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January 24, 2023
The Insulin Resistance Diet: Which Foods to Eat & Avoid (Plus the Best Supplements)
Insulin resistance can dramatically impact your health and your overall quality of life. And since it usually has no symptoms, it can sneak up and wreak havoc on your health without you even noticing. So much so that as many as 40% of adults between 18 and 44 are living with the condition—and more than 100 million American adults develop diabetes or prediabetes because of it (1, 2).
Luckily, there are ways you can manage, reduce, or even reverse insulin resistance. You can make big changes through exercise or by lowering your stress, by quitting smoking or sleeping better, and most importantly—by eating the right foods (3, 4, 5, 6).
In this article, we’ll cover which five foods to avoid when you have insulin resistance—and which seven foods to add to your grocery list.
What Is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone, and when it’s working correctly, it helps regulate blood sugar (glucose) in the body (7). So, whenever you eat food, your pancreas will produce insulin in response to the rise in blood sugar. This insulin is what helps blood sugar get into your cells where it can then be used for energy (8, 9).
Put simply, insulin is integral in sending signals to your body to maintain the exact balance of blood sugar that you need.
Insulin resistance, on the other hand, is when your body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, which means that your blood sugar will stay high.
This can exhaust your liver, cause weight gain, and put you at risk for a wide range of health issues (10). Perhaps most notably, insulin resistance can put you at risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (11, 12).
7 of the Best Foods for Insulin Resistance
One of the most direct ways to improve or reverse your insulin resistance is by changing what you eat. These powerful healthy foods can get you there.
1. Fruit - Especially Avocados
Fruit is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and it’s a great alternative to processed snacks when you’re craving something sweet. Any fruit is great, but avocados in particular stand out from the pack when it comes to insulin resistance. They’re high in fiber and healthy fats but low in sugar and carbs, so they won’t make your blood sugar spike. Research has found that a unique fat molecule in avocados could specifically help to reduce insulin resistance (13).
2. Leafy Green Vegetables
Fresh kale, spinach, and other greens are high in nutrients like vitamin C but low in glucose-spiking carbs (14). Some research indicates that people with diabetes have lower levels of vitamin C than people without it (15). Since insulin resistance can put you at risk for prediabetes, it’s a great idea to load up on greens!
3. Fatty Fish
Fish rich in healthy fats, like salmon, herring, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines are a great (and delicious) choice. They are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which may counteract insulin resistance (16, 17). Fatty fish can also help lower your risk of heart disease and is linked to lower blood sugar levels after eating (18, 19).
4. Lean Protein
Seek out a moderate amount of lean, high-quality protein. That means protein that isn’t too rich in fat, like skinless chicken or turkey, fish, egg whites, beans, lentils, and nut butters (20).
5. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds—specifically almonds, pistachios, chia seeds, and flaxseeds—are a great low-carb snack to munch on if you have insulin resistance (21, 22). By swapping other processed, artificial snacks for nuts and seeds, you’ll feel more satiated and energized throughout the day—all while maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
6. High Fiber Foods
Adults who eat more fiber have been found to experience less insulin resistance than those who don’t (23). Women should aim to eat around 25 grams of fiber per day, and men should opt for 38 grams per day (24). Foods like almonds, broccoli, chickpeas, flax seeds, and chia seeds can help you reach that daily goal.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Swap out inflammatory seed oils like canola oil and vegetable oil for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Recent animal studies show that EVOO significantly improves insulin resistance and blood sugar levels (25). Drizzle some on your eggs, steak, or salad to reap the benefits.
5 Foods to Avoid with Insulin Resistance
Steer clear of these foods to improve your insulin resistance more quickly.
Healthy carbs like quinoa and brown rice are better than highly-processed carbs like white bread and pasta, but at the end of the day, all carbs raise blood sugar. So aim to avoid or drastically reduce your carb intake—especially if they come in the form of sugar, baked goods, sweets, or corn syrup (26).
2. Starchy Vegetables
Starchy vegetables have more carbs than green leafy vegetables. Avoid potatoes, corn, and peas to keep your blood sugar in check (27).
3. Trans-Fats and Saturated Fats
Trans fats and saturated fats can make insulin resistance significantly worse (28, 29). Trans fats were banned by the FDA in 2018 (30). However, certain foods today may still include trace amounts due to their processing method. And of course, foods on your shelves that were manufactured before the ban may still contain trans fats too. As for saturated fats, you can avoid them by cutting back on foods like fatty meats, sausage, bacon, cured meats, pies, lard, excess butter, cream, and ice cream.
4. Processed Food
Processed foods are often loaded with unhealthy ingredients like excess fats, salts, and sugar. Ultra-processed foods have been found to increase the risk of diabetes and promote insulin resistance (31).
5. Sugary Drinks
Sweetened beverages like soda, iced tea, and overly sweetened fruit juices often contain high fructose corn syrup, which can make your insulin resistance worse and damage your health overall (32).
Supplements That Help Insulin Resistance
Along with healthy eating habits, these supplements are a great way to help tackle your insulin resistance.
Krill oil crams countless life-changing benefits into one tiny softgel, and one of those benefits is its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 can counteract insulin resistance and help you work toward reversing it (33). At the same time, krill oil has other perks, like improving heart health, soothing joint pain, and reducing inflammation (34, 35). NativePath Antarctic Krill Oil is sourced from the pure, chilly waters of the Antarctic, so you can experience all the benefits without any added toxins or heavy metals.
Magnesium is known for benefits like energy boosts, better sleep, improved heart health, and increased bone density—but it may also help improve your insulin sensitivity. One study found that taking magnesium for more than four months led to a significant improvement in insulin resistance, both in participants with and without diabetes (36).
An easy way to get a daily dose of magnesium is through NativePath Collagen PM, which combines 10 milligrams of magnesium with other sleepytime ingredients like collagen, GABA, L-theanine, and melatonin. Mix Collagen PM into a cozy beverage each evening to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and improve your insulin resistance while you doze.
This mineral is a powerful antioxidant that can help support immunity, brain health, and thyroid health (37, 38, 39). Most importantly, it may help manage insulin resistance (40)! In one 2013 study, women with insulin deficiency and PCOS were found to have lower selenium levels than those who did not (41). You can find selenium in supplement form, but one of the easiest ways to get enough of it is by eating Brazil nuts. Just one nut has anywhere from 68 to 91 micrograms!
Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body is unable to regulate your blood sugar or take important cues from insulin.
Insulin resistance can put you at risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
It can be managed or reversed with healthy lifestyle changes like exercise, lowering stress, quitting smoking, getting better sleep, and healthy eating.
To lower your insulin resistance, eat fruit, leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, lean protein, nuts and seeds, high-fiber foods, and extra virgin olive oil.
Avoid foods and ingredients that may worsen insulin resistance, like carbs, starchy vegetables, trans fats, saturated fats, processed food, and sugary drinks.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to lose weight with insulin resistance?
Your body is most likely burning sugar for its energy. To lose weight while you have insulin resistance, switch your body to burning fat for energy. You want to become a fat burner instead of a sugar burner. You can do this by making healthy lifestyle changes and following a keto diet, which is low in carbs. This diet will switch your body to ketosis, a fat-burning metabolic state that can help you lose weight fast and can help reverse insulin resistance (43, 44).
How long does it take to reverse insulin resistance?
If you’re wondering how to fix insulin resistance naturally, you should know that how long it takes to reverse depends a lot on your individual case and situation. Some markers of improved insulin resistance can show up within a few days, though many researchers track insulin resistance improvement in measurements of weeks (45). However, it is possible to see improvement relatively soon after making simple changes.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.