Review of Popular Diets for Diabetes

Summaries of some of the top "diabetes diets" ranked by US News and World Report.

Lara Rondinelli By Lara Rondinelli, RD, LDN, CDE

May 2013 — Experts rated these diets based on their ability to both prevent and manage diabetes.

The Biggest Loser and DASH diet were ranked the highest in the diabetes diet group and the others were in the top 5 diets.

Biggest Loser Diet

Summary: The Biggest Loser pyramid includes a diet of four servings a day of fruits and vegetables, three of protein, two of whole grains, and no more than 200 calories of "extras" like desserts. The diet is made up of 45% carbohydrates, 30 % protein and 25% fat. Exercise is a major part of the program. You'll start out with exercises such as lunges, squats and push-ups, and incorporate aerobics and strength training. People are encouraged to get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity a week, along with strength activities. You can learn more by purchasing the book, 6 Weeks to a Healthier You

Pros: Basic principles are good: 1) Fill up on fruits and vegetables 2) Keep a food journal 3) Don't eat much red meat.

Cons: The diet may cost a little since fresh fruit and vegetables are a little more expensive than unhealthy foods – but your health is worth it.

dLife RD opinion: The basic principles go along with diabetes recommendations, cut back on junk food and increase fruit, vegetables, and whole grains — although the whole-grain recommendation is very low here. And I love the exercise recommendations, which are so important for people with diabetes.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)

Summary: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) helped develop DASH diet with a focus on increasing intake of foods rich in nutrients (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium) protein, and fiber that are expected to lower blood pressure. The DASH diet is heavy in fruits and vegetables, recommending 4-5 servings per day of both fruits and vegetables. It recommends 6-8 servings of grains per day, 4-5 servings of nuts, legumes, or beans per week, along with 6-ounces protein and 2-3 milk servings per day. The diet is also low in sodium and has been proven to lower blood pressure. The diet is also lower in calories, which will promote weight loss and in turn help control blood sugar, especially for those with type 2 diabetes needing to lose weight. You can learn more by downloading this Dash Eating Plan.

Pros: The diet cuts back on processed foods and includes more natural foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables.

Cons: The diet may be costly since fresh fruit and vegetables are a little more expensive than unhealthy foods – but your health is worth it.

dLife RD opinion: This diet is super-healthy and is heavy in fruits and vegetables, which most Americans are not eating enough of daily. It limits foods with excess sugar which is very important for people with diabetes. The plan also recommends 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week, which is always a bonus for people with diabetes.

Engine 2 Diet

Summary: This diet was developed by a fire-fighter who had co-workers with dangerously high cholesterol levels. He created a plant-strong eating plan for the firehouse. The result? Everyone lost weight (some more than 20 pounds), lowered their cholesterol, and improved their overall health. The diet includes whole foods, including whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and excludes animal products. You can learn more in the book, The Engine 2 Diet

Pros: Eliminates processed foods and includes natural, whole foods with a large focus on vegetables.

Cons: Complete change in lifestyle may be difficult for some people to follow and some may view as extreme.

dLife RD opinion: The health benefits of a plant-based diet are very strong and include decreased blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Following this meal plan takes careful planning to obtain all the necessary vitamins and minerals. People with diabetes also need to be cautious to avoid large portions of carbohydrates with this diet.

Flexitarian Diet

Summary: "Flexitarianism" is the hot new term for healthy dieting that minimizes meat without excluding it altogether. The diet claims that it does not take away foods but rather adds new foods and gets you to increase your vegetable intake. The diet includes tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, and eggs. It also recommends fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy, and sugar and spice (everything from dried herbs to salad dressing to agave nectar sweetener). Breakfast choices are around 300 calories, lunches 400, and dinners 500. Snacks are about 150 calories each — add two, and your daily total clocks in at 1,500 calories (but can be adjusted for individuals). More information can be found in the book, The Flexitarian Diet

Pros: The plan is flexible and gets people eating more veggies. It doesn't eliminate food groups so may be easier for people to follow.

Cons: The diet may be costly since fresh fruit and vegetables are a little more expensive than unhealthy foods – but your health is worth it.

dLife RD opinion: I love that this diet gets people to eat more vegetables, which is so important for people with diabetes. I also like that recipes and meal plans are included.

So, if you don't know where to start with healthy eating for diabetes, you will find a reoccurring theme in the above diets:

  • Eat more vegetables
  • Eat less processed foods
  • Choose whole-grains
  • Eat lean protein sources
  • Exercise

Check out the Healthy Eating Plate for dLife's advice on eating a well-balanced diet.

Get the recipe for a gluten-free veggie chili.

Read Lara's bio here.

Read more of Lara Rondinelli's columns.

NOTE: This information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: July 08, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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