The 6 Best (and Worst) Diets If You Have Diabetes

Think long-term, low-calorie

The 6 Best (and Worst) Diets If You Have Diabetes

Are you looking for a way to reset your diet to lose weight? Losing weight has many benefits, especially for people with diabetes. It not only can improve blood sugar levels but it can lower your high blood pressure and heart disease risk.

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But it’s important not to go for a quick fix. For lasting success, focus on good nutrition and changes you can commit to long term. Yes, but how do you do that? There are many diets out there claiming health benefits. Here, we’ll talk through some common diets out there and offer our advice for people with diabetes.

Besides sticking to a particular diet, here’s some tried-and true tips:

  • Watch portion sizes (particularly for carbohydrates). This can help cut down on calories and improve blood sugar.
  • Divide food choices for a healthy plate. Go for half vegetables, one-quarter protein and one-quarter carbohydrates.

There many diets out there that you can look to for weight loss, but our list highlights the three best and three worst diet choices for people with diabetes.

Best diets

Champion diets offer well-rounded nutrition

1. DASH. Created to help lower blood pressure (aptly named Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the DASH diet goes well beyond that. It is a well-rounded, healthy nutrition plan for everyone. DASH is rich in fruits, vegetables and grains, and low in fat, sugar and sodium.

For example, on a 2,000-calorie DASH plan, each day you would eat:

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  • Six to eight servings of whole grains
  • Four to five vegetables
  • Four to five fruits
  • Two or three servings of dairy
  • Six or fewer servings of meats (in this case, a serving is one ounce)

Include about four portions of nuts, seeds and legumes weekly and you’re set.

2. Mediterranean. This diet, based loosely on the eating habits of people in Greece, Southern France and Italy, reduces red meat intake and increases vegetables, nuts and healthy fats. For instance, it recommends getting most of your calories from grains, then fruits, vegetables and beans, and lastly, dairy.

You can eat healthy fats such as those from avocados and olive oil every day. Eat sweets, eggs, poultry and fish sparingly — only a few times each week — and red meat only a couple of times each month.

3. Plant-based. Most plant-based diet plans cut out or dramatically limit meat. A vegan diet cuts out meat and dairy. A vegetarian diet cuts meat, but allows foods like eggs and cheese.

A flexitarian diet is mostly vegetarian, but adds meat in as a “treat” now and again. This program features 300-calorie breakfasts, 400-calorie lunches, 500-calorie dinners and two 150-calorie snacks daily.

Worst diets

Extremes, quick fixes and supplements fall short

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1. Low/no-carb diets. Be cautious of any diets that recommend avoiding all sources of carbohydrates and encourage a focus on high-fat proteins like red and processed meats. These plans may result in weight loss but aren’t great long-term.

Using insulin and avoiding carbohydrates can put you at risk for low blood sugar. A high-protein diet can also increase your risk of heart disease and kidney problems. If you do want to follow this kind of diet, you should definitely check with your physician first.

2. Fasting/extreme calorie reduction. Any diet that promotes fasting for long periods can cause low blood sugar. Even if you aren’t taking medication for your diabetes, it’s important to maintain consistent eating patterns for weight management and blood sugar control.

Any diet that encourages very low caloric intake (800 calories or fewer per day) can also increase the risk of low blood sugar and reduce muscle mass. This diet should also be supervised by a physician.

3. Cleanses or diet pills. Beware of too-good-to-be-true claims made about non-prescription pills and cleanses. These dietary supplements are not FDA-approved, so you don’t know what you’re getting. Some products may even harm your health or contain ingredients that interact with your prescription diabetes medications.

The most important thing to remember is that you should work with your doctor, dietitian or a certified diabetes educator to set up a healthy weight-management plan. They can help you make sure your diet is realistic and right for you — and that it will mesh well with your diabetes treatment plan.

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Sue Cotey and Andrea Harris, RNs

Sue Cotey, RN, CDE, and Andrea Harris, RN, CDE, are Diabetes Educators with the Lennon Diabetes Center at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Health Center. Sue is the Program Coordinator.
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