Maintaining a healthy weight is important for everyone, but if you have diabetes, excess weight may make it harder to control your blood sugar levels and may increase your risk for some complications. Losing weight can be extra challenging for people with diabetes.
Eating healthfully while you try to reduce weight is important for everyone, but if you have diabetes, choosing the wrong diet could harm your health. Weight loss pills and starvation diets should be avoided, but there are many popular diets that may be beneficial.
What should you eat?
If you have diabetes, you should focus on eating lean protein, high-fiber, less processed carbs, fruits, and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and healthy vegetable-based fats such as avocado, nuts, canola oil, or olive oil. You should also manage your carbohydrate intake. Have your doctor or dietitian provide you with a target carb number for meals and snacks. Generally, women should aim for about 45 grams of carb per meal while men should aim for 60. Ideally, these would come from complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables.
The American Diabetes Association offers a comprehensive list of the best foods for those with diabetes. Their recommendations include:
|Protein||Fruits and vegetables||Dairy||Grains|
|beans||berries||low- or nonfat milk||whole grains, such as brown rice and whole-wheat pasta|
|nuts||sweet potatoes||low- or nonfat yogurt|
|poultry||nonstarchy vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, collard greens, kale, and okra|
|oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines|
Staying hydrated is also important when it comes to overall health. Choose noncaloric options such as water and tea whenever possible.
What should you reduce?
For people with diabetes, there are certain foods that should be limited. These foods can cause spikes in the blood sugar or contain unhealthy fats.
- processed grains, such as white rice or white pasta
- fruits with added sweeteners, including apple sauce, jam, and some canned fruits
- full-fat dairy
- fried foods or foods high in trans fats or saturated fats
- foods made with refined flour
- any food with a high glycemic load
The DASH plan was originally developed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension), but it may also reduce the risk of other diseases, including diabetes. It may have the additional benefit of helping you lose weight. People following the DASH plan are encouraged to reduce portion sizes and eat foods rich in blood pressure-lowering nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
The DASH eating plan includes:
- lean protein: fish, poultry
- plant-based foods: vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds
- dairy: fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- grains: whole grains
- healthy fats: vegetable oils
People with diabetes on this plan are advised to reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day. The plan also limits sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats.
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by traditional foods from the Mediterranean. This diet is rich in oleic acid, a fatty acid that occurs naturally in animal and vegetable-based fats and oils. Countries that are known for eating according to this diet pattern include Greece, Italy, and Morocco.
A Mediterranean-type diet may be successful in lowering fasting glucose levels, reducing body weight, and reducing the risk of metabolic disorder, according to a study in Diabetes Spectrum.
Foods eaten on this diet include:
- Protein: poultry, salmon and other fatty fish, eggs
- Plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables like artichokes and cucumbers, beans, nuts, seeds
- Healthy fats: olive oil, nuts such as almonds
Red meat may be consumed once per month. Wine may be consumed in moderation, as it may boost heart health. Remember to never drink on an empty stomach if you are on medications that raise the level of insulin in the body.
The paleo diet centers on the belief that modern agriculture is to blame for chronic disease. Followers of the paleo diet eat only what our ancient ancestors would have been able to hunt and gather.
Foods eaten on the paleo diet include:
- Protein: meat, poultry, fish
- Plant-based foods: nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts (excluding peanuts)
- Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil
The paleo diet may be a good option for people with diabetes as long as the person does not have kidney disease. According to a three-month study in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, a paleo diet may improve glycemic control in the short term for people with type 2 diabetes.
Gluten-free diets have become trendy, but for people with celiac disease, eliminating gluten from the diet is necessary to avoid damage to the colon and body. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack your gut and nervous system. It also promotes body-wide inflammation, which could lead to chronic disease.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and all foods made from these grains. According to the American Diabetes Association, 10 percent of those with type 1 diabetes also have celiac disease.
Ask your doctor for a blood test for celiac disease. Even if it comes back negative, you could still be intolerant to gluten. Talk with your doctor about whether a gluten-free diet is right for you.
While anyone with diabetes can take up a gluten-free diet, it may add unnecessary restrictions for those without celiac disease. It’s also important to remember that gluten-free is not synonymous with low carb. There are plenty of processed, high-sugar, gluten-free foods. There is usually no need to complicate meal planning by eliminating gluten unless you need to.
Vegetarian and vegan
Some people with diabetes focus on eating vegetarian or vegan diets. Vegetarian diets typically refer to diets where no meat is eaten, but animal products like milk, eggs, or butter can be consumed. Vegans will not eat meat or any other type of animal product, including honey, milk, or gelatin.
Foods that are healthy for vegetarians and vegans with diabetes include:
- dark, leafy vegetables
- whole grains
While vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy diets to follow, those who follow them may be missing out on vital nutrients if they aren’t careful.
Some nutrients vegetarians or vegans may need to obtain through supplements include:
- Calcium. Found largely in animal products like dairy, calcium is an important nutrient that contributes to the health of bones and teeth. Broccoli and kale can help provide necessary calcium, but supplements may be needed in a vegan diet.
- Iodine. Required for metabolizing food into energy, iodine is predominantly found in seafood. Without these animal products in their diets, vegetarians and vegans may have trouble getting enough of the necessary iodine. Supplements can be beneficial.
- B-12: Since only animal products have vitamin B-12, a supplement may be necessary for those following a strict vegetarian diet.
- Zinc: The main source of zinc comes from high protein animal products, and a supplement may be advised for those on a vegetarian diet.
In addition to choosing the right diet, regular exercise is crucial to the health of those with diabetes. Exercise can help lower your blood sugar and A1C levels, which can help you to avoid complications.
Even if you’re seeing improvement with regular exercise, do not change your prescribed insulin regimen without consulting your doctor. Test prior to, during, and after exercise if you are on insulin and adding or making changes to your exercise program. This is true even if you think the insulin is causing you to gain weight. Changing your insulin plan could have a dangerous effect on your blood sugar levels. These changes could cause life-threatening complications.
If you are concerned about your weight, speak with a doctor or nutritionist. They can help you find the diet suited to your specific nutritional needs and weight loss goals. They will also help prevent complications from diets and pills that may interact with prescription medication.