Dietary choices that support insulin sensitivity include non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, and citrus fruits. At the same time, a high intake of sugary drinks and highly processed foods may make it worse.
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body absorb glucose and keeps blood sugar levels balanced. Insulin resistance makes it harder for the body’s cells to take in glucose.
Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in the body cannot use insulin effectively. Over time, insulin resistance
People with insulin resistance may receive a diagnosis of prediabetes, which can progress to type 2 diabetes. A person who has insulin resistance may need routine checkups with a doctor to ensure that they do not develop type 2 diabetes.
Certain diet and lifestyle habits can affect the risks related to insulin resistance. In fact, eating or limiting certain foods can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce insulin resistance, and decrease a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
This article will explore the dietary and lifestyle changes a person can make to increase their body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Many people do not consume enough magnesium, calcium, fiber, and potassium, all of which
Additionally, although people with insulin resistance do not need to eliminate any foods from their diet, it is important to understand how certain foods may affect blood sugar levels.
The following foods may support insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing diabetes in general:
- non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, and peppers
- citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, and limes
- high fiber foods, including beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds
- whole grains such as oats, quinoa, and barley
- protein-rich foods, including lean meats, fish, soy, legumes, and nuts
- fish with high omega-3 fatty acid content, such as salmon, sardines, and herring
- foods that contain antioxidants, such as berries
- water, especially as a substitute for sweetened drinks
- unsweetened teas
- unsweetened yogurt
Certain foods are more likely to raise blood sugar. Regularly eating foods that are high in added sugar or carbohydrates can overload the body’s ability to produce enough insulin.
Over time, this can also lead to high amounts of insulin in the blood, which can cause cells to become more resistant to insulin’s effects.
When this happens, the glucose remains in the blood, contributing to the health concerns that
Limiting the following foods
- sweetened beverages, including fruit juices, soda, and fountain drinks
- alcohol, especially in large quantities
- highly processed snacks, convenience meals, and boxed foods
- sugary sweets such as cupcakes, ice cream, and chocolate bars
- refined grains such as white bread, rice, pasta, and flour-based foods, which are lower in fiber than whole grain versions
- fried foods
- foods high in saturated fats, including chocolate, butter, and red meat
Finding a healthy balance
People can still eat foods on this list occasionally without negatively affecting long-term insulin sensitivity. The key is to limit these foods and replace them with more nutritious options when possible.
By sticking to a nutritious, high fiber diet that is low in added sugars, a person can steadily improve their insulin sensitivity.
Regular physical activity can also be helpful. Taking walks regularly or staying active throughout the day can significantly
Additionally, some people may be able to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing
These changes can also reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and other health conditions.
For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.
Following a balanced diet plan that includes foods from a variety of cultures can improve insulin sensitivity.
For example, the Mediterranean diet is a diet plan inspired by a specific culture that
People following the Mediterranean diet also limit their intake of red meat and may consume red wine in moderation during meals.
In a large 2018 study, researchers found that women who followed the Mediterranean diet had about a
However, the Mediterranean diet is just one option for healthy eating. Other diet plans, such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, may also
This DASH diet
These diets can work well when a person combines them with other healthy lifestyle practices, such as stress management, adequate sleep of 7–9 hours per night, and regular physical activity.
One way to manage blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance is to eat foods with a low glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL).
Carbohydrate foods with a high GI and GL can cause blood sugar spikes and put more demand on the body to produce insulin. Conversely, the digestive system processes foods with a low GI and GL slowly, which reduces blood sugar spikes.
Eating foods with a low GI and GL is an excellent way to maintain balanced blood sugar levels and preserve insulin sensitivity. This category includes many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
The body needs glucose for energy. However, many cells cannot absorb glucose without assistance.
The pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. The insulin then helps the glucose travel to the body’s cells, which use it for energy.
Insulin allows cells to absorb glucose, making sure that blood sugar levels remain at a safe level and that the cells in muscle, fat, liver, and other areas can get energy
When a person has insulin resistance, their cells are less sensitive to insulin. This means the pancreas has to produce more insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable.
If the pancreas cannot keep up with the increased demand for insulin, blood sugar levels rise. If the cells cannot use all the excess glucose in the blood, a person will have high blood sugar levels. Over time, this could lead to type 2 diabetes and various other health concerns.
Certain daily habits can decrease insulin resistance and the risk of diabetes.
Diet affects insulin resistance in at least two major ways.
First, consuming too many calories can trigger weight gain. According to one study in middle-aged adults, weight gain
Second, various types of foods may have different effects on insulin resistance and blood sugar levels.
A person should follow a balanced diet and prioritize foods high in fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats. A doctor or dietitian may provide advice on which foods to eat to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Though a person
People with excess fat around their waist and abdomen, in particular, are at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance. Though the mechanism is not entirely clear, some researchers believe that fat cells secrete hormones and other substances that may interfere with insulin’s effectiveness.
However, body weight is just one factor that may contribute to insulin resistance. Having overweight or obesity does not mean that a person will develop insulin resistance.
A person can work with a doctor or dietitian for personalized guidance on whether diet and lifestyle changes may be beneficial.
Not getting enough exercise can affect the way insulin regulates blood sugar levels. According to the American Diabetes Association, physical activity plays a vital role in keeping blood sugar levels steady.
Aim for around
Other risk factors
Other lifestyle factors that can affect insulin resistance include:
- Smoking: This
can impairinsulin sensitivity and insulin production.
- Sleep issues: Losing just
1–3 hoursof sleep per night can increase insulin resistance.
- Age: People
aged 45 or oldermight have a higher risk of insulin resistance.
- Use of steroids: Taking this type of drug can increase insulin resistance by
60–80%, depending on dose.
- Underlying health conditions: High blood pressure, previous episodes of stroke or heart disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome can all increase a person’s risk of developing insulin resistance.
- Hormonal disorders: Disorders that affect hormone production, such as Cushing’s syndrome and acromegaly, can disrupt insulin sensitivity.
- Race: People of African American, Hispanic, Native Alaskan, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander descent have a higher risk of insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance means that the body’s cells become less effective at absorbing glucose from the blood. It is common in prediabetes, a condition that can progress to type 2 diabetes.
Diet plays an essential role in preventing insulin resistance. Following a balanced diet and increasing physical activity can reduce a person’s risk. Adding more foods that are high in fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats to the diet can be beneficial.
Managing underlying health conditions, getting plenty of sleep, and managing stress levels can also help promote overall health and improve insulin resistance.
Does prediabetes always turn into diabetes?
A diagnosis of prediabetes does not mean that you will definitely advance to diabetes, though it is a high risk factor.
The good news is that prediabetes is reversible. Evidence shows that there is up to a 58% reduction in the risk of developing diabetes when a person makes and sustains healthy lifestyle changes.
These include reducing total carbohydrate intake; switching from processed carbs to high fiber, low GI carbs; losing weight; doing daily exercise; getting good quality sleep for 7–9 hours a night; and managing stress.Natalie Butler, RD, LDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.