Insulin resistance can be viewed as an ‘early warning system’ for type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
A large proportion of insulin resistance is lifestyle related. This may be confronting to hear, but it is fantastic to know that you have the power to reverse or improve insulin resistance, purely with lifestyle changes (no longer term medication!). The opposite works as well – you have the power to do nothing, ignore the problem, and feel like you have insulin resistance (tired, cranky, hungry, etc).
Otherwise, see these tips below.
Generally, it is best to choose whole, unprocessed foods (and avoid highly processed foods), where possible. Whole and unprocessed foods still look like they did then they came from the farm – a vegetable looks like a vegetable, eggs look like eggs and nuts look like nuts. Corn chips didn’t come from the farm looking like corn chips, there is no Ryvita or bread farm, and ice cream didn’t come out of the cow cold and with a chocolate flavour. As a general rule of thumb, stick with foods (as much as possible) that are still in their whole and unprocessed state.
Saturated fat intake and its link to insulin resistance has become a slightly controversial topic. It was once deemed terrible, and this is now being questioned. Regardless of its true influence in insulin resistance, saturated fats are not considered to be healthy for you. Saturated fats are found in pastries, pies, fatty meats, processed meats (sausages, burgers, kebabs), biscuits, cakes and chocolate. Note, these foods do not come from the farm like that (there are no pastry, pie, cake or chocolate bar farms). Limit, reduce, remove these foods.
Let’s get more specific:
Vegetables are fantastic. They are low in calories and high in fibre, making them ideal to help you manage your blood sugar levels (and your waistline). The best vegetable options (in this order), are:
- Low sodium jarred
- Low sodium canned
Healthy options include ALL vegetables. I don’t like to list any vegetable to avoid. Instead, I like to emphasise getting a VARIETY of vegetables into your diet. As long as you have a variety (and not just ‘potato, peas and corn’, every night, on repeat), you don’t need to worry about what vegetable contains what sugars etc. The variety of vegetables means you are not getting too many starchy or ‘bad’ vegetables, and you don’t feel limited. Great options include:
- Green beans
- Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, buk choy, silver beet etc.)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower etc.)
Vegetable juice may seem healthy, but the juices must also contain the fibres of the vegetable (and not just the liquid) to be considered ‘healthy’.
Whole fresh fruit is a great, high fibre option, with canned or frozen fruit also being healthy, convenient and often budget friendly options, however, fresh is best.
Some great options include:
Avoid dried fruit and fruit juice. Both contain much more sugar than fresh or frozen fruit. Fruit juices, even the unsweetened and those labels ‘no added sugar’, are rich in natural sugars and can even raise blood sugars as quickly as soft drink.
Whole grains are a beneficial and healthy choice in those with insulin resistance. Temporarily, whole grains may not be needed (for dieting purposes), however if grains are to be eaten, whole grains are the only option, and portion sizing must be taken into consideration.
Whole, unprocessed grains are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Aim for the whole grains to be no more than a side dish serving size, or up to 25% of your plate. Some examples of healthy whole grains include:
- Whole-wheat or stone-ground whole grain
- Whole oats or oatmeal
- Brown rice
- Whole rye
Beans and legumes:
Beans are an excellent source of fibre, a great vegetarian source of protein, and a rich source of numerous vitamins and minerals. They are versatile, easy to cook, and raise your blood sugar levels slowly, which is a big positive for those with insulin resistance.
Some great options include:
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
If you are short on time, thoroughly washed canned beans can be a good option, however dried, soaked, then boiled beans is best.
Fish that is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids are great for heart concerns, brain health, joint health and numerous other reasons. Any kind of fish is a good option for those with insulin resistance. Fish provides a lean protein full of amino acids necessary for bodily function.
Examples of great fish options include:
Always try to get sustainably sourced fish, choosing smaller fish where possible to avoid the potential mercury consumption. Smaller fish are lower in omega-3, however they have less potential for the heavy metal contamination that larger fish have.
Enjoy fish that has been grilled, avoiding battered and fried, and limiting crumbed fish.
Poultry is another great, lean protein option. Proteins help to stabilise blood sugar levels, increase satiety and promote insulin secretion. Enjoy poultry, without the skin, baked, broiled, steamed or grilled. Some great options are:
- Chicken breasts
Ensure that your meat serve is no more than the length, width and thickness of your palm (not the whole hand). This may be roughly 25% of your plate.
Other lean protein:
So long as it’s lean and cooked using a healthy method (baked, grilled, broiled, steamed), those with insulin resistance can enjoy:
- Pork tenderloins, or centre loin chops
- Veal loin chops or roast
- Lamb chops, roasts or legs
- Lean beef with the fat trimmed
Vegan/vegetarian protein sources can be great options as well. This includes:
Good fats are necessary for your metabolism, skin, eyes, brain, hormones and numerous other functions. Choose healthy, unsaturated fat sources. Great options include:
- Nut and seed butters (with no added sugars)
- Olive oil
Nuts, seeds and oils are low in carbohydrates, however they are high in calories. Limit your serving size to a small handful at a time, up to two times per day.
Dairy has become slightly controversial. The fat content is a consideration that some believe leads to inflammation and downstream insulin issues. Whether or not you choose to consume dairy is up to you, however, keep in mind:
- Low fat, skim or skinny choices are preferred, due to the lower fat content
- Check the labels for hidden sugars – yoghurt, ice cream and even milk can contain large amounts of sugar (the lower the better)
- Moderate your intake or serving size
- Consider dairy alternatives, and be mindful of your calcium intake (great sources include sesame seeds, soybeans, calcium fortified foods, sardines)
General tips and tricks:
Avoid the inside of the grocery store – all the good (healthy) foods tend to be around the edge – the fresh food section, the fridges, the eggs and the nuts all tend to be on the outskirts, or 1 aisle in.
Avoid or limit processed and packaged items.
Snack on vegetables, nuts, eggs or chunks of lean protein.
Meal prepare, or at least have a plan for the week so that when it comes to the time that you are actually hungry, you have a healthy option in mind, or ready to be eaten.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach.
Exercise! Exercise is absolutely fantastic for insulin resistance and improving its sensitivity. Start with what you can do or fit into your routine, and build from there. Ultimately, aim for 4x 40min sessions per week, ideally at a moderate intensity (or higher).