What’s the Best Diet for Diabetics?
If you are trying to prevent or manage your Type 2 diabetes, you likely already know the role your weight plays. Carrying too many pounds puts you at a much higher risk of developing or not managing your Type 2 diabetes.
The Good News for Diabetics
The good news is that if you’re overweight or obese, research has shown that losing even just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight, combined with regular exercise, can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by about 58 percent! Other good news is that you can choose from a variety of diabetic diet plans with proven success rates — the challenging part is trying to determine which is the best diet for diabetics.
Diabetic Diet Plans – An Overview
Just Google “diabetic diet plans” or peruse a book store shelf and you’ll be bombarded with plans promising all sorts of wonderful-sounding results – Lose weight without dieting! Lose weight and eat whatever you want! Pounds melt away while you sleep! Not only are most of these diets unsuccessful, some are even dangerous to your health.
In a nutshell, the most effective diabetic weight loss diets all have some things in common:
- Reduce your overall caloric intake and eat nutritious, minimally processed, low-fat foods.
- Eliminate junk food such as soft drinks, chips, cookies, candy and fried foods.
- Get 30 minutes of regular exercise daily (even walking counts).
But for most of us, this advice is too vague and often a little confusing. How many calories do we need to cut? Which foods are considered “nutritious” and which aren’t? The U.S News & World Report has a panel of experts who regularly compares diabetic diet plans, including diabetic weight loss diets, and then they rank the diets using a variety of criteria.
Let’s take a look at some of the winners.
The Mediterranean Diet
People who live in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea tend to have lower rates of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions compared to Americans — and they live longer. So, what do they eat? The Mediterranean Diet isn’t really a structured diet compared to other diabetes weight loss diets — it is more of a template to follow when cooking and eating. The Mediterranean Diet recommends:
- Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, spices, herbs, nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil daily.
- Fish and seafood twice a week.
- Moderate portions of eggs, dairy foods and poultry occasionally.
- Red meats and sweets on special occasions.
The Pros: The Mediterranean Diets gives you the freedom to choose which foods to eat as long as you stay within the general guidelines, it doesn’t ban entire food groups, it’s pretty straightforward, there is no need to carefully count calories, eating out is manageable and it doesn’t cost a lot. Given these pros, it’s an easy “lifestyle” diabetic prevention diet that you can follow indefinitely.
The Cons: For some, it is too unstructured, and you must have time to cook and shop.
Best for Those Who: Enjoy shopping and cooking, don’t want to make significant dietary changes, eat out or travel a lot, and can adhere to a relatively unstructured diabetic diet plan.
The DASH Diet
Doctors who are trying to help patients with high blood pressure often recommend the DASH Diet, which is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It turns out that the DASH Diet can also be one of the best diets for diabetics!
The DASH diet is similar to the Mediterranean Diet in that it recommends the same basic food groups such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. The most significant difference is the DASH Diet restricts high-sodium foods, allowing only 1,500 milligrams daily.
While DASH doesn’t knock out entire food groups, it is more restrictive than the Mediterranean Diet because so many foods are high in sodium — it bans even foods such as olives, pickles, salted nuts and almost all condiments and salad dressings.
The Pros: Almost identical to the Mediterranean Diet.
The Cons: Avoiding sodium is difficult, especially when eating out or eating any prepackaged foods and meals. You’ll also have to replace salt with herbs and spices and make your own salad dressings and condiments.
Best for Those Who: Have or are at high risk of hypertension, have time to cook and shop, are willing to make significant changes in avoiding sodium and don’t eat out a lot.
The Flexitarian Diet
While not as widely known as some other diabetic weight loss diets, the Flexitarian Diet basically says we should follow a vegetarian diet most of the time, but it’s okay to enjoy a steak, burger or other meat on
occasion. You’ll find the details in registered dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner’s book, "The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life." The Flexitarian Diet recommends:
- Eating primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-meat proteins such as beans, peas or eggs.
- Restricting calories to 1,500 per day on a three-four-five plan: 300 calories at breakfast, 400 at lunch, 500 at dinner and two 150-calorie snacks.
The Pros: It’s affordable, restaurant-friendly, doesn’t completely ban any food groups and is pretty straightforward.
The Cons: You must count calories and it severely limits meat proteins, so it can be harder to follow if you are cooking for others who are not following the diet.
Best for Those Who: Enjoy vegetarian cuisine, can easily avoid meat and count calories.
The Jenny Craig Diet
Although a few other diets such as The Volumetric Diet and the Mayo Clinic Diet ranked a little higher on the U.S. News and World Reports’ list, we’re including the Jenny Craig Diet here because it offers something none of these other diabetic diet plans do — prepackaged meals and personal consultants.
Jenny Craig offers a diabetic weight loss diet specifically for Type 2 diabetes. On this plan, you’ll:
- Eat three prepackaged meals and one snack per day for the first half of the program.
- Meet with a personal consultant weekly who will provide guidance on how to stick with the plan and help you choose the following week’s meals.
- Begin cooking some meals on your own using their recipes once you reach your halfway weight goal.
The Pros: The one-on-one support can make a big difference in helping you stay on track, the prepackaged meals save time and minimize the possibility of choosing wrong, and no need to count calories until you begin cooking for yourself.
The Cons: It’s expensive — in addition to enrollment and membership fees, the prepackaged meals average $15 to $23 daily, plus delivery fees if you have them delivered. You’ll also have to fess up to your consultant if you went astray, eating out is difficult and there is less freedom of choice. It is also not feasible as a long-term lifestyle diet.
Best for Those Who: Have difficulty following a plan on their own and will benefit from the personal support, have little time to cook or shop, don’t eat out much, feel overwhelmed by too many dietary choices and are looking for a short-term diabetic weight loss plan with specific weight loss goals.
How to Choose the Best Diabetic Weight Loss Plan
The best diet for diabetes is the one that fits your lifestyle, personal preferences, is approved by your doctor and will ensure your best chance of success.
If you know you won’t have time or interest in shopping or cooking, or you need support, then choosing a structured plan such as Jenny Craig might be your best bet. If that’s too restrictive and you’re able to shop and cook, then consider the Mediterranean or DASH diet.
If you’re okay with avoiding meat or banning certain food groups, then choose the Flexitarian or a basic vegetarian diet. Some diets such as the Paleo diet ban alcohol, so if enjoying a small glass of beer or wine on occasion is important to you, that’s permitted on the plans we listed.
Regardless of the diabetic diet plan you choose, losing even five to 10 percent of your body weight will reduce your risk or better manage your Type 2 diabetes!
- Tommy Jacobs