Understanding Food Choices


Prediabetics come in a variety of shapes.

We’re plump, willowy, healthy heft for our height, bursting out of our clothes—let’s face it, we’re all over the scale when it comes to weight.

Prediabetes is increasing in the population, as is abdominal obesity. But the increase in waist size in this country cannot be blamed for all cases of prediabetes.[1]

Keep that in mind when you’re thinking about your lifestyle and what needs to change. If you’re a person with normal BMI (body mass index) and a healthy waist size, but you’re prediabetic, you still need to look at your diet.

[Check with your healthcare provider and nutritionist before making changes to your way of eating.]

All of us living with prediabetes need to look at our diet. By definition,[2] we’re considered prediabetic because our blood sugar levels are higher than normal, and that sugar comes from the foods we eat.

Don’t waste time looking for the definitive guide to eating healthy and getting out of prediabetes land. We’re individuals with varying genes. What works for one person may not work for another.[3]

That doesn’t mean you give up on adapting your diet. There is a path to healthy eating with your name on it, and you will find it.

What’s On The Menu?

Here are a few rules that apply to all of us:

  • leave sweets (pie, cake, cookies, candy, donuts, etc.) out of the grocery cart, try berries or fresh fruit
  • pass by the white rice, instead pick up brown or wild rice
  • say no to soda pop and fruit juices, drink more water
  • don’t add sweeteners to your foods or drinks, such as white sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey
  • hold off on eating foods made with white flour, such as bread, pizza crust, and dinner rolls

Other no-nos are out there, but it’s a good starting point.

How many carbs, and how much protein and fat should you eat each day? That depends on how your body handles food.

First, talk to a nutritionist/dietitian who also has experience or training in diabetes education. They’ll create a game plan for you that will get you started on a healthier way of eating.

Second, buy a meter and “eat to your meter.” The nutritionist will give you a guide that applies, in general, to lots of people. It may be adapted somewhat to meet your specific medical needs, if you have any.

But without doing genetic tests on you, and conferring with a geneticist to interpret the results, the pamphlets or info sheets the nutritionist hands you won’t drill down to your body’s specific needs.

We want our blood sugar levels to be normal, not elevated. To get there, we must test the foods we eat to find out what our dietary triggers are . This is why we strongly recommend that for the first six months or so of adapting to your new way of eating, you use a meter to test your blood sugar levels before and after eating and first thing in the morning.

Eventually, you’ll recognize what foods work for you and what foods send your blood sugar bouncing up. It’s going to go up after you eat, but you want it to come back down within a certain range after a couple of hours.

Where to start? Carbohydrates, or carbs, are a good starting point. They’re the fuel we use to power our bodies, but we want the good fuel, not the crappy hard-on-the-body fuel.

Generally speaking, complex carbs are good, simple carbs are bad.

The dietitians we’ve interviewed recommend looking at the kind of carbs you’re eating, and cutting back on simple carbs. These are the carbohydrates that break down quickly in the body, sending a rush of sugar into your bloodstream.

Simple carbs include but aren’t limited to:

  • Fruit juice and sweetened beverages such as soda pop
  • Candy
  • Pie, cake, cookies, donuts, and the like
  • Table sugar and syrup
  • White rice
  • White bread
  • White flour

Packaged foods with words that end in “ose” on the nutrition label, particularly if the “ose” words are close to the beginning of the list of ingredients, are a no. The “ose” words are chemical names for sugar and include words such as glucose, maltose, sucrose, dextrose and, well, you get the idea.

Simple carbs can be found occurring naturally in foods such as milk, fruit, and vegetables. They still raise blood sugar levels faster than complex carbs, but they’re better for you, as they have fiber and other things your body needs. They’re not empty calories like candy, which does nothing for the body but add weight.

Complex carbs will send sugar (fuel) into your bloodstream, but at a slower rate, giving your body a chance to use up some of the sugar before it overloads the body.

You don’t want to completely remove carbs from your diet. You want to eat complex carbs and leave as many simple carbs as possible on the table.

Complex carbs include but aren’t limited to:

  • Whole grain breads
  • Quinoa, and brown or wild rice
  • Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and squash
  • Beans and pulses (the dry edible seed inside a pod, such as chickpeas, lentils, and dry beans)
  • Plain popcorn

What we’re hearing from dietitians is that carbs are OK as long as they’re not simple carbs, and you don’t consume large amounts of any carbs. After all, both simple and complex carbs are sugar.

Your body only needs so much fuel each day. If you constantly overload it, diabetes may be in your future.

The exact number of carbs you should eat will depend on your body. Choose a number and if your meter is showing your fasting blood sugar remains in the prediabetes range, try reducing your daily intake of carbs.

Of course, exercise is part of the lifestyle overhaul, but the key is adapting your way of eating toward healthier choices.

A Healthy Way of Eating: Getting There From Here

The Mediterranean diet, or way or eating, is considered a healthy choice by almost everyone who has an opinion.

It’s more plant-based than meat lovers are used to, but it is healthy and it does include some meat, so not to worry.. The trick is figuring out which Mediterranean diet to follow.[4]

The following food pyramid is from the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.[5] Note that the grains and cereals should be whole grain for prediabetics, and the daily serving (noted as “s”) may be less for those living with prediabetes.

Mediterranean Food Pyramid

You don’t have to put a name to your way of eating. As long as you’re watching your total calories per day and choosing complex carbs over simple carbs, you’ll be ahead of the game.

If you don’t have access to a computer and the Internet, or a smartphone or tablet, then a book will be your best friend when you’re counting carbs, calories, and other nutritional info.

The CalorieKing® publishes a book to accompany its website. We came across the website a few years ago and only recently became aware of the book. [We’re not associated with this company—we just like the tools they offer.]

calorieking book

Thanks to computers and smartphones, there are easy ways to find out how many carbs, calories, proteins, and fats are in whatever you want to eat. Almost.

We’ve used the CalorieKing®, website, although there are lots of similar websites that provide the same information. Choose one that suits you best.

If you use apps, there are loads of them. We like Carb Manager. They have a free version and a premium option, as do most apps. [We’re not associated with this company, either.]

It’s an app we use and like, but please ignore the “keto” and “low carb” slogans they use. This app has all the nutritional information you’ll want to find sensible, healthy choices for yourself and it doesn’t matter if you’re following a specific way of eating or simply sampling foods.

Whether you’re using a book, a website, or an app, the process is the same. Search for the food you want to eat, let’s say apples, and you’ll find out how many carbs and other nutrients are in a serving. You’ll also find out what constitutes a serving size.

Apps are ideal, because they track all of your food all day and you don’t have to write anything down. But books and websites give you the critical information, and some websites let you set up an account to track your food, the same as apps on your phone.

We’ve been culling through recipes to offer an assortment that lean toward complex carbs rather than simple carbs, and perhaps slant toward the Mediterranean.

Circle back in a week or so and we’ll have started our recipe section.

[1] Annals of Family Medicine, Prevalence of Prediabetes and Abdominal Obesity Among Healthy-Weight Adults: 18-Year Trend, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940459/, (February 5, 2020).

[2] MedlinePlus, Prediabetes, https://medlineplus.gov/prediabetes.html, (February 6, 2020).

[3] Diabetes Care, Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report, https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/42/5/731?fbclid=IwAR187_GK6JXI_i2JW1ZW4TT3a6Hu0D2N4rcwgGg2qd0KpQtGz2XGKPXPkPk, (February 6, 2020).

[4] Nutrients, Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: A Literature Review, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663587/, (February 7, 2020).

[5] Mediterranean Diet Foundation, Mediterranean Diet Pyramid: a lifestyle for today, https://dietamediterranea.com/piramidedm/piramide_INGLES.pdf, (February 7, 2020).

Macro, Micro, Whatever


How many carbs should you eat each day? (Depends on type of carb, medical history, and so on.)

What, exactly, is the Mediterranean diet? (Depends on who’s talking.)

What, in the name of all that’s healthy, is a “macronutrient?” (Now that we can answer.)

Macronutrients are substances that our body needs in large amounts (hence ‘macro’). They help us grow and thrive. Macronutrients include fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

They provide the energy our body needs. Whether we’re sleeping, singing, or skiing, our body needs fuel. Our fuel is measured in calories. The macros provide our calories, but important to note that they’re not all the same:

  • There are 4 calories in a gram of carb or protein.
  • There are 9 calories in a gram of fat.

Once we consume and digest the macros, they break down in our bodies:

  • carbs into sugars
  • fats into fatty acids and glycerol
  • proteins into amino acids

For prediabetics, it’s primarily the sugar from the carbs that our bodies are having a hard time using properly.

It doesn’t matter if we eat candy or quinoa, they both turn into sugar, which fuels our body. But, quinoa take longer to break down and makes our bodies work harder in the digestion process. The candy barely says hi before it breaks down into sugar and dumps into our bloodstream.

Examples of fat-containing foods:

  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • Potato chips
  • Fried foods
  • Cream
  • Pastries

Examples of carbohydrate-containing foods:

  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Grains (quinoa, oats)
  • Crackers
  • Bananas
  • Candy

Examples of protein-containing foods:

  • Fish
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

We need fats, carbs, and proteins. But we can choose healthy versions of each.

For instance, olive oil is better than butter as a fat. Nuts are better than chips, and a lean pork chop is better than fatty sausage.

Whole grains like quinoa and steel cut oats are better than donuts or pancakes. Berries are a good choice—soda and fruit juice are not.

Red meats with lots of fat and whole milk products are not the healthiest protein choices. Free-range chicken, wild salmon, or beans are better for us.

Micronutrients are minerals and vitamins required in our diets, but in small amounts, such as iron, vitamin A, and zinc (the list is long).

Our bodies require quite a bit of some minerals, including calcium, potassium, sodium, and a few others. They’re actually considered macronutrients, due to the amount we should take in each day. Because they’re minerals, they often get tossed into the micronutrient section for discussion.

We take in micronutrients, or micros, through the food and liquids we consume. If our diet isn’t providing what we need, a nutritionist may recommend meeting our daily goal through supplements.

Ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a registered dietitian/nutritionist. Your body’s requirements are specific to, well, your body.

We can chat about healthy choices in general, but percentage of this and amount of that will be found through recommendations by an expert and trial-and-error by you as you change your way of eating.

We usually cite sources in posts as we go, but since the information is found in multiple publications it didn’t make sense. Instead, we’re recommending the Merck Manual for further reading.

Looking For Carbs On Nutrition Labels

Do you want to reverse your prediabetes diagnosis?

Tracking how many carbs we consume each day is a part of getting back to normal blood sugar levels.

To count carbs in packaged foods, we have to read nutrition labels, which is boring and necessary.

For foods that are not packaged, such as single apples at the store or elephant ears at Saturday market, we find the carb count with apps or websites or books.

In this post, we’re focusing on how to find the carb count in packaged foods.

Nutrition labels are on most food packaging. Scanning the label, we’re looking for total number of servings in a container, serving size, and carb count per individual serving.

nutrition label

On our sample label we find:

Total number of servings – 8

Individual serving size – 2/3 cup

Carb count per serving – 37g

Sugars and fiber are already included on the label’s total carb count. However, for our purposes, we subtract the fiber because our bodies don’t digest it.

For us, the total carb count is 37g – 4g (fiber count) = 33g carbs per serving.

Remember that the nutritional info on the label is for an individual serving, not for all of the food in the container.

If we eat two servings, we need to increase our carb count. So, if we eat 1 1/3 cups of whatever this is, our carb count would be 66g, not 33g. 33g x 2 servings = 66g.

If we eat only half of one serving, then divide the carb count in half. In this case, carbs for 1/2 of one serving (33g) would be 16.5g.

One of the problems with this “serving size” concept is that a serving size can vary depending on the food and the manufacturer. This is why we have to read every label.

Now we know how to use a nutrition label to accurately count carbs.

It will be a hassle at first. But, once you get in the habit, it does become easier and you’ll find yourself doing it without much thought.

But do it you must, so start counting!

Glycemic Whaaat?

Most of us aren’t going to pull out a Glycemic Index (GI) chart to tabulate each food item we’re eating during the day.

We’re also not going to scribble out the computations necessary to find the Glycemic Load (GL) of every meal, snack, or single food item we munch on.

Which begs the question: Why bother to learn about these mind-bending carb measurements?

If you’re prediabetic, at some point GI and GL will crop up in conversation with your nutritionist or healthcare provider, or some random smarty-pants who likes flipping words around.

Let’s briefly go over it, and you can decide how deep a dive you want to take for your personal use.

What is Glycemic Index?

Carbs, or carbohydrates, are a type of nutrient that feed our body. Basically, they present as fiber, starch, and sugar.

Our bodies don’t absorb fiber (which is why, when we’re “counting carbs” we subtract fiber).

But, we do absorb sugar and starch, and they become glucose, the sugar we measure when we’re looking at our blood sugar. Also called blood glucose.

Simple carbs contain sugars that our bodies break down quickly, rapidly boosting the amount of sugar in our blood, which gives us a flash of energy. These are also called “fast carbs.”

Simple or fast carbs include:

  • White rice
  • Fruit Roll-ups®
  • Russet potato
  • Cream of Wheat™

Complex carbs contain sugars (starches) that take longer to break down in the body. They don’t rush out and spike our blood sugar level like simple carbs do. They’re called “slow carbs.”

Complex or slow carbs include:

  • Quinoa
  • Berries
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Almonds

The Glycemic Index looks at how fast a particular food raises our blood glucose level.

Foods are ranked from 0 to 100, with pure glucose = 100 on the Glycemic Index.

  • A food with a number of 70 or higher is considered high.
  • A food with a number between 56 and 69 is considered moderate.
  • A food with a number 55 or less is considered low.

The numbers suggest how quickly or slowly a food raises our blood sugar levels.

Slow is good.

Now, what about Glycemic Load?

The Glycemic Load looks at how quickly or slowly a food affects blood sugar levels, and how much sugar per serving it delivers.

  • A food with a GL of 20 or higher is considered high.
  • A food with a GL between 11 and 19 is considered moderate.
  • A food with a GL 10 or less is considered low.

For instance, two cups of plain air-popped popcorn has a Glycemic Index of 72 (high), but a Glycemic Load of 5.7 (low).

A Snickers candy bar has a Glycemic Index of 55 (low), but a Glycemic Load of 22.1 (high).

Low is good.

Now you know the basics of GI and GL.

And bonus, we found this online GI and GL calculator: http://www.glycemicindex.com/

You may opt to embrace this approach to choosing foods, or you may go with the keep-it-simple approach.

As long as it works for you, that’s what matters.

Chow Time

Where do we start when we’re chubby and prediabetic?

There is no one right answer, but for today, let’s start with introducing meal choices that are tasty and not loaded with lots of carbs.

Changing our diet to be less carb-heavy is critical, but we also want to count our calories. Losing weight and reducing carbs will help us get out of prediabetes land.

Remember, we’re prediabetic, but we’re all different. Your healthcare provider or nutritionist will work with you to figure out a reasonable daily calorie and carb count that’s appropriate for you.

Can’t say this enough: check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet.


Breakfast Cookies

These cookies are full of eggs, almond flour, sausage, and other goodies. You bake them up and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Grab-and-go food is perfect for work mornings.

Cottage Cheese Bowls

The protein in cottage cheese helps fill you up. Toss in some berries and nuts, bacon and avocado, tomatoes and basil, or other bits to boost the flavor and nutrition.

Smoked Salmon Sandwich

This is higher in calories and takes some prep, but good for a weekend morning.

Cinnamon Cereal

This takes some time to prepare, but you can make a big batch.

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Scones

Another breakfast that’s not a super low calorie choice. Bake and freeze, pulling one out occasionally for a low carb breakfast option.


Peachy Pork Lettuce Wraps

Easy lunch for home or work. You’ll need to use your carb app to find out the number of carbs and calories.

Shawarma Chicken Bowls

Put in a little prep time and you’re going to have a filling and tasty lunch with plenty of protein and veg.

Stuffed Avocados

You’ll need your carb app again to get the nutritional values, but this is a simple throw-it-together lunch option. Easy to adjust to your personal taste unless you don’t like avocados, in which case this is a nonstarter.

BLT Chicken Salad

The name says it all. Plus, it’s low carb and low calorie.

Eggplant Rollatini

Sliced eggplant with cheese and spinach, plus a few other ingredients – perfect. This recipe makes plenty of leftovers, too.


Stuffed Chicken Breasts

A simple recipe that allows for swapping out vegetables for whatever you like. Easy to fix, and low carb/calorie.

Garlic Shrimp

Add a side salad and you’re good for dinner. Yummy dish with a great cream sauce.


We would cut back on the amount of rice in the dish. And use your carb app to get an accurate idea of the carb and calorie count. Nice dish for the weekend.

Philly Cheese Steak Zucchini Boats

The name says it all. You’ll have to get out the carb app again, but the list of ingredients looks low carb and low calorie.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

We couldn’t leave out spaghetti squash. The trick is to make sure it’s dry enough when it’s cooked, or you’ll have soggy food. Once you can do that, you will go back to this squash over and over.

Add your low carb links or recipes in the comments. Sharing is good!

About Your Diet Q&A With Paulette McMillan

Paulette McMillan, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, L.Ac., Dipl.OM, is the co-founder of the Center for Health and Wellness.

She is a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian/nutritionist, a certified diabetes educator, a licensed acupuncturist, and is board certified in oriental medicine with a master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine.

Ms. McMillan recently took time from her practice to chat about prediabetes from the viewpoint of a nutritionist and diabetes educator.

What’s the difference between an RDN (Registered Dietician Nutritionist and a CDE (Certified Diabetes Educator) when it comes to the dietary needs of a prediabetic?

Both are qualified to work with people with prediabetes. The difference is someone who’s a certified diabetes educator has to have a degree in heath care to qualify for the certification. Most CDEs are registered dietitians and nurses. However, there are pharmacists, social workers, medical doctors and other healthcare professionals.

An RDN has at least an undergraduate degree in nutrition and has completed a practice program, or internship, to qualify to take the RD exam. About half of RDNs also have master’s degrees. But they do not have to have a specialty in diabetes education.

Do you consider them equal in their expertise when it comes to instructing prediabetics on food choices?

Depends on the individual, depends on the experience that person has. One doesn’t have to be a CDE to have worked in a clinic where there might be a lot of people with diabetes or prediabetes. So it really depends on their clinical experience.

Should prediabetics visit an RDN or CDE to get guidance on their prediabetes journey and if so, why? 

I would say absolutely. Because prediabetes is reversible and if you wait until you have diabetes, which is sometimes the case, you really can’t reverse diabetes. By then the pancreas is already weakened to the point that they may be able to control it with diet and lifestyle but they will always have diabetes.

This is how I explain it to people: If you don’t have diabetes you can eat a piece of cake and your blood sugar will stay normal. If you have diabetes, even though you have controlled it by eating a low carb diet and now you have great numbers, as soon as you eat a piece of cake, your blood sugars go out of normal range.

With prediabetes you could actually reverse it and conserve your pancreas, your beta cell function.

The other point I want to say about prediabetes is that, once you have prediabetes, you are now at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, so you definitely want to reverse this risk.

What is your definition of the keto diet? (how many carbs a day)

You know I don’t have that on the top of my head but, bottom line, it is a diet that has no more than 20 to 30 grams of net carbs, and most of the calories come from fat. There are specific ratios you’re supposed to use to do the ketogenic diet properly.

What are your thoughts on the ketogenic diet for prediabetics?

When somebody walks into my office and they’re prediabetic and they’re morbidly obese, and they tell me that nothing they do works to lose weight, the keto diet might be a great option for them. If they’re willing to do it.

If the client is truly motivated to start keto, I explain to them that they must commit to the diet for a certain amount of time, like 3 to 6 months, because it takes at least 3 weeks before the body starts burning body fat as energy. So if they choose to play games and go in and out of ketosis, they are not really doing themselves any favors metabolically.  They will actually lose a greater percentage of muscle.

After that, I explain to them that if they’re someone who is truly sensitive to carbohydrates, they may never be able to eat the amount of carbs that someone who has no problem metabolizing carbohydrates can eat. So if they’re in keto at 30 grams of net carbs daily, they might be able to get up to a 100 or 130 grams of carbs a day, and that might be where they have to stay to maintain a healthier weight. In comparison, a man who is not prediabetic might eat 300 carbs or more a day, and a woman might eat 250 carbs a day.

What is your definition of a low carb diet? (how many carbs)

I give someone 150 grams of carbs a day, and I don’t count the carbs in nonstarchy vegetables, like broccoli or spinach, but I would definitely count the carbs in starchy vegetables like potatoes or corn.

I ask them to spread the 150 carbs evenly throughout the day, so they can’t save them up and eat them all at one or two meals. Think of it like this, if you have prediabetes that means your pancreas isn’t working at 100%.  It’s kind of like weightlifting, you might be able to do 15 reps of 30 pounds each but can’t lift all 450 lbs at once.

If they’re comfortable going a little lower, 100 to 130 carbs a day, that’s fine.  It’s just so individual and it’s not just about the quantity of carb but also the quality.  If you’re eating a piece of cake or a piece of white bread it’s not the same as eating a whole grain or sweet potato or something more natural and less processed.

What are your thoughts on a low carb diet for prediabetics? 

I think it’s a good place to start with clients, to help them understand carbohydrates. We want them to understand carbs. However, with prediabetes it’s not just carbohydrates that we’re talking about. If they’re overeating, the first defense is to feed the body proper amounts. If they’re sedentary they have to get moving. If they don’t get moving, they’re going to stay insulin resistant and stay prediabetic. These two things are very important. 

Weight loss is recommended, if they’re overweight. Not all prediabetics are overweight. As people age, they’re more susceptible to prediabetes.

Is there another way of eating, besides keto or low carb, that you prefer to recommend to prediabetics?

Yes, a Mediterranean style of eating and I do give them guidelines on what that means. I do like this approach a lot because there’s a lot of variety. It is an anti-inflammatory and nutrient dense way of eating.

Is it important to have a balance between carbs, proteins, and fats at each meal or snack? Why? 

From a practical standpoint, people won’t maintain just chicken and a salad and some fat for lunch. I find that they make up for the deficit in their meal with their snacks. Often, people are eating more calories in their snacks than in their meals. When there is a balance in their meals of carbs, fat, and protein, most of the time people are more sated and they’re not looking for more food.

What are your top three general recommendations for those working to reverse their prediabetes?

It’s individual. Who is the person sitting in front of me?  What is their motivation level, knowledge base and abilities?

Are they sedentary? How much activity do they do on a regular basis?

People need to get moving and the minimum requirements are 150 minutes a week of aerobic activity which is moderate walking not a stroll, two to three days of strength training per week, in addition to cardio, because we need to build up muscle mass. Muscle helps our bodies respond to insulin signals and metabolize sugar.

If they’re overweight, aim to lose five to seven % of body weight to start.

Teaching them about carb quality and balance throughout the day.

Any last suggestions for prediabetics that you’d like to share?

Look into the CDC National Diabetes Prevention Program, find a local community group who’s using it.

Also, I’d use an app like My Fitness Pal to track carbs and calories that way, whatever works for them.

And you should look at supplements. Fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D – they’re important for prediabetes and for all of us.

Food and PreD

Most of us are prediabetic because our food choices aren’t healthy, and we don’t get enough exercise. It’s a lifestyle thing.

Multiple studies[1] show that, if you are prediabetic, one of the better ways to reset your body is to lose weight, change your diet, and exercise.

Before going any further, let’s pause for a minute to say: talk to your healthcare provider before changing what you eat or how much you move.

Today, we’re going to talk about food. We’ll save exercise for another time.

Research[2] suggests that when it comes to what we eat, a lower carb regimen of 20-50 net carbs a day is one way to get those blood sugar levels down.

As we launch into this topic, it’s important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another. This journey of resetting what you eat will most likely be a trial-and-error effort for the first few months.

Diet, when used as a verb, isn’t fun. We start out in a negative place when we go on a diet. It seems like work, and that we’re giving up enjoyable foods for foods that are bleh.

It’s not a journey that we begin with a smile.

Diet, when used as a noun, simply means the food and drink one typically eats.

No negatives there, right?

We’re talking about your diet (what you eat and how that might change) but not about you going on a diet, with all of the negative “celery sticks and rice cakes” connotations.

Most of us don’t like to weigh or measure food, or follow set recipes that don’t even feature foods that we prefer.

We just want to eat and let nutrition figure itself out.

That’s what we want to do, but hey, we put in the work to get ourselves to this chubby and prediabetic state. Now we have to do some work to get out of this mess.

We can lose weight by simply not eating as much food each day. Slash those calories and say bye-bye to a few pounds.

However, unless we also change what we eat[3], we’re less likely to leave prediabetes in the dust.

We can do this. Together, we can trial-and-error ourselves out of prediabetes land.

There is no one-size-fits-all way of eating that will lower your blood sugar and help you lose weight.

You need a personal plan that includes foods you like and leaves out foods you don’t like. Talk to your healthcare provider and get a referral to see a registered dietician or certified diabetes educator. Your local hospital or health clinic may provide this service free of charge.

Until you get the advice of a professional, there are some basics you can follow that apply to most of us.

Do a bit of homework. CDC explains carb basics,[4] and websites like endocrineweb.com[5] and diabetesfoodhub.org[6] can start you on a path toward restructuring your diet.

Eat to your meter. The amount of carbs you should eat in a day will be different from the amount another prediabetic should eat. An expert can help you design a diet, but you’ll need to use a meter and test various foods to see what affects you and what doesn’t.

Don’t give up. If you’re disciplined about the trial-and-error approach, you will end up with a way of eating that you like and that (usually) keeps your blood sugar levels in the normal range.

It’s not only about your diet. Other factors can affect your blood sugar, like certain medications[7], stress, lack of sleep, and illness­­—all of which may keep your numbers elevated even if you’ve reduced your carb intake.

[1] Harvard School of Public Health/The Nutrition Source, Simple Steps to Preventing Diabeteshttps://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/disease-prevention/diabetes-prevention/preventing-diabetes-full-story/#diet, (May 2, 2019).

[2] PLOS ONE, A Randomized Pilot Trial of a Moderate Carbohydrate Diet Compared to a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet in Overweight or Obese Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus or Prediabeteshttps://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0091027&type=printable, (May 24, 2019).

[3] BMJ Journals/BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, Remission of pre-diabetes to normal glucose tolerance in obese adults with high protein versus high carbohydrate diet: randomized control trialhttps://drc.bmj.com/content/4/1/e000258?cpetoc, (June 12, 2019).

[4] CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Diabetes, Diabetes and Carbohydrateshttps://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/diabetes-and-carbohydrates.html, (June 24, 2019).

[5] Endocrineweb, Diabetes Diet: The Best Way to Eat for Type 2 Diabetes, https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/diabetes/diabetes-diet-best-way-eat-type-2-diabetes, (June 24, 2019).

[6] American Diabetes Association/Diabetes FoodHub, https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org/, (June 24, 2019).

[7] Diabetes in Control, 390 Drugs That Can Affect Blood Glucose Levelshttp://www.diabetesincontrol.com/drugs-that-can-affect-blood-glucose-levels/, (June 24, 2019).

Nutrition For Prediabetics


Yulia Brockdorf, RD, LD, CDE, CST, MA, NCC, LPC, BC-ADM, is the Clinical Director of Nutrition For Success, LLC.

Ms. Brockdorf is a registered dietitian, a licensed dietitian, a certified diabetes educator, and a certified sex therapist. She holds a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and is a national certified counselor and licensed professional counselor, as well as holding a board certified—advanced diabetes management credential.

In her spare time, she serves as chair of the Oregon Board of Licensed Dietitians, counsels patients to explore and move through their relationship with food and nutrition, and sits on the Editorial Board for Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer Journal and the Research Advisory Board with the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities.

When asked if she would answer some questions about prediabetes and food, she said, “Sure, send them over!” She took time after work and between patients to provide thorough responses, and that valuable information is what follows.

What’s the difference between an RDN (Registered Dietician Nutritionist) and a CDE (Certified Diabetes Educator) when it comes to the dietary needs of a prediabetic?

A registered dietitian nutritionist is a professional who has an in-depth knowledge and training that pertains to all areas of human nutrition, as well as medical nutrition therapy in treatment of the disease.

A certified diabetes educator is a licensed healthcare provider who demonstrated competency and experience in treating, educating and supporting people with diabetes.  This can be a licensed nurse, dietitian, pharmacist, physician, psychologist or another licensed provider (please see page 4 here).

A certified diabetes educator is required to meet nutrition competencies standards. However, their knowledge of nutrition is often not as in-depth as is that of a registered dietitian nutritionist.

When it comes to intricacies and nuances of applying nutrition recommendation, standards of practice, and latest research in practical everyday life, meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist who is also a CDE may be beneficial for a patient.

Do you consider them equal in their expertise when it comes to instructing prediabetics on food choices?

While some providers who are CDEs gained the knowledge and mastered a sufficient skill set, in general, since there are so many professions that are eligible to become CDEs, not all will have the in-depth training, understanding of nutrition, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrition relationship between health and disease development, as most registered dietitians do. A CDE is a diabetes expert and an RDN is a nutrition expert, but most RDN training also includes an in-depth study of diabetes and prediabetes prevention and treatment.

Should prediabetics visit an RDN or CDE to get guidance on their prediabetes journey and if so, why?

Yes, they should. And oftentimes the services of a registered dietitian are covered under health insurance as preventive care. This may not be the case for all those who have CDE certification.

What is your definition of the keto diet?

The classic ketogenic diet distributes macronutrients in a ratio of 4-1.  For each 4 g of fat, which accounts for about 90% of the total calories, one consumes 1 g of protein (6% of total calories) and carbohydrate (4% of total calories) combined, with protein being the more dominant macronutrient of the two.  It’s very seldom that this diet is implemented in its classic form.  And there are many variations of ketogenic diet currently circulating online.

What are your thoughts on the ketogenic diet for prediabetics?

Research supports caloric restriction as a means of prediabetes treatment. This may be accomplished with a ketogenic diet. I would like to emphasize that we are discussing nutritional ketosis, not a life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis.   

One of the outcomes of a ketogenic or modified ketogenic diet is a reduction of circulating insulin and an increased cellular responsiveness to insulin. A ketogenic diet can be successful in decreasing the total glucose burden in the cells of the body.

If embarking on a ketogenic diet, I strongly urge prediabetics to meal plan to ensure an adequate intake of fiber and micronutrients which may be missing when carbohydrate-containing foods that provide them are removed. Grains, for example, provide manganese, b vitamins, fiber, magnesium, and phosphorus.  I do not recommend implementation of a ketogenic diet without the supervision of a trained professional.  

What is your definition of a low carb diet?

This definition varies a lot from under 130 grams per day, or under 100, or between 30-60 or under 40, or below 20 (now venturing into keto world).

What are your thoughts on a low carb diet for prediabetics?

Decreasing carbohydrates does appear to have a benefit in prediabetes. 

Like any diet, carb restriction will lead to weight loss and improved metabolic profiles. But research does not show that these benefits have a long-term viability. 

If prudent carbohydrate intake that is both nutrient rich and portion controlled is incorporated into a long-term lifestyle change, consumption of under 100 grams a day may be a sustainable practice.

I do not support long-term carbohydrate restriction, but rather a reasonable carbohydrate intake.  This number is individual for each person with prediabetes.

Is there another way of eating, besides keto or low carb, that you prefer to recommend to prediabetics?

The POUNDS LOST study looked at four diets with fat, protein, and carbohydrate distribution:  20, 15, and 65%; 20, 25, and 55%; 40, 15, and 45%; and 40, 25, and 35%. They concluded that reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.

There has been a lot of research supporting the Mediterranean diet as a means to prevent diabetes and reduce blood pressure.

Plant-based diets were associated with significant improvement in emotional well-being, physical well-being, depression, quality of life, general health, HbA1c levels, weight, total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, compared with several diabetic associations’ official guidelines and other comparator diets. (BMJ )

Most recently, there is an increased surge in research looking into various forms of fasting: intermittent fasting, restricted feeding, etc. 

A recent study published in the Obesity journal showed that fasting not only improved postprandial glucose response (the blood sugar after eating) but also fasting glucose. Do not attempt fasting on your own without proper support.  Long-term fasting may lead to death or severe and dangerous complications such as refeeding syndrome.

Is it important to have a balance between carbs, proteins, and fats at each meal or snack? Why?

It is important to consume balanced and nutrient-dense foods. Such foods would be high in necessary micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and various phytonutrients, while also delivering necessary energy (in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrate). 

This balance is the balance of the whole lifestyle. While each individual meal and snack can lean more toward one macronutrient or another, overall balance of food consumed in a given day, in a given span of time is important. 

Including fiber will support a sense of satiety, and may help with reducing cardiometabolic risks, as well as promoting gastrointestinal health. 

On the other hand, consumption of high fat and high carbohydrate foods in one meal may have a deleterious impact on prediabetes. This may result in an elevation of blood sugar, and this elevation may be sustained over a longer period of time. 

As far as the balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, it’s based on the lifestyle of a person and the advice of their healthcare provider. The ratio may vary. 

I do advise that whichever approach is chosen, this decision is made on an individual basis and is sustainable as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

What are your top five general recommendations for those working to reverse their prediabetes?

Don’t eat too much, and eat mostly plants


Get enough sleep

Do things that bring joy to your heart

Spend time in nature and practice non-violence, respect, and kindness toward self and others

Which online resources for prediabetes could you recommend and share?

Keto and low carb resources:

Diet Doctor


JAMA Network

Fasting resources:

The Fasting Method

Obesity: A Research Journal

Metabolic Health Summit


Plant based:


Spectrum Diabetes Journals

Vegetarian Diets and Incidence of Diabetes

Does a Vegetarian Diet Reduce the Occurrence of Diabetes