There’s a lot of information out there about diabetes. So much that it can leave the more than 30 million people with diabetes – and the more than 84 million people with prediabetes – scratching their heads and wondering “What do I eat?” Sure, Google searches can be helpful, but you’re just as likely to find several answers that contradict one another. In April, the American Diabetes Association published a report detailing its most recent review of different eating patterns and their potential health benefits, which revealed as a bottom line that everything about diabetes and diet is individualized and that there truly is no one-size-fits-all approach. So, what are people to do?
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says despite the absence of a one-size-fits-all tactic, there are some general steps – and even specific diets – we can examine in order to improve our eating habits. “There are certain diets that can offer benefits to people looking to either reduce their risk of diabetes or lower blood sugar,” Pierce said. “The Mediterranean diet, for instance, is mostly plant-based, but also involves fish, seafood, olive oil, yogurt, cheese and a limited amount of eggs. This diet allows wine in moderation, but limits the intake of red meat and sweets. The benefit here is it reduces our risk of diabetes by reducing A1C blood sugar and triglycerides, which reduces the risk for major cardiovascular events,” she explained. “Going vegetarian or vegan has similar benefits, too, but also comes with the added benefits of lower fat, lower cholesterol and weight loss,” she added.
“Low-fat diets and low-carb diets also are popular for lowering blood sugar and can lead to weight loss,” Pierce continued. “With a low-fat diet, you want to aim for getting less than 30 percent of your diet from fats, which means relying on lean meats, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables, as well as limiting all starches. As for low-carb diets, look for low-carb vegetables, such as salad greens, cucumbers or cauliflower, and use avocados, butter and oils to balance your fat intake. Protein should come from meat, fish, eggs, nuts and cheeses, but be sure to avoid starchy foods such as breads, pasta and cereal,” she explained. “Going Paleo, of course, means you’ll be avoiding grains, dairy, salt, refined fats and sugar, while relying on meats, veggies, berries and eggs,” she said.
There also are some dietary approaches, such as the DASH diet, that are useful for stopping hypertension, which is commonly linked to diabetes. “If you’re trying to stop hypertension, up your intake of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy products,” Pierce said. “Also, look for foods that are lower in saturated fats and that are lower in sodium,” she added.
While each diet has its rules and restrictions, Pierce says, ultimately, both preventing diabetes and managing it are about taking control of what we’re eating each day. “Whether you’re choosing a particular diet plan to follow to control diabetes or reduce your risk, or you’re just trying to be more conscious of what you’re consuming in general, there are some common take-home messages,” she said. “Emphasize non-starchy vegetables, minimize sugars and refined grains, choose whole foods over highly processed foods, and reduce your overall carbohydrate intake. The goal of these tactics is not only to eat better and feel better, but to reduce our blood sugar levels, which is beneficial if you have diabetes already or you’re trying to reduce your risk for it,” she explained.