How many calories should a prediabetic eat per day?: The calories you consume play a vital role in your ability to manage diabetes. This is especially true for prediabetics who are concerned about the heart-healthiness of their diets. The key is to eat enough fiber and cut back on sugar so that insulin sensitivity doesn’t suffer.
In order to manage your diabetes, you need to be aware of the calories in your diet. Carbohydrates and sugars are the especially important to watch because they are directly involved in controlling insulin sensitivity. Fiber and whole grains are necessary for maintaining good digestion and keeping blood sugar levels healthy.
What exactly is prediabetes (and, a prediabetes diet)?
Prediabetes is a warning sign that you’re heading toward Type 2 Diabetes. The good news is, you’ve caught it early enough to turn the train around and avoid letting your condition become worse. Before we start to make lifestyle changes, it is helpful to know exactly what prediabetes is. According to the American Diabetes Association, you have prediabetes if:
- Hemoglobin a1c is between 5.7-6.4%
- Fasting Blood Glucose is between 100-125 mg/dL
- Oral Glucose Tolerance Test 2 hours after eating reads between 140-199 mg/dL
Not familiar with this terminology? The a1c % is the percentage of your red blood cells carrying sugars. Blood sugars can also be measured in absolute terms, through a fasting glucose blood test or an oral glucose test.
So what does this mean?
These statistics typically measure insulin resistance, which means that your body is not using insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas in response to glucose. When your body is using insulin properly, the process looks like this:
Think of insulin as a key and your cells as a lock. In someone who does not have insulin resistance, insulin unlocks the cells so that glucose exits your blood stream and enters the cells for energy.
In someone with insulin resistance, it’s as if the cells have changed the locks. Insulin can no longer interact with cells and be used as energy. Instead, the glucose remains in the blood stream, causing your blood sugar to remain high. As a result, these blood sugar levels appear on your lab tests.
How Many Calories Should a Person With Diabetes Eat Daily?
People who have diabetes must monitor their diets carefully to keep blood-sugar levels under control and prevent complications. A person with diabetes’ caloric needs will depend on their sex, weight and physical activity level. If you have diabetes, discuss your calorie and nutrition requirements with your doctor or dietitian.
1,200 to 1,600 Calories
The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse recommends a 1,200- to 1,600-calorie diet for small women who exercise, small and medium-sized women who want to lose weight and medium-sized women who are relatively inactive. This diet should include six servings of starches, two servings of milk and other dairy products, three servings of vegetables, 4 to 6 oz. of meat or meat substitutes, two servings of fruit and up to three servings of fats.
1,600 to 2,000 Calories
The diabetes clearinghouse recommends a 1,600- to 2,000-calorie diet for the following: large women who want to lose weight, small men who don’t need to lose weight, medium-sized men who are relatively inactive and medium-sized and large men who want to lose weight. This diet should include eight servings of starches, two servings of milk and dairy products, four servings of vegetables, three servings of fruit, 4 to 6 oz. of meat or meat substitutes and up to four servings of fats.
2,000 to 2,400 Calories
The diabetes clearinghouse advises a 2,000- to 2,400-calorie diet for medium-sized and large adults who are physically active and large men who don’t need to lose weight. This diet should include 10 servings of starches, two servings of milk and dairy products, four servings of vegetables, four servings of fruit, 5 to 7 oz. of meat or meat substitutes and up to five servings of fats.
Diabetes exchange lists provide specific serving-size information so that you know how much of each food within a group you can eat. Within each food group, a serving of any food should provide the same amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Prediabetes and Carbs – How Many to Eat Daily
The prediabetic carbs per day that you eat should contribute to a healthy weight and blood sugar, and also come from nutritious sources.
Prediabetes is a chronic condition with higher blood sugar levels than normal. It is related to how your body processes carbohydrates. People with prediabetes are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that a prediabetes diet can lower your blood sugar, reduce your risk for diabetes, or even reverse prediabetes.
Carbohydrates are the main focus of a healthy prediabetes diet because they affect your blood sugar and your weight. According to Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, both the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates you eat are important.
The prediabetic carbs per day that you eat should contribute to a healthy weight, and also come from nutritious sources.
Carbs: What They Are, and Why They Matter
Carbohydrates are nutrients in your diet. Harvard Medical School explains that they are among the main sources of calories in your diet, along with protein and fat. Carbohydrates and protein each provide 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram.
Starches and sugars are types of calorie-providing carbohydrates in your food and some beverages. Starches are larger and more complex than sugars. When you eat starches or sugars, your body breaks them down into a simple type of sugar called glucose. This goes into your bloodstream and contributes to your blood sugar or blood glucose levels.
So why do carbs matter?
- They affect your weight. For most people, losing extra pounds is the single most effective thing you can do to lower your risk for diabetes. Research published in the journal Diabetes Care finds that each pound you lose can cut risk of getting diabetes by 16%! Since carbs contribute calories, too many carbs (even healthy carbs) in your diet can lead to weight gain. Reducing your carb intake (without increasing your fat and protein intake) helps you cut calories and lose weight.
- They affect your blood sugar. Carbohydrates from your diet lead to glucose in your blood. Dietary starches and sugars directly drive up blood sugar levels more than fat or protein do. Both the type and amount of carbohydrates are important.
Blood sugar can be hard to keep track of, so we’ve made a chart to help you monitor your blood sugar levels.
How Many Carbs per Day for Prediabetes?
Should you low-carb it? Actually… Maybe, or maybe not. Research shows that there is no single best answer to how many carbs should you have per day.
Grams of Carbs per Day for Prediabetics
Here are some common numbers for the recommended carb intake for prediabetics per day. As you can see, they vary quite a bit!
- Under 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day: very low-carb ketogenic diet.
- 130 grams: “Adequate Intake” (the amount considered adequate for most people).
- 150-200 grams per day, or 30-40% of total calories on a 2,000-calorie diet: the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) description of a standard “low-carb” diet.
- 244 grams per day: average daily intake of Americans over 20 years old.
- 300 grams per day, or 60% of total calories on a 2,000-calorie diet: the daily value (DV) that you see on nutrition labels.
Low-carbohydrate diets could work, but they may not work any better than other careful diets for weight loss, for lowering blood sugar levels, or for preventing diabetes.
Got Prediabetes? 6 Nutrition Tips You Need to Follow
1. Cut your daily carbohydrate intake. Counting and reducing carbs is a mainstay of managing prediabetes, Cipullo says. She explains that the amount of daily carbohydrates you need varies based on your sex, body size and activity levels. (Men, larger individuals and those who exercise need more carbs.) However, a 2014 review published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, which concluded that going low-carb is beneficial for both weight loss and the prevention of Type 2 diabetes, defined low-carb diets as those in which less than 45 percent of daily calories come from carbohydrates.
Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that translates to eating a maximum of 225 grams per day. (Each gram of carbohydrates contains four calories.)
2. Focus on whole carbs. While some people emphasize the importance of choosing complex carbohydrates over simple ones, an easier, and maybe even more healthful, strategy for those with prediabetes is to emphasize whole, naturally occurring carbs (like whole grains, produce and dairy) over refined, processed ones (like white pasta, soda and sugar), says Dr. Patricia Salber, board-certified internist and founder of “The Doctor Weighs In” blog and podcast.
That’s not to say complex carbs aren’t great; found in foods such as whole grains, beans and vegetables, they are, well, complicated in their molecular structure, meaning your body has to work hard to digest them. As a result, they have lower glycemic index, or GI, ratings, which are values assigned to foods based on how quickly they increase blood sugar levels compared to simple carbs, she says.
However, simple carbs are also found in healthful, natural foods such as dairy and fruit that can and should be part of your diet, according to Salber. Just watch your portions: “The recommended serving size for fruit is one small piece of fruit (think the size of a small fist) or one-half cup of fruit,” says Emmy Bawden, a registered dietitian at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “Berries, including strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, and melon are a bit lower in sugar and, as such, the serving size is 1 cup.” FYI, while fresh and frozen fruit are both great options, canned fruit often contains added sugar.
3. Mix up your macros. “Macronutrients” refers to the three calorie-containing nutrients that people need in large (hence, macro) amounts to live and thrive: carbohydrates, protein and fat. And when you eat these three macronutrients together in a single sitting, it influences how your body digests them, says Cipullo, who recommends making every meal and snack a mix of all three.
“Eating mixed meals and snacks, pairing carbs with protein and fat, slows the digestion of carbohydrates and the release of glucose, or sugar, into the bloodstream,” Cipullo says. So if you want to have the occasional splurge of a high-GI food with simple carbs such as a sugar-laden doughnut, eating it alongside scrambled eggs, which provide both protein and fat, will help lower its glycemic index and its effect on your blood sugar levels. Remember that many foods such as milk, cheese, nut butters and quinoa contain high levels of more than one nutrient, she says.
Also worth noting: While fiber is technically a type of carbohydrate, it can also help slow the digestion of simple carbs in a way that’s similar to protein and fat. That’s why, when it comes to fruit, you should eat the whole fruit, including the peel, rather than drinking fruit juice, which is devoid of fiber.
4. Eat every few hours. “Eating a small meal or snack every four to five hours can help in achieving glycemic, or blood sugar, control,” Bawden says. Cipullo adds that the stomach empties itself every three to four hours, so if you go much longer without eating, your blood sugar levels could nosedive, causing you to overeat at your next meal.
What’s more, by eating regularly throughout the day, you can more easily spread out your carbohydrate intake. “This way, you are never eating a lot of carbohydrates at a time, so your blood sugar doesn’t spike,” Cipullo says. She recommends eating roughly 45 to 60 grams of carbs at every meal and between 15 and 30 grams at every snack.
5. Eat breakfast (one hour after waking). Start your day off right. In a 2015 Diabetes Care study, when people with Type 2 diabetes skipped breakfast, their lunchtime and dinnertime blood sugar levels were 37 and 27 percent higher than on days when they ate breakfast. Interestingly, it wasn’t because they were eating more than usual for lunch and dinner. In the study, participants ate the same lunches and dinners.
However, you don’t need to roll straight out of bed to the kitchen. Blood sugar levels can commonly spike upon waking, so you don’t want to eat carbs right then, which could make your blood sugar and insulin levels go even higher, Cipullo explains. Scheduling in an hour between alarm clock and omelets (go ahead and take a shower and get dressed) gives your body time to level out before you increase your blood sugar with breakfast, she says.
6. Avoid both sugar and artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners seem like a great way to cut your sugar habit. “However, research now shows that artificial sweeteners may have indirect metabolic effects that can be detrimental to one’s efforts to lose weight or slow the progression of prediabetes,” Bawden says.
For example, research presented at the 2017 meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes shows that artificial sweeteners, when consumed in large amounts, may impair the body’s response to glucose, or sugar – increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Salber explains that artificial sweeteners may alter the balance of bacteria in the gut, which can impact blood sugar control. They are also linked to decreased satiety and, contrary to what you might think, increased calorie consumption and weight gain, she says.