural sugars, which are found in nutritious foods such as dairy products and fruit.
Proponents of low-carbohydrate weight loss diets, such as Atkins, claim that the diet can help you lose weight because instead of burning dietary carbohydrates for fuel, you burn body fat because you are eating so few dietary carbohydrates. The diet can help you cut calories by:
- Eliminating or severely restricting high-calorie foods such as sweets and refined carbohydrates.
- Promoting satiety by increasing protein and fat, which are filling nutrients.
- Reducing appetite by reducing the food choices available to you.
Low-Carb Diets and Prediabetes
Sugars and starches that you get from your diet enter your bloodstream as a type of sugar called glucose. In prediabetes, your body has trouble managing the glucose in your blood due to resistance to a hormone called insulin. Normally, insulin is able to help your body keep blood glucose levels in check, but the effect is weaker if you have prediabetes, so blood glucose rises.
There is research supporting reduced-carbohydrate diets in the treatment of prediabetes. Reducing your sugar and starch intake may lower blood sugar levels by preventing as much sugar from going into your blood. It can also help reverse insulin resistance.
Reduced-carbohydrate diets range from moderate to very low-carb. The rest of your calories come from protein and fat, so you might depend more heavily on high-protein and high-fat foods than the average person.
Ketogenic Diet for Prediabetes
A ketogenic diet is a type of low-carbohydrate diet that is on the extreme end. The goal is to limit carbohydrates so much that the body does not have enough glucose – a type of carbohydrate – to fuel the brain normally. Instead, the body shifts to a metabolic state called ketosis, and produces ketone bodies to fuel the brain’s activities.
The theory behind a ketogenic diet for prediabetes is that when your body is in ketosis, you can be sure that you do not have excess carbohydrates in your diet. Since carbohydrates in your diet are broken down into glucose that goes into your bloodstream, being in ketosis assures that you are not inundating your bloodstream with excessive amounts of glucose due to the foods you eat.
A ketogenic diet for prediabetes might include about 20 to 50 grams per day of non-fiber carbohydrates, or about 5 to 10% of total calories from carbohydrates. The rest of your calories come from fat and protein. The food choices on this diet are similar to those on other low-carb diets, but you may need to further restrict some of the moderate-carbohydrate options that might be easier to fit in on a more moderate low-carb diet. Examples include fruit (an apple has 24 grams of non-fiber carbohydrates) and starchy vegetables (a half-cup of corn has 15 grams of non-fiber carbs).
Healthy Diet for Prediabetes
A healthy diet for prediabetes does not necessarily need to be low in carbohydrates. According to U.S. News and World Report rankings, the two types of diet for prediabetes and high cholesterol in 2018 are moderate diet patterns. A Mediterranean diet pattern is ranked first, followed closely by the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet.
Mediterranean Diet Pattern for Prediabetes
A Mediterranean-style diet is based on traditional eating patterns of Mediterranean countries, especially Greece, southern Italy, and Spain. This way of eating is known for its heart-healthy benefits, but research also shows that it can also help in weight loss and assist in blood sugar control.
Compared to the average American diet, a Mediterranean diet pattern generally includes more:
- Olive oil
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and soy)
- Whole grains
It includes moderate consumption of poultry and fish, and less:
- Full fat dairy products
- Red meat
DASH Diet for Prediabetes
The DASH diet may have been developed for reducing high blood pressure, but don’t let that fool you. The DASH may also be good for weight loss, bone health, mental health, heart health, and prediabetes prevention. To get from an average American diet to a DASH-style pattern, you can:
- Boost your intake of vegetables and fresh fruit.
- Eat more low-fat dairy products and beans.
- Choose whole grains more often.
- Choose fish, poultry, and lean meat instead of fatty red meat or processed meat.