The 3 things you should never eat if you have insulin resistance

By | March 17, 2024

Woman with insulin resistance looking for food

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

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

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

Doctors often recommend lifestyle changes (perhaps in combination with medication) to treat insulin resistance. This usually involves changing your diet. Caroline Cederquist, MD, a board-certified bariatric physician and physician-in-chief at BistroMD, explains that dietary changes can potentially reverse insulin resistance and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“A well-adapted diet is essential to ensure that glucose is absorbed and used properly,” says Dr. Cederquist. Here’s an overview of the link between diet and insulin resistance and the things you shouldn’t consume if you have the condition.

What exactly is insulin resistance?

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

Related: The Only Diet That Will Actually Lower Your Risk of Heart Attack, According to Cardiologists

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

However, your cells may not always respond well to insulin, causing your cells to not absorb or store glucose effectively, leading to insulin resistance. This causes your pancreas to produce more insulin to counteract rising blood sugar levels.

“For context, insulin resistance causes glucose, a crucial fuel source for our bodies, to build up in the bloodstream instead of being absorbed and used efficiently,” explains Dr. Cederquist out. The buildup can cause blood sugar levels to rise, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, along with heart disease, kidney damage and other serious health problems.

Genetics and age contribute to the development of insulin resistance, as older people are more susceptible to the condition. Poor diet, inactivity, obesity, certain medications and some conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome and hypothyroidism, can 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 exercise helps control blood sugar levels and in some cases reverse insulin resistance and disease progression to type 2 diabetes,” he explains. Tamar Samuels, R.D. co-founder of Culina Health.

Related: This is the absolute best way to stay hydrated when you have diabetes

“Changing the way you eat carbs can help you reach your blood sugar goals while keeping tasty food on your plate,” she adds.

If you have insulin resistance, you should avoid eating things that cause your blood sugar levels to rise, says Dr. Manzana. That includes alcohol, sweetened drinks and ultra-processed foodsespecially those that contain processed grains and simple sugars, explains Dr. Cederquist out.

“If cells become less responsive to insulin, consuming these foods can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and contribute to long-term high blood sugar levels,” continues Dr. Cederquist.

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

What Should Do you eat with insulin resistance?

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

Related: The One Thing You Should Never Do If You Want to Prevent Diabetes

Research shows that plant-based diets can 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.

High-fiber complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, help slow the digestion of carbohydrates, resulting in a gradual increase in blood glucose, says Samuels. Combine these complex carbohydrates with lean proteins and healthy fats.

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

When should you talk to your doctor?

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

  • Cravings for high-carb and high-sugar foods

  • Increased hunger, especially after meals

  • Weakness or shakiness after skipping meals or eating unbalanced meals

  • Difficulty losing weight

  • Increased thirst

  • Blurry sight

  • Headache

“Seeking professional guidance early can help effectively manage insulin resistance and prevent potential health complications,” explains Dr. Cederquist out. This includes adjusting your diet.

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

Then read about the foods that help with insulin resistance.


  • Carlo Manzana, MD, primary care physician at virtual health platform PlushCare

  • Caroline Cederquist, MD, a board-certified bariatric physician and physician-in-chief at bistroMD

  • Tamar Samuels, RD, co-founder of Culina Health

  • Insulin resistance, Cleveland Clinic

  • Insulin Resistance and Diabetes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes, Journal of Geriatric Cardiology

  • Dietary support for insulin resistance: a review of current scientific reports, Advances in Clinical and Experimental Medicine

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