Diet approaches for diabetes, which diet is for me?

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There are so many diets out there these days with new approaches emerging all the time. When it comes to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, the situation is very much the same. The ones you hear about today include low carb diets and the very low calorie diet or meal replacement approach. There are also diets such as the paleo diet, 5:2 (intermittent fasting) diet and the old favourites such as the Mediterranean diet.

The strength of evidence for diets such as the ones above does vary, with some being an effective approach to diabetes management and others simply a celebrity fad. I am however a strong believer in finding an approach that works for you, as long as it is safe and does not leave you with just one food to eat for weeks on end. The other consideration is making sure you can sustain your healthier lifestyle and routine for the long-term. Ultimately your relationship with food must change! Maybe shift the focus away from diet and weight loss, and instead aim to simply feel better, fitter or find a new hobby such as cooking new recipes or trying a new sport or activity. This approach helps create new habits and is generally more rewarding than fretting over the number on the scales.

There is evidence for low carbohydrate diets and very low calorie diets in the management of diabetes. Very low calorie diet approaches (around 800kcal/day) using meal replacement shakes have been shown to achieve significant weight loss and remission of type 2 diabetes. Individuals can stop taking their diabetes medications and the health benefits are wide-ranging.  These diets may not be suited to everyone and there are always the pros and cons. It should however not be denied that I have seen individuals achieve great things using these approaches. I will talk more about this in another blog, as there is a lot to be said!

With any other diet you hear about, I would recommend asking a few questions to yourself before making any decisions. Does it cut out an entire food group or advise to eat just 1 or 2 foods alone? Is it based on science and research (more than 1 study!) or based on a celebrity success story? Does it recommend “detoxing” or “fat burning foods”? Does it make bold claims regarding weight loss? If so, please be cautious and dig deeper before jumping in. Also consider whether it is suited to you and your lifestyle. Intermittent fasting for example may not be suitable if you lead a very active lifestyle and need to be on the go, the fasting days could leave you feeling tired and weak. If you are taking medication or insulin for your diabetes, please seek help otherwise your blood sugar levels may fluctuate significantly day-to-day.

I think we can all take something away from the Mediterranean diet and include more vegetables, fruits, pulses and healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado in the diet.   Just be careful with your portions of oils and nuts, as although great for your heart, they are high in calories so overconsumption might simply cause weight gain!

Be cautious with what your peers may recommend, although it comes from a good place and it worked well for them, it may not be the safest or most effective approach for all. I find often people focus so much on cutting out all forms of sugar and carbs that they lose touch with the bigger picture. The diet can become unbalanced or difficult to sustain. Most things can be eaten in moderation!

Nicola Clarke BSc RD

Published by N K Clarke

Diabetes Dietitian

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