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Low-Carb Diet for Insulin Resistance

By Jill Corleone ; Updated July 18, 2017

Losing weight and making healthier food choices are two of the most important modes of treatment recommended for people with insulin resistance, also known as prediabetes. Following a low-carb diet can help you with both. But before you get started, consult with your doctor and a dietitian to go over the diet plan and discuss health and safety concerns.

Insulin Resistance and Diet

Insulin is a hormone responsible for carrying glucose from your bloodstream into your cells. The cells can then use the glucose for energy. Insulin resistance means your body makes insulin, but the hormone can't do its job effectively. To compensate, your body produces more insulin, and you end up with consistently elevated blood sugars and, eventually, diabetes. Excess weight and lack of activity are the two most common causes of insulin resistance, which is why diet and activity are recommend as the primary forms of treatment. Eating healthy foods and using portion control are typically recommended to promote weight loss. Low-carb diets may be especially effective, however, because they not only promote weight loss but improve insulin resistance as well, according to a 2007 article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Cutting Carbs to Fight Insulin Resistance

While there are no clear guidelines for what makes up a low-carb diet, most experts agree that limiting carbs to 50 to 150 grams a day is considered a low-carb diet, and limiting to 20 to 50 grams a day is a very-low-carb diet. Many low-carb diet plans begin with a very-low-carb restriction to induce ketosis -- the process by which the body uses fat for energy instead of glucose -- which is a telltale sign for fat burning. The very-low-carb plan seems to work best for people with insulin resistance, according to the 2007 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article. The very-low-carb plan is typically meant only for the rapid-weight-loss phase of the diet, however, and is temporary, lasting only two weeks to two months, depending on how much weight a person needs to lose.

Low-Carb Food Choices

Filling your diet with foods naturally low in carbs helps lower blood sugar and therefore keeps insulin levels down, too. So instead of rice and pasta, you'll be eating mainly protein foods and veggies in the initial stages of the diet. Chicken, turkey, seafood, beef, pork and eggs are virtually carb-free and form the foundation of most low-carb plans. Low-carb veggies, such as spinach, cucumbers, endive, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, kale and cucumbers, fill in the rest, helping to meet nutrient needs, while the fiber content helps keep you satisfied. Butter, olive oil, soy oil and mayonnaise are naturally carb-free or very low in carbs, and they add flavor to your meals. Cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella and Swiss, also make good choices for your low-carb diet, with 1 to 2 grams of net carbs per ounce. Less restrictive plans allow nuts, some fruits and certain dairy foods as well.

Low-carb plans count "net" carbs, which are the carbs that affect blood sugar. You can calculate net carbs this way: total carb grams minus fiber grams. So a food with 5 grams of total carbs and 2 grams of fiber has 3 grams of net carbs.

Possible Side Effects of Low-Carb Diets

While a low-carb diet may help you lose weight and improve insulin levels, you want to discuss possible side effects and safety concerns with your doctor. If you're taking medications for blood sugar or blood pressure management, they may need to be decreased as you lose some weight and gain better control of your blood sugar through dietary changes. Any adjustments necessary for your medication should be done by your doctor.

Limiting your carbs may also cause side effects. A lower-carb intake can lead to headaches, weakness, skin rash, muscle cramping, diarrhea or constipation in some people, depending on the degree of carb restriction. If you experience any symptoms while following a low-carb diet, discuss them with your doctor.

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