- Insulin resistance is when your body stops responding to the insulin hormone, a key player in blood sugar control.
- Changing your diet and increasing physical activity can help improve insulin response.
- Choosing whole, high-fiber foods and decreasing your intake of refined starches and high-sugar beverages can benefit blood sugar control and overall health.
Insulin resistance occurs when the body no longer responds appropriately to circulating insulin hormones. Without functioning insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise, and your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases.
Changing your diet and lifestyle can promote a healthy insulin response and improve sensitivity. In this article, you’ll learn which foods can be helpful for insulin resistance.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Your pancreas produces your insulin hormone. This hormone is secreted into your bloodstream when your body detects glucose molecules (simple sugars from carbohydrates) after eating. Insulin’s primary role is to clear glucose from your bloodstream by promoting sugar uptake into muscle tissues, which rely on sugar for fuel.
Insulin resistance is when the cells of your body are not sensitive enough to insulin and does not respond well to it, even when your pancreas secretes it.
Insulin can become resistant for several reasons, such as weight gain and limited physical activity. Risk also increases if you have a genetic predisposition to blood sugar conditions, such as diabetes, in the family.
It is challenging to diagnose insulin resistance, but having regular medical appointments and completing bloodwork is an excellent way to monitor your health and take action if your numbers start to rise.
Common Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
There are few physical symptoms of insulin resistance because the changes happen at a cellular level.
The CDC recommends completing a full bloodwork to assess several metabolic health indicators such as blood glucose and cholesterol levels. People with high results are more likely to have (or develop) insulin resistance; fortunately, your healthcare team, including a dietitian, can offer tips to improve your health.
How to Manage Insulin Resistance With Nutrition
Making dietary changes can improve insulin resistance. Adding whole, unprocessed foods to your meals can help increase your fiber intake, which is helpful for better blood sugar control and insulin response.
Specific foods to include more in your diet:
- Opt for whole grain bread, pasta, cereals, and crackers.
- Ancient grains are whole grains and can add variety to your diet. Try quinoa, millet, farro, teff, and oats.
- Choose fresh fruits as often as possible. Frozen and canned options are acceptable too, but check the label to ensure no added sugars are present.
- Berries, cherries, apples, peaches, oranges, kiwi, etc.
- Regularly consume various vegetables, including starchy options.
- Carrots, cucumber, sweet potato, all squash varieties, corn, peas, etc.
- Eat lean protein from animal or plant-based sources.
- Chicken, extra lean ground beef, fish, legumes, tofu, eggs, etc.
- Pick healthy fats rich in unsaturated fats, which have the added benefit of offering heart-protecting benefits.
- Avocado, omega-3 rich fish (salmon, trout, mackerel), nuts and seeds, olive oil, canola oil, etc.
- Enjoy dairy products that offer protein and essential vitamins, including calcium. Choose a medium to low-fat option most days to optimize your health.
- Yogurt, kefir, milk, cottage cheese. Plant-based options (almond milk, rice milk, etc.) tend to be lower in protein but are still fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Some research suggests that following a low-carbohydrate diet can improve insulin resistance and other metabolic markers. If you are interested in this, ask your registered dietitian for guidance. They can teach you how to safely decrease your carbohydrate intake without over-restricting.
Sign up with Nourish to gain access to a virtual dietitian who specializes in insulin resistance.
Physical exercise is Important Too
A lack of regular physical activity has been linked to an increased risk of developing insulin resistance. Finding enjoyable ways to move your body can help improve insulin sensitivity and offer many other benefits to your physical and mental health. The next time you finish a meal, plan a walk with a friend or relative. Or, if you prefer organized activities, consider signing up for a weekly dance or yoga class.
Insulin Resistance Foods to Avoid
If you have insulin resistance, you may want to avoid foods most likely to surge into the bloodstream after eating. The rapid presence of glucose will prompt insulin release, but the resistant cells will not work efficiently, and the blood sugar levels can slowly rise.
Foods most likely to cause a metabolic response are products that contain high amounts of refined sugars, salt, fat, and low levels of fiber. Examples of these foods include:
- Sodas, fruit juices, and premade smoothies.
- Flavored dairy products (animal and plant-based options.)
- Deep-fried baked goods, vegetables, and confectioneries.
- Refined grain products such as white flour bread, bagels, pasta, and instant rice.
- Convenient “heat-and-eat” meals include instant soups, frozen dinners, and most drive-through options.
Occasionally consuming these foods can fit into a balanced eating plan, but eating them daily can worsen your health. A dietitian can help you take a moderate approach to eating that includes all your favorite foods and aligns with your health goals.
Foods That Could Help Lower Blood Glucose Levels
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose molecules, your body and brain’s preferred energy source. Choosing carbohydrates that are digested slowly can contribute to better blood glucose control because it minimizes the chances of a blood sugar spike.
A high fiber content helps to slow down the breakdown of carbohydrates and moderate the uptake of sugars into the bloodstream. High-fiber carbohydrate foods that help with blood glucose levels include fresh fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These options can safely be included in a balanced diet to help improve insulin resistance.
Tips for Eating Out With Insulin Resistance
Eating away from home can be a nice treat, and learning to pick options that support healthy insulin levels can help you enjoy your selections without worrying about how they will impact your health.
Many restaurants offer large portions, which may exceed what you normally eat at home. The USDA MyPlate model is a fantastic tool because it doesn’t eliminate foods - it teaches you how to include them in moderation. To follow the tool, fill half your plate with vegetables (cooked or raw), a quarter of your plate with whole grains or starchy carbohydrates, and the final quarter is reserved for a lean protein (animal or plant-based.)
Particular attention should be paid to the carbohydrate portion of the plate, which can be a very generous serving in a restaurant. You may ask the server to give you half the regular portion of carbohydrates and double up on the vegetables instead.
Insulin resistance trends are rising in America, and a significant contributor to this increase is poor diet and a lack of physical activity. Fortunately, you can make simple changes to your lifestyle that will support healthy insulin levels.
Choose high-fiber carbohydrate foods whenever possible to help improve blood glucose control. Strive to build a balanced meal by following the MyPlate model at home and while dining out. If you aren’t sure you are making the right nutritional choices, consider booking an appointment with a registered dietitian.
How Nourish Can Help
A registered dietitian is trained to communicate evidence-based nutrition research into actionable steps that fit your lifestyle. Here are some questions a person might ask during a nutrition appointment with a dietitian:
- What is insulin, and what does it do?
- Can I still eat carbohydrates if I’m trying to improve my insulin function?
- What proactive steps can I take to decrease developing diabetes?
- What are recommended exercises, and how often?
- How do I know if my insulin resistance is improving?
Working with a registered dietitian and completing individual counseling can help address these questions and more. You can find a dietitian to work with through Nourish, an online telehealth company that provides quality nutrition care to Americans nationwide.
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