Chances are you’ve heard the phrase: “you are what you eat.” What we put into our bodies has a major impact on our overall physical and mental health, and this is especially true if you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition. There are ways to optimize your wellness and improve your quality of life by tweaking your diet to your specific needs. It’s all a matter of understanding what your diagnosis means, how it impacts your body, and the best treatment plan for healing.
Insulin resistance is one example of a medical condition that has the potential to be quite damaging, but can also be treated effectively through lifestyle adjustments, prescription medications, naturopathic remedies, and more. If left untreated, insulin resistance could potentially lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and increased risk of stroke — all of which are major health concerns.
In addition to working with your healthcare provider, one of the most powerful actions you can take to combat these health concerns is to adopt an insulin resistance diet plan. Eating habits play a major role in both the development and treatment of insulin resistance, so changing the foods you consume on a daily basis is always a smart place to start when addressing this condition.
Today we’ll be covering what an insulin resistance diet meal plan is, how it benefits the body, and the best way to incorporate one into your lifestyle. Let’s get started!
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance happens when the cells in a person’s muscles, fat, and organs stop responding to insulin and therefore no longer process sugar as effectively. Over time, the pancreas continues to produce insulin in an effort to help the body process the excess sugar — but this is only a temporary solution. Eventually, cells become so resistant to insulin that the pancreas isn’t able to keep up, which will cause diabetes.
The Best Foods For Insulin Resistance
Before seeking out insulin resistance diet recipes or grocery items, it’s important to know which foods support the body’s natural sugar absorption processes and lower overall glucose levels.
Below are some of the most beneficial foods for people with insulin resistance:
- Whole Grains
Studies have shown that increasing whole grain intake improves insulin resistance and glucose metabolism. The high fiber content of whole grains slows the digestion process, preventing sudden blood sugar spikes and reducing the demand for insulin secretion in the body. For this reason, it’s important to include whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, barley, and oatmeal in your diet if you have been diagnosed with insulin resistance.
Berries contain far less sugar than other high glucose index (GI) options like bananas, pineapples, and watermelon, making them an ideal option for insulin resistance meal plans.
But that’s not the only reason to include berries in your diet. Berries are packed with anthocyanins (the naturally-occurring pigments that give berries their rich, vibrant color) and these anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that improve glucose sensitivity.
Incorporating berries with high levels of anthocyanins, like mulberries, blackberries, blueberries, acai berries, and goji berries, into your diet is an excellent way to naturally combat insulin resistance.
- Lean Protein
Similar to fiber, protein slows digestion and plays a role in stabilizing blood sugar levels. Lean protein is the healthiest form of meat available. White-fleshed fish, turkey, shellfish, beans, and lentils are just a few examples of lean protein sources that provide maximum health benefits without the risk of higher-fat options like beef, pork, and salmon.
Dietitians and healthcare professionals often recommend lean protein to individuals who are looking to adjust their meal plan for insulin resistance.
- Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, and polyphenols — all of which improve gut flora, boost metabolism, and help the body control glucose levels. Incorporating more nuts and seeds into your diet is a simple way to increase nutritional value while also preventing the unwanted outcomes associated with insulin resistance.
Nuts and seeds also contain protein, which as we mentioned above, slows down digestion and helps to balance glucose levels over time.
- Unsaturated Fats
Any fat that remains solid at room temperature is considered a saturated fat, like coconut oil and butter, while those that remain in liquid form (think olive oil and sesame oil) are referred to as unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are the healthiest option, since they alleviate inflammation in the body, reduce bad cholesterol, and contribute to greater heart health.
The effects of saturated fats on those with insulin resistance have been studied, and findings suggest they worsen insulin sensitivity. If you are considering an insulin resistance diet plan, avoiding saturated fats and opting for unsaturated alternatives is highly recommended.
The Worst Foods For Insulin Resistance
Here are some of the foods you should avoid when making your insulin resistance diet plan:
- Artificial Trans Fats
Artificial trans fats are primarily used in the fast-food and restaurant industry to fry popular menu items like french fries, chicken fingers, battered fish, etc. These fats are created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils, which results in a more solid consistency and extends their shelf life. Trans fats have been linked to a notably higher risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with insulin resistance is advised to limit their intake of trans fats as much as possible, as they can increase the likelihood of type 2 diabetes and worsen symptoms associated with high blood sugar.
- Refined Grains
Any grain that has been milled to remove its germ and bran is referred to as a refined grain. White flour, white bread, corn grits, pasta, and white rice are all refined grains. The refining process strips the grain of the fiber, B vitamins, and iron that it contains in its natural, whole state — ultimately making it less nutritionally valuable.
These healthy minerals, vitamins, and nutrients are what make whole grains beneficial in terms of glucose metabolism as well. In fact, one study found whole-grain consumption reduced peripheral insulin resistance by approximately 18% compared with a 2% rise following refined-grain intake — a significant difference that could produce a wide range of positive effects for those impacted by the condition.
- Added Sugar
Sugar is the primary culprit of insulin resistance. The more sugar a person consumes, the more likely they are to develop insulin resistance, since the body has to work overtime to produce insulin, metabolize the glucose, and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
But not all sugars are terrible for you. Naturally-occurring sugars, such as the ones found in fruits and vegetables, are far better for you than artificial sweeteners that are added to beverages, pastries, and candy bars. In fact, studies have proven there’s a link between added sugar and a wide range of health concerns, including diabetes, liver disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.
And while it is true that all sugars are eventually metabolized as single glucose molecules in the body, the difference is what the sugar you’re eating is balanced with. Natural sugars are typically accompanied by fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients that enhance the body’s ability to break down the sugar. Artificial sugars do not. Thus, the way your body responds to a donut, for example, is far different than how it responds to a sweet potato or an apple.
How to Make an Insulin Resistance Diet Plan
Now that we’ve touched on the best food for insulin resistance (and the worst), let’s consider how you can implement more beneficial foods into your diet and create well-balanced, nutritious meals. Standard diets don’t work for specific medical conditions, which is why it’s crucial that you create a meal plan specific to insulin resistance.
Here’s our guide to establishing a simple meal plan for insulin resistance:
Fiber and protein are high-priority components of any healthy meal, but they are especially important for people living with insulin resistance. The first meal of your day should contain at least 10 grams of fiber and approximately 30 grams of protein.
Below are some breakfast foods that are high in fiber:
- One cup of oats (four grams of fiber)
- One ounce of chia seeds (10 grams of fiber)
- One cup of raspberries (Eight grams of fiber)
Breakfast foods that are high in protein:
- One cup of peanut butter (65 grams of protein)
- One cup plain greek yogurt (13 grams of protein)
- One cup full-fat cottage cheese (24 grams of protein)
Always look for protein and fiber content when seeking out recipes. The more you can fit into the first meal of the day, the more energized and satiated you’ll feel throughout the day, and the less your blood sugar levels will fluctuate.
When choosing insulin resistance recipes for lunch, we encourage including 15-30 grams of lean protein and at least two cups of leafy green vegetables. This will ensure you absorb enough fiber, iron, magnesium, and other vital nutrients for the remainder of your day.
Here are a few 30-gram examples of lean protein:
- One five-ounce chicken breast
- Three ounces of cooked shrimp
- One and a half cups of lentils
Examples of highly-nutritious leafy greens to include on insulin resistance diet menus:
- Swiss Chard
Both protein and leafy green vegetables are low in sugars and starches, making them ideal for individuals with insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
We encourage eating whole grains at dinner time, along with protein and vegetables. Remember, whole grains aren’t bad for you and you don’t need to stay away from carbohydrates completely. It’s all about choosing the most natural, nutrient-dense foods possible.
Examples of whole grain dishes you can make include:
- Cranberry Apple Quinoa Salad
- Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Whole Wheat Pasta
- Brown Rice Risotto With Mushrooms
Insulin Resistance Diet Tips
We get it — sticking to a diet isn’t easy. Here are a few tips to help you on your health journey:
- Exercise After Eating
Did you know light exercise after a meal has been proven to lower glucose and insulin levels? Walking for just 15 minutes is enough to prevent blood sugar spikes and increase insulin sensitivity. If it’s possible, engaging in physical activity after a meal is highly encouraged (in addition to adhering to a shopping list for insulin resistance diet that includes the food items listed above).
- Season With Cinnamon
You may be surprised to learn that sprinkling cinnamon on your morning oats is both delicious and health promoting. A recent study found that eating 1-6 grams of cinnamon per day for 40 days reduced blood sugar levels by 24 percent, showing that incorporating more of this rich, nutty spice into your diet can have a significant positive effect on your health. Just be sure to speak with your healthcare provider prior to taking supplements or increasing your daily intake, as cinnamon can cause problems for those with liver disease.
- Eat Every 2-3 Hours
If you’ve been diagnosed with insulin resistance, it’s important not to go too long without eating during the day. A new study revealed that eating 2-3 large meals per day is best for balancing insulin sensitivity. It’s also ideal to eat earlier in the day, since our bodies naturally become less insulin sensitive towards the end of the day. For this reason, trying to limit snacking to 9am-6pm can be highly beneficial.
- Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day
Here’s an interesting fact: Drinking water increases your metabolism by up to 25% for nearly an hour after drinking it. Pretty incredible, right? While there are no studies directly linking water intake to improved insulin sensitivity, we do know that low metabolism is a contributing factor to obesity, which is also a risk factor for insulin resistance. So, consequently, increasing your water intake is a great precautionary measure for anyone who lives with insulin resistance.
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