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Ask Dr. Gourmet

What diet should I follow for insulin intolerance?

I have just been told by my doctor that I have insulin intolerance. Could you please give me a diet guide line so I know where to start. I am at a loss and need valuable information. Thank you so very much.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

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We have had a lot of terms over the years that are used for patients who are having blood sugars in the borderline area between normal and diabetic.  Indeed, there is no single cause for adult-onset diabetes (one term). This has been called Type II diabetes (term #2), insulin intolerance (term #3), glucose intolerance (term #4), hyperglycemia (term #5, although all diabetes mellitus is hyperglycemia) and borderline diabetes (term #5). There are more, but you get the idea.  

There are a lot of reasons that we stop processing blood glucose properly and insulin intolerance is one. Essentially the body doesn't recognize the insulin as well and, as a result, can't facilitate getting the glucose into cells where it is used as fuel.  There are a number of reasons for this - being overweight is one, especially when the additional weight is centered in the abdomen (abdominal adiposity). There are other physiologic processes at play, and over time the additional stress on the pancreas (the organ where your body produces insulin) can lead to worsening diabetes.

The good news is that this is generally easily treated by making changes in how you eat and adding exercise. Weight loss can be helpful, but the quality of calories you consume is just as important. Follow these steps to get started:

1. Stop consuming processed foods. Most processed foods contain higher than necessary levels of simple sugars. If it comes in a box, you should carefully consider whether you want to eat it. 

2. That includes fast food and chain food restaurants. Places like Subway and Chili's (and McDonald's and Applebee's) are pretty bad for you. Avoid them.  

3. Begin cooking at home for yourself.  

4. Stop drinking sugary beverages (in my opinion this also includes non-caloric artificially sweetened beverages). Stick to water, coffee, and tea (both unsweetened). If you want a bit of sweetener, use a teaspoon or so of table sugar.  Yes, this is added sugar, but the average Coca-Cola or Gatorade contains 16 teaspoons of sugar (that's more than 1/4 cup). Getting rid of that extra sugar can make a huge difference. 

5. Start exercising. Begin slowly with about 20 minutes a day and work up to 40 minutes or more a day. (Those minutes don't have to be all at one time.) We have great exercise resources here at 

Here's a link to the Mediterranean diet information on the Dr. Gourmet website. This style of eating has been shown to make a big difference in helping reduce your blood sugar, improve your cholesterol, prevent heart attacks, and keep you from having a stroke.  

Here are some columns on the Dr. Gourmet website that are related to diet and diabetes that can help you understand great food better:
Prevent Diabetes without Losing Weight
Whole grains reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease
Cure Type 2 Diabetes with a Mediterranean-Style Diet
Which fats are linked with diabetes risk?
Diet sodas may still increase your risk of diabetes

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet