How to Follow a ‘Prediabetes Diet’ – Plus a Sample 3-Day Meal Plan

Jessica Colin - The Upside Blog by

by | Read time: 6 minutes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 38% of the U.S. adult population is living with prediabetes. That’s about one in three Americans. Since prediabetes often goes undetected, about 80% of people are unaware that their blood sugar levels may fall into the prediabetic range. Prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels, also known as blood glucose levels, are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetic. Prediabetes is the precursor to type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic health condition.

The good news is that early intervention for prediabetes, including lifestyle changes and following a prediabetes diet, has the potential to delay and even prevent type 2 diabetes.

Woman Following Prediabetes Diet Eating Healthy Lunch From Blue Bowl at Kitchen Table

How do carbohydrates factor in? 

Carbohydrates are found in food and beverages in the form of starches, suga, and fiber. They break down into glucose (the simplest form of sugar) once digested. When diagnosed with prediabetes, often the first thing people are told is to decrease their intake of carbohydrates. While carbohydrates do play a role in managing prediabetes, they aren’t something you need to avoid. In fact, many carbohydrates contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for your health. The key to carbohydrate management isn’t to cut them out of your diet, but to choose nutrient-dense carbohydrates in consistent portion sizes throughout the day.

Nutrient-dense carbohydrates have a higher ratio of nutrients to energy (or calories). Foods such as low-fat dairy, starchy vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soybeans) are nutrient-dense options. Fiber, a nutrient often found in carbohydrate containing foods, is an important part of a healthy diet and help manage blood glucose levels by slowing digestion. Most Americans do not meet the recommend daily intake of fiber, which is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. Fiber is found in whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Refined carbohydrates and added sugars are something we want to be mindful of when following a prediabetes diet. Foods such as white bread, sugary drinks, cakes, cookies and candy are considered refined carbohydrates. These foods lack fiber, and their consumption can cause blood sugar to spike. Remember, though, that all foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern. Simply be mindful of portion size and frequency of consumption of these foods.

Managing prediabetes: How to create balanced meals

The key to managing prediabetes is to find balance in your food choices. The American Diabetes Association recommends preparing meals using the diabetes plate method. This method focuses on creating a balance of protein, carbohydrates and non-starchy vegetables on your plate. Imagine a 9-inch dinner plate. When filling your plate, you want half of it to be non-starchy vegetables (1-2 cups), a quarter to be protein (3-4 ounces) and a quarter to be carbohydrates (about ½ cup).

Non-starchy vegetables contain vitamins and minerals and are low in carbohydrates and calories. Therefore, filling up with non-starchy vegetables during your meal can lead to feelings of fullness without a large impact on your blood sugar levels. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include broccoli, green beans, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and peppers.

Consistency with meal times and carbohydrate portion sizes is key to blood sugar control. Avoid skipping meals. Going hungry can cause blood sugar imbalance and lead to a higher blood sugar spike later on. Aim for three meals per day and one to three snacks as desired with consistent carbohydrate portions. If you’re not sure what carbohydrate portions are right for you, consult with your healthcare provider or consider consulting with a registered dietitian for guidance.

What snacks can I eat when following a prediabetes diet? 

Snacks don’t have to be a forbidden indulgence! In fact, they can be an important part of managing your blood sugar and preventing overeating at meals. When choosing snacks, aim to pair a carbohydrate with a protein or fat. Keep in mind that snacks containing non-starchy vegetables, protein or fat will have minimal impact on your blood sugar.

Which beverages are best for a prediabetes diet?

Hydration is important in blood glucose control because it allows excess sugar to be flushed from the blood. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommends that women consume 91 ounces (11.5 cups) and men consume 125 ounces (15.5 cups) of hydrating fluids per day. Remember that each person’s fluid needs are individualized, and you may need more or less fluid than the standard recommendation.

When choosing beverages, drink caffeine-free fluids with little to no calories to maximize hydration. A great way to add variety to water is to try fruit-infused or carbonated water.  If you often find yourself struggling to remember to hydrate throughout the day, try having your beverage available and within eyesight. Set reminders on your phone, or even sets fluid intake goals to reach throughout the day.

Can movement help manage prediabetes? 

Exercise is important for the prevention and treatment of prediabetes. Make exercise a fulfilling part of your day. Find joyful movement that is fun for you and brings a smile to your face. Activities such as dancing, yoga, walking and biking are just a few ways to get movement into your day.

Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. For two days of the week, aim to incorporate strength training exercises. If you’re not currently active, start with small goals for movement. Even five extra minutes a day can make a difference, and no activity is too small to make an impact on your health.

What’s next? 

Now that you have these tips in mind, it’s time to start putting them into action. Small changes daily, done over time and consistently, can yield big results.

Remember that you don’t have to manage your prediabetes alone. Seek one-on-one telenutrition counseling with a Kroger Health registered dietitian to get individualized recommendations to better manage your prediabetes.

Prediabetes diet sample meal plan  

Use the guide below to plan your meals using foods you enjoy. With your current meals, if you notice you are lacking a vegetable, protein or starch, try to find a way to incorporate it into your dish or as a side. Remember, portion sizes may vary based on your individual needs.

Breakfast: Fiber and protein

  • 1 egg, ¼ cup avocado, 1 slice whole wheat toast
  • ½ cup cooked oatmeal made with skim milk + 2 Tbsp. peanut butter and ½ cup berries
  • 3 oz. Greek yogurt, ¼ cup raspberries, ¼ cup granola

Lunch: ¼ plate protein, ¼ plate carbohydrate, ½ plate non-starchy vegetable

  • 3 oz. deli turkey on 2 slices whole wheat bread with 1 oz. lettuce and 2 tomato slices; 1 cup baby carrots + 2 Tbsp. hummus
  • 1 cup cottage cheese; 1 cup bell pepper slices + 2 Tbsp. vegetable dip; 1 apple
  • 4 oz. chicken salad with 1 single-serving pouch whole wheat crackers; 1.5 cups side salad; half a banana

Dinner: ¼ plate protein, ¼ plate carbohydrate, and ½ plate non-starchy vegetable.

  • 4 oz. chicken thigh; 1.5 cups roasted broccoli; ½ cup mashed potatoes
  • 2 oz. whole wheat pasta with ½ cup pasta sauce and 3 oz. ground turkey; 1.5 cups side salad
  • 4 oz. salmon with ½ cup brown rice;5 cups canned carrot slices (no salt added)

Snacks: Include protein, fat or fiber for a more filling snack

  • 1 cup vegetables + 2 Tbsp. hummus
  • 2 oz. cheese + 1 single-serving pouch whole wheat crackers
  • 2 Tbsp. peanut butter + 1 apple
  • 5 cups popcorn + ¼ cup pistachios
  • ¼ cup berries + 5.3 oz. Greek yogurt

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