The 3 Things You Should Never, Ever Eat if You Have Insulin Resistance

Woman with insulin resistance looking for food

Insulin is one of the body’s most important hormones. It enables the body to break down the food you eat into glucose (or sugar), which you need for energy. Insulin also helps you manage your blood sugar.

Sometimes, however, the cells in your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond properly to insulin, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This is known as insulin resistance, and it might be temporary or chronic.

“People with insulin resistance are at higher risk of developing other medical comorbidities in the future, such as prediabetes or type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Carlo Manzana, MD, a family medician physician with the virtual health platform PlushCare.

Doctors often recommend lifestyle modifications (maybe in tandem with medication) to treat insulin resistance. This typically includes changing your diet. Caroline Cederquist, MD, a board-certified bariatric physician and chief medical officer at BistroMD, explains that dietary changes could potentially reverse insulin resistance and reduce your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

“A well-adjusted diet is essential for ensuring glucose is properly absorbed and utilized,” Dr. Cederquist says. Here’s a look at the connection between diet and insulin resistance and the things that you shouldn’t consume if you have the condition.

What Exactly Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is an essential hormone that your body can’t function without. When you eat, the body breaks down food into glucose as its main source of energy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

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The glucose reaches your bloodstream and tells the pancreas to release insulin, which enables glucose to enter your muscle, fat and liver cells to use and store energy. Once this happens, the glucose levels in your bloodstream decrease, signaling the pancreas to stop producing insulin.

However, your cells may not always respond properly to insulin, which causes your cells to ineffectively take in or store glucose, leading to insulin resistance. This triggers your pancreas to make more insulin to counteract increasing blood glucose levels.

“For context, insulin resistance causes glucose, a critical fuel source for our bodies, to accumulate in the bloodstream instead of being efficiently absorbed and used,” Dr. Cederquist explains. The accumulation can cause rising blood sugar levels, which increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, along with heart disease, kidney damage and other serious health conditions.

Genetics and age contribute to developing insulin resistance, as older people are more prone to the condition. Poor diet, inactivity, obesity, certain medications and some disorders, such as Cushing’s syndrome and hypothyroidism, may also cause insulin resistance.

What to Avoid if You Have Insulin Resistance

Diet plays a role in insulin resistance. “Adopting a balanced diet and regular physical activity helps manage blood sugar levels, and in some cases, reverse insulin resistance and disease progression to Type 2 diabetes,” explains Tamar Samuels, RD, co-founder of Culina Health.

Related: This Is the Absolute Best Way To Stay Hydrated if You Have Diabetes

“Modifying the way you eat carbs can help you meet your blood sugar goals while keeping enjoyable foods on your plate,” she adds.

If you have insulin resistance, you should avoid eating things that cause your blood sugar to jump, Dr. Manzana says. That includes alcohol, sweetened beverages and ultra-processed foods, especially those containing processed grains and simple sugars, Dr. Cederquist explains.

“When cells are less responsive to insulin, consuming these foods can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and contribute to prolonged high blood sugar,” Dr. Cederquist continues.

Limiting or reducing ultra-processed foods, simple carbs and sugar will help control blood sugar and reduce your type 2 diabetes risk, she says. It could also possibly reverse your insulin resistance—but, not all cases of insulin resistance are reversible.

What Should You Eat With Insulin Resistance?

A balanced diet of fiber-rich carbs, lean proteins and heart-healthy fats with small portions of refined carbs and sugars will help you manage your blood sugar, Samuels says.

Related: The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Do if You Want To Avoid Getting Diabetes

Research shows that plant-based diets may help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes in older adults. Other studies show that the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet) are beneficial for insulin resistance.

Fiber-rich complex carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, help slow the digestion of carbs, which results in a gradual increase in blood glucose, Samuels says. Combine these complex carbs with lean proteins and healthy fats.

“This helps maintain steady blood sugar levels and promotes a sense of fullness and satisfaction,” she explains.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

If you notice signs of insulin resistance, contact your doctor, Dr. Cederquist says. These include:

  • Craving carby and sugary foods

  • Increased hunger, especially after meals

  • Weakness or shakiness after skipping meals or eating unbalanced meals

  • Difficult losing weight

  • Increased thirst

  • Blurred vision

  • Headaches

“Seeking professional guidance early can help in managing insulin resistance effectively and preventing potential health complications,” Dr. Cederquist explains. This includes modifying your diet.

Working with a dietitian can help you do that. “Dietitians specialize in understanding food composition and optimizing meals for nutritional value through specific combinations and preparation methods,” Samuels adds.

Next, read about the foods that help with insulin resistance.