What’s the “Best Diet” for Diabetes?

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Amy Cambbell of the Joslin Diabetes Center is the co-author of 16 Myths of the Diabetic Diet

By Amy Campbell, MS, RD, CDE
Manager, Clinical Education Programs,
Healthcare Services, Joslin Diabetes Center

If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what to eat for your diabetes or what diet to follow, you might find some guidance from US News and World Reports “Best Diets” Rankings.

To help answer the question, What’s the best diet for diabetes? U.S. News compiled a panel of 22 of the country’s leading health and nutrition experts, including folks from Harvard Medical School, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Duke and Cornell.

I was fortunate to be among the “chosen” experts, which was an honor for me, because I was eager to add my two cents.  What a great opportunity!  There are so many diet plans available, and it’s hard to keep up with them all, let alone determine if they’re effective and safe.

U.S. News spent six months researching the top 20 most “popular” diets in the country and then assembled a team of experts to rank them on a scale of 1 to 5 based on several categories, including:

  • short term weight loss,
  • long term weight loss,
  • safety,
  • nutritional completeness and
  • ability to prevent or manage diabetes.

The diets themselves were grouped into categories, such as “Best Diets Overall,” “Best Commercial Diet Plans,” “Best Weight-Loss Diets,” “Best Diabetes Diets” and “Best Heart-Healthy Diets.”

Curious about the “Best Diabetes Diets”?  The top three are:

1. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet: Originally designed to prevent and manage high blood pressure, this eating plan is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat dairy (and light on sugar, sodium and fatty red meats).  Beyond lowering blood pressure, though, the DASH Diet can help you lose weight (important for diabetes control) and lower both your A1C and fasting blood glucose levels.

2. Mayo Clinic Diet: Similar to the DASH Diet in terms of food choices, the Mayo Clinic Diet helps you to develop healthful eating and lifestyle habits that will stick.  As a result, you’ll lose weight, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, and better manage your blood glucose, too. An added bonus is that this approach also highly emphasizes physical activity.

3. Ornish Diet: The main focus of this eating plan is to prevent and even reverse heart disease, and studies show it can do just that, along with lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol.  The Ornish Diet can also help you lose weight and one study showed that it helped people with diabetes significantly lower their A1C level.

By the way, the lowest ranking diet for diabetes was the Paleo Diet.  The motto of this diet?  If the cavemen didn’t eat it, neither should you.  That means no pasta, no bread, no grains, no dairy and no beans.  It does mean eating a lot of meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, the diet scored low due to its potential for being high in saturated fat (from all that red meat) and because there is little to no research to support its claims of weight loss, heart health and diabetes control.

To read more about the other diets, visit the US News website at http://health.usnews.com/best-diet.

Also, keep in mind that this “Best Diets” ranking is meant to be a guide.  The top-rated diet may not be the best diet for you, so talk with your dietitian or healthcare provider about what you’re willing and able to do.

18 Responses to What’s the “Best Diet” for Diabetes?

  1. ginnie says:

    Could you recommend a healthy way of eating for me? I am newly diag. with type 1 diabetes, I have a-fib and take coumadin. I also have celiac disease. I’m so confused about what I should and shouldn’t eat.

  2. Amy Campbell says:

    Hi ginnie,
    The best thing you can do right now is to meet with a dietitian, preferably one who specializes in diabetes. It can be overwhelming to figure out what to eat on your own, especially with your other conditions. A dietitian will work with you to develop an eating plan that is realistic for you to follow, while at the same time, meets your nutritional and health needs. Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian in your community (including your local hospital or medical center). If you’re having trouble finding someone near you, visit the American Dietetic Association’s website at http://www.eatright.org and click on “Find a Registered Dietitian” at the top of the screen.

  3. Paul Leach says:

    There is not, nor will there ever be, a “best diet for diabetes.” There is a “best diet” for each and every diabetic and YOU as a diabetic need to take charge and find out what this “best” diet for you is. We can agree that veggies are good but there are some diabetics for example with gastoparesis whose digestion balks at some vegetables. Though this is an extreme example, it does illustrate that there are MANY different types of diabetics, starting with type 1s and 2s, overweight type 2s,
    “skinny” type 2s … on and on there are differences. Take charge, ask the questions that pertain to YOU and get answers. Get answers anywhere you can find them …. other diabetics are a great resource as well as your health care professionals. The internet is a place where you are likely to find people in very similar situations as yourself. Seek and ye shall find … just don’t expect to find that your answers are the same as they are for everyone with diabetes.

  4. Gloria says:

    I hope you will see a dietitian who has knowledge in both celiac and diabetes. Many gluten free products have more carbs than gluten products. Choosing whole grain products that contain fiber will help your blood sugars. Buckwheat, teff, brown rice, quinoa are good sources. Nonstarchy vegetables that are low in vitamin K are artichokes, green beans, cabbage, celery, carrots, tomatoes,cucumber and iceburg lettuce. Dried peas and beans are good sources of carbs and are not high in vitamin K. Good fruits would be berries, grapes, mango, pear. Eat plenty of lean meats, fish, pultry. Nuts, seeds and popcorn are good snacks. I am a registered dietitian who also has celiac. Please seek help, your diet is complicated.

  5. Andrea says:

    I got my A1c down to 6.2% and LDL below 100 on the Paleo Diet. It is a similar principle to the “Diabetes Solution” book: less carbs and less insulin leave less room for error, therefore better control of your blood sugars! I can’t believe you would not recommend this diet. It does not even advocate red meat like you say: it advocates lean meat/protein (i.e. turkey). Someone needs to get their facts straight!

    • Amy Campbell says:

      Hi Andrea,
      All of the diets that were evaluated in this project were examined and rated based on supporting evidence to back up their claims. The Paleo Diet hasn’t been extensively studied (and has some shortcomings in terms of nutrients). So, there just isn’t much research that’s been done with this diet to recommend it. That being said, it’s great that you’ve had such positive results with this eating plan and that you’ve been able to stay with it. I would encourage anyone who is interested in trying this plan to first discuss it with their physician or dietitian.

    • Helen says:

      I have to agree that a high protein, low carb diet works beautifully for my type 1 diabetes. I was diagnosed in very late adulthood so perhaps that influences my dietary needs. I’ve cut carbs to less than 70 per day and eat lots of veggies, turkey, fish and nuts and dairy limited to low fat cheese. My cholesterol ratio has never been better and my need for insulin is kept low because I am not eating a lot of carbs. I discovered early on that trying to eat complex carbs at every meal and keep the carb content of my diet in the “normal” range was detrimental to keeping my blood glucose readings under good control. I’m relatively new to this adventure but so far my A1C is in a great place and I started off at *13*. so the low carb diet seems to be working well for me.

  6. Ed says:

    I agree with what Paul Leach said, each diabetics is different, I was diagnosed as type 2 in 2004, I’ve followed the dash diet since then lost 150 lbs in 1 1/2 years, and was able to quickly diabetes under control, my a1c has been 4.2 on the yearly physical for the last 6 years. But because the dash diet worked for me it may not be suitable for someone else. Each person has to find a eating plan that works for them.

  7. James says:

    Thanks for sharing these diets, very good and useful information especially for those with diabetes.

  8. Alvin says:

    I got this from a diabetic friend in the States. It made a great gift for another diabetic friend: http://bit.ly/mQXeri

  9. One of the key aspect of diabetes management is eating a healthy balanced foods. While there are many diets out there in the market, for a person with diabetes choosing the right food to his liking has always been a problem. Ofcourse, simply choosing a good diet is one way to bring down high blood sugar level. But over a period of time people start to avoid the diets as many diets ignore their favorite foods.

    I think working with a dietitian, explaining one’s fav foods and create a plan that help manage diabetes is the best choise. Otherwise, go with Dash or Mayo or Ornish. They will do the job.

  10. Clayton says:

    Isn’t carbohydrate and sugar consumption the most common cause of problems with insulin in individuals with the receptor abnormalities which lead them to having diabetes? That said, why are no low carb diets advocated here?

  11. Anniera says:

    Type 2 diabetes is directly related to food chemicals. Processed foods have poisoned the people. High Fructose corn sugar and the hormones injected in the beef, chickens other animals have “given people” ineffective insulin and diabetes (obesity). This is what exercise does not reverse. This is why dieting fails. Dr Liu in Europe showed that the best diet to reverse diabetes is when the body heals from the poisons that the government has allowed in the food supply. The diabetes drug caused cancer where the diet reversed the illness see here from Denmark News http://spirithappy.org/wp/2011/10/02/type-2-diabetes-diet-actos-linked-to-cancer/

  12. Maureen says:

    I had gastric bypass surgery in 2001 and so I absorb sugars faster and bypass the slow metabolism part of digestion. Do you have an opinion on which diabetic diet would be better for me, to help retain as much nutritional value as possible?

  13. ranjana says:

    I wish to thank you for sharing your idea about diet plan tips for diabetics . Thanks again.

  14. Shirley says:

    Is newThe Dash Diet Weight Loss Solution eating plan phase 1 okay for diabetics?

    • Hello
      Here’s a response from Amy Campbell, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.D.E. from Joslin
      “The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is primarily aimed at helping people lower their blood pressure. The diet centers on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with low fat dairy foods, lean meat, poultry and seafood. Sweets and alcohol are limited. Sodium intake is capped at 2300 milligrams per day, with encouragement to lower it to 1500 milligrams per day. Studies have shown that the DASH diet offers a number of health benefits besides just lowering blood pressure: followers of this eating plan tend to lose weight, and for those with type 2 diabetes, have lower fasting blood glucose and A1C levels. This way of eating may also lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, along with heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and kidney stones.

      The principles of the DASH diet have been incorporated into a weight control plan called “The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution”, aimed primarily at people with or at risk for type 2 diabetes. The eating plan is lower in carbohydrate than the “regular” DASH diet and is also fairly low in calories, which may be difficult for some people to follow. The first phase of the plan is the “turbocharge” phase, which is geared towards jump-starting weight loss. After that, phase two emphasizes healthy eating and provides a higher amount of calories. Both phases encourage eating three meals and three snacks per day (the snacks are mid-morning, mid-afternoon and pre-dinner). This plan could certainly be appropriate for people with diabetes, especially if their goal is to lose weight. However, because phase 1 is lower in calories and carbohydrate than some people usually eat, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider or dietitian before starting on this plan, especially if you take insulin or types of diabetes pills (like glyburide or glimepiride, for example) as you would likely need to decrease your dose of these medicines in order to lower your risk of low blood glucose.”

      Hope this helps!

  15. Farzan Jacob says:

    I am the patient of diabetes and leaving in Hafizabad Punjab Pakistan I do not have a advance Hospital like Europion countries what u suggest for me to fight against diabetes?

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