Lindsey Desoto is a licensed, registered dietitian and experienced medical writer.
Melissa Nieves, LND, RD, is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist who works as a bilingual telehealth dietitian. She founded the Fad Free Nutrition Blog and Nutricion al Grano websites and is based in Texas.
Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar levels are higher than average but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes.
While prediabetes can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, you can prevent or delay its onset by making lifestyle changes, such as exercising and adopting a well-balanced diet.
This article discusses foods to avoid and add to your diet to lower your blood sugar (glucose) and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
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Refined carbohydrates (simple carbs) are digested quickly and have a high glycemic index (GI). A glycemic index is a tool that helps you understand how different carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels. The higher the GI index value of food, the faster it is broken down by the body. Carbs with a high GI increase blood sugar quickly.
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, white flour, pastries, and snack foods have been stripped of fiber and other essential nutrients. Since refined carbs lack fiber that help you become satiated (satisfied and full from eating), they tend to make you hungry shortly after eating.
Studies show that diets high in refined carbohydrates increase a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and heart disease.

Instead of refined carbs, choose complex carbohydrates. These foods usually do not cause rapid blood sugar spikes because they are higher in fiber and are digested slower than simple carbs. Complex carbs also give you long-lasting energy and help you feel full for a longer time.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include:
Sweet pastries, cakes, donuts, tarts, and pies are high in added sugar, saturated fats, and calories, all linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and heart disease.
In addition to offering little to no nutritional value, desserts and pastries are made with dairy, sugar, and flour, which are known to cause blood sugar spikes.
While you can enjoy sugary treats with prediabetes, it’s best to do so in moderation. When you’re in the mood for something sweet, try these prediabetes-friendly desserts:
Sugary beverages, including regular soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, energy drinks, and tea and coffee with added sugar, are the number one source of added sugars in diets.
While there is no exact sugar recommendation for those with prediabetes, an added-sugar limit of less than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar for most women and less than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) of sugar for most men.
Studies suggest that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) can alter glucose metabolism, which may lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. High intakes of SSBs can also lead to weight gain, which increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains almost 37 grams of sugar, a value that exceeds recommendations for both men and women.
Replace sugary beverages with these healthier, low-sugar options:
Hot and cold sweetened cereals are often low in nutrients, high in added sugars, and made with refined carbohydrates.

One study found the average sugar content of breakfast cereals is 20 grams for every 100-gram serving. Breakfast cereals marketed toward children typically contain more sugar than adult cereals.
Opt for whole-grain cereals with less than 5 grams of sugar and at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. You can also top your cereal with high-fiber berries, nuts, or chia seeds to slow digestion and help prevent a blood sugar spike.
Other healthy breakfast options include:
Studies suggest that a high-fat, high-saturated-fat diet decreases insulin sensitivity, which may contribute to the development of diabetes. Saturated fats include butter, cream sauces, high-fat meats, chicken or turkey skin, and coconut oil.
Saturated fats can also increase your cholesterol and risk for heart disease. Most adults should aim to get less than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fat. For example, someone who eats a 2,000-calorie diet should limit their saturated fat intake to 20 grams or less.
Swapping saturated fats for moderate amounts of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can improve your health and protect against heart disease. Research suggests that substituting carbohydrates and saturated fat with a diet rich in unsaturated fat, particularly polyunsaturated fat, can help regulate blood sugar.
Examples of unsaturated fats include:
Processed meats tend to have higher amounts of saturated fat than other proteins. They’re also high in sodium. Several studies link diets high in processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, salami, hot dogs, and lunch meat, with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Research suggests that replacing saturated fats with plant-based protein from nuts, seeds, lentils, skinless poultry, and seafood can decrease your risk of chronic disease and premature death.
Dried fruits lose water and volume during the drying process. As a result, their nutrient, calorie, and sugar content becomes more concentrated than the whole, fresh kind.
Dried fruit may also have additional sugar added during processing, which can contribute to increased blood sugar levels.

The best choices are fresh, frozen, or canned fruit without added sugar. Although you can enjoy dried fruit with prediabetes, it is important to be mindful of your portion size. For example, 1 cup of dried apricot halves contains 313 calories and 69 grams sugar. In contrast, 1 cup of fresh apricot halves contains 74 calories and 14 grams sugar.
While yogurt is a good source of nutrients and can be a great snack for people with prediabetes, many fruit-flavored yogurts are high in sugar. This includes yogurt with fruit on the bottom and yogurt with extra toppings, such as granola, nuts, and candies.
The best type of yogurt for prediabetes is unsweetened Greek yogurt because it has a healthier balance of carbohydrates and protein, which can keep your blood sugar from spiking.
Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt offers nearly twice as much protein with fewer grams of sugar and carbohydrates than traditional yogurt.
Nondairy yogurts, including those made with almond, soy, or coconut milk, are also available in low-sugar options. Top it with nuts, seeds, and/or berries for added flavor and crunch.
French fries are a food you want to limit, especially if you have prediabetes. Potatoes alone have a high carbohydrate content and score high on the glycemic index, meaning they cause blood sugar and insulin to rise rapidly.
Studies also show that frequently consuming fried foods can significantly increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. In particular, one meta-analysis found that eating three servings of french fries per week increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly 19%.
When dining out, opt for a side salad instead of french fries. You can also try crispy kale chips, roasted zucchini fries, carrot fries, or green bean fries. These foods generally don't cause blood sugar spikes, so they're a good alternative for people with prediabetes.
If you are craving french fries, consider baking them and pairing them with healthy fats and protein to keep your blood sugar steady.
Improving your food's flavor through condiments, herbs, and spices is important for enjoying a prediabetes diet. But some salad dressings and condiments, such as commercially made ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, and French dressing, contain high amounts of sodium, carbohydrates, fat, and calories.
Additionally, many fat-free dressings contain more carbohydrates than the regular versions because the fat is replaced with sugar.
Jellies and jams are another hidden source of added and natural sugar. While they are made with fruit, many have added sugar to enhance the flavor and help with gel formation.
Choosing oil-based salad dressings that combine olive oil, avocado oil, or other vegetable oils with vinegar. As with other foods, you can make healthier versions of your favorite dressings and condiments.
Other tasty condiments for people with prediabetes:
Instead of using high-sugar jams and jellies, you can make low-sugar jams or use sugar-free jelly.
Certain foods, such as refined carbohydrates, pastries, sweetened cereals, and sugary beverages, can cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. They also tend to lack fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Replacing these foods with whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, fruit, vegetables, and legumes can help you manage your blood sugar levels.

If you have prediabetes, you won't necessarily develop type 2 diabetes, especially if you take steps to prevent it from happening. Healthy lifestyle choices, such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating a balanced diet, can help reverse prediabetes and prevent its progression to diabetes. Work closely with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to ease into healthier eating habits.
Good breakfast options for people with prediabetes include avocado toast with a hardboiled egg and Greek yogurt topped with fruit and nuts.
Whether you have prediabetes or diabetes, you shouldn't eliminate carbs in your diet. However, it is essential to be mindful of the carbs you consume. To prevent blood sugar spikes, focus on consuming more high-quality carbs, such as whole grains.
Studies suggest that habitual coffee consumption may preserve liver and beta-cell function, thereby decreasing a person's risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
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By Lindsey DeSoto, RD, LD
Lindsey Desoto is a registered dietitian with experience working with clients to improve their diet for health-related reasons. She enjoys staying up to date on the latest research and translating nutrition science into practical eating advice to help others live healthier lives.

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