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Insulin Resistance Diet: What to Eat and What NOT to Eat [Dietitian Approved]

  • DATE: NOVEMBER 19, 2020

  • WRITTEN BY: ZORNITSA STOYCHEVA


Insulin resistance (IR) is becoming a widespread health condition, as each year, an increasing number of people are diagnosed with it. In fact, in the United States, an estimated 60 to 70 million individuals are affected by this condition. [1]


It is essential to know that IR is not a harmless medical problem that can be neglected or ignored. If left untreated, it can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, significantly reducing the life quality of the patients, and posing significant health risks (like stroke and heart disease). [2]


Luckily IR is reversible! And according to the CDC, increasing physical activity, achieving sleep hygiene and making suitable dietary changes can really make a difference. [3] This article will focus on the dietary part!


We will guide you through the foods that you can eat if you are diagnosed with insulin resistance, the ones that can help you reverse this health condition, as well as the foods that should be limited or completely avoided!

Let’s dive into the topic.


  1. What foods to eat with insulin resistance?

  2. Fruits

  3. Vegetables

  4. Whole grains

  5. Cooking oils

  6. Meat and poultry

  7. Dairy foods

  8. Seafood

  9. Conclusion


What foods to eat with insulin resistance?


There is no specific diet that is associated with improved insulin sensitivity.

However, the dietary changes for patients with IR include whole, plant-based foods instead of processed ones, as well foods rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats instead of high-carb, sugary foods packed with saturated (unhealthy fats.) [4] [5]

Taking these guidelines into account, the number #1 rule when it comes to IR diet is to focus on achieving a healthy weight. People with IR tend to be overweight. For this population, weight loss is recommended through making healthy diet changes while in a calorie deficit (eating less calories than you burn per day) without sacrificing balanced and diverse food choices. [6] In most cases such diets are based on foods low in carbs and fats.


The advice from Claudia Hleap (Registered Dietitian):

Insulin resistance is a precursor to the development of diabetes.For patients developing IR, I recommend adopting a Mediteranean and controlled carbohydrate diet . This form of eating is healthy for the general population and is both antiinflammatory and high in fiber. Overall, by making healthy tweeks to your diet and lifestyle you can prevent and frequently reverse the development of IR and diabetes.


Keep in mind that every patient may respond differently to a certain type of diet/meal plan. For that reason, it’s essential to consult your condition with a registered dietitian and get tailored recommendations and advice.


So, what foods to eat with IR?

Fruits

Generally, although fruit is a carbohydrate, most fruits are recommended for insulin resistance patients. You can go for both fresh and frozen fruit, as these two options provide you with the optimal nutrients of these foods. Just keep in mind to eat them whole or blend them in a homemade smoothie– this way you can ensure no fiber is lost!

Ensure that you eat fruits in moderation to prevent high blood sugars and the ongoing development IR.

More specific fruit recommendations include fruits with low/medium glycemic index and high fiber content [7]:

  • Apples

  • Berries

  • Citrus fruits

  • Peaches

  • Pears

  • Apricots

What is more, various studies have suggested that blueberry consumption may improve insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar levels. [8]

Which fruits to limit?

Fruit juices, canned fruits (they have less fiber and are usually with added sugars).

Vegetables

All non-starchy veggies are highly recommended for insulin resistance patients and several portions of these should be consumed daily [9]:

  • Leafy vegetables (e.g., cabbage, kale, lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts)

  • Root vegetables (e.g., carrots, celeriac, radish, turnip)

  • Squash (e.g., courgettes, cucumber, squash, pumpkin)

  • Stalk vegetables (e.g., asparagus, celery, leeks, spring onions)

  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas)

  • Aubergine

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Mushrooms

  • Peppers

  • Tomatoes

In fact, evidence suggests that the regular consumption of soluble dietary fiber (which is abundant in vegetables, some fruits, and whole grains) may improve blood glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic profile, reading the risk of prediabetic conditions and type 2 diabetes. [10]

Whole grains

According to a 2018 paper published in the Nutrients Journal, regular high (but measured) intake of whole grains can be associated with improved insulin sensitivity, regulated blood sugar, and lower risk of type 2 diabetes. [11]

That being said, whole grains include:

  • Barley

  • Buckwheat

  • Oats

  • Millet

  • Quinoa

  • Brown rice

  • Rye

  • Whole wheat

Also, making better choices when it comes to grain goods- pasta, bread, and toast, can make a difference in your eating patterns. Instead of avoiding grain foods, or reaching for their refined versions (white bread, regular pasta), choosing their whole-grain, unrefined options may positively impact your health. [12]

Cooking oils

As the general recommendations for IR diet are based on moderate/limited consumption of fats (and oils,) choosing the right types of cooking oils is key.

According to a 2016 paper published in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, substituting saturated oils (solid at room temperature and when refrigerated) with polyunsaturated oils (liquid at room temperature and solid when refrigerated) may improve insulin sensitivity. [13]


Based on these implications, IR patients are often recommended to include the following unrefined healthy oils into their diet:

  • Fish oil

  • Flaxseed oil

  • Sunflower oil

  • Corn oil

  • Soybean oil

  • Olive oil

But what oils to avoid with IR?

These are mainly animal fat, butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter, and palm oil.

Meat and poultry

Generally, the regular consumption of red and processed meat is associated with increased insulin resistance. [14] [15] One of the reasons for this is the high content of saturated fats in these foods.

Even though IR patients are recommended to reach for plant-based proteins (legumes, soy products) and limit the meat and poultry consumption, they can still consume limited amounts of the following foods [16] :

  • Lean cuts of meat

  • Poultry without skin

  • Ground beef with low fat percentage

That being said, sausages, bacon, salami, and other processed meats should be limited to a minimum.

Dairy foods

A 2019 review paper published in the Nutrients Journal suggests that the moderate intake of low-fat dairy foods may positively impact insulin sensitivity, waist circumference, and body weight. [17]

  • Cheese with reduced fat

  • Low fat milk and yogurt

  • Semi-skimmed milk and yogurt

That being said, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research, high dairy intake may be associated with increased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. [18] Also, keep in mind that whole-fat dairy foods contain significant amounts of saturated fats, which, as mentioned should be limited on a IR diet.

Seafood

Seafood is a definite YES for IR patients. It has naturally high polyunsaturated fats content, as well as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and high-quality protein.

In fact, evidence suggests that while the consumption of lean seafood may improve insulin sensitivity in IR patients, fatty fish has a neutral effect on this marker, and shellfish and fried seafood can actually impair glycemic control. [19]

So what seafood is most suitable for IR?

  • Sea bass

  • Catfish

  • Cod

  • Halibut

  • Mahi Mahi

  • Swordfish

  • Tilapia

  • Trout

  • Tuna

The following seafood is also good for insulin resistance:

  • Salmon

  • Mackerel

  • Sardines

  • Anchovies

Examples of seafood that should be consumed in moderation:

  • Shrimp

  • Crab

  • Lobster

  • Camps

  • Mussels

  • Oysters and scallops

  • Octopus

Conclusion


Improving insulin sensitivity is all about making better dietary choices. But while specific diets may work for some patients, other individuals may not benefit from these. Finding what foods work for you is essential, and consulting a dietitian about your diet changes can significantly make the dieting process easier, more pleasant, and effective.


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