Diabetic Diets for Weight Loss

If you’re ready to lose weight and improve your diabetes (or kick it to the curb entirely), use an expert weight loss diet plan to guide you. We review five options for people with diabetes.

DIET PLAN: Weight Watchers

Overview: The premise of this program is learning how to manage real food decisions in real-life situations. “It’s structured like a four-legged table, and each leg -- food, behavior change, activity, and support -- is essential for success,” says Stephanie Rost, M.S., RD, of Weight Watchers International. A new two-week Simple Start feature helps you eat right and lose weight without a focus on tracking food points. Meetings, plus extensive online and smartphone tools, help you stay on track. Membership in the program averages less than $10 a week.

Diabetes focus: The program is not specifically designed for people with diabetes, but it is based on common healthy lifestyle principles. With the assistance of your health care team, it can be adapted to your individual needs and paired with carb counting. In a recent study, a group of Weight Watchers program participants were at least eight times more likely to lose 5 percent or more of their body weight (important for improving blood sugar levels) in six months compared with a group of self-directed dieters who tried to lose weight without help from a program.

What you eat: The Simple Start program includes two weeks of easy meal ideas and recipes with photos, plus a shopping list of satisfying, everyday foods that don’t trigger overeating. Once you’ve made it through the first two weeks, you can opt to transition to the PointsPlus program. Foods emphasized include nonstarchy vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and flavor enhancers such as plain fat-free Greek yogurt, dried seasonings, fresh herbs, or reduced-sodium soy sauce.

For more information, visit weightwatchers.com.
 

DIET PLAN: Paleo Diet

Overview: “Eating a Paleo diet essentially means favoring real, whole food in its purest form,” says Kelly Schmidt, RD, LDN, who has type 1 diabetes and owns Paleo Infused Nutrition in Chicago. “Food is more than fuel. Food components provide information to our genes that turns them on or off to either promote wellness or disease.” Eating nutritious, whole foods that contain minimal antinutrients (which interfere with nutrient absorption) helps nudge our genes to support optimal health, she explains. Paleo-style diets typically exclude grains, dairy products, legumes, potatoes, refined sugars and oils, and processed foods.

Diabetes focus: A preliminary, three-month study compared the Paleo diet with the standard diabetes diet (evenly distributed meals that were moderate in carbohydrate and fat) in people with type 2 diabetes and found the Paleo diet was more satiating (filling) per calorie. It also produced significantly more weight loss, plus better blood sugar control, improved cholesterol, and lower diastolic blood pressure. “In working with clients with type 2 diabetes who follow a Paleo diet, I’ve seen them significantly improve their weight, A1C, neuropathy, kidney labs, and day-to-day blood sugars,” Schmidt says. Consult your health care team for any needed adjustments in your care plan and to verify nutritional adequacy.

What you eat: Schmidt suggests gradually cutting foods that aren’t allowed while focusing on eating whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthful oils (such as olive and coconut), and high-quality proteins including lean grass-fed meats, poultry, eggs, and low-mercury fish rich in omega-3 fats, such as salmon.

For more information, visit thepaleodiet.com.
 

DIET PLAN: Weight Watchers

Overview: The premise of this program is learning how to manage real food decisions in real-life situations. “It’s structured like a four-legged table, and each leg -- food, behavior change, activity, and support -- is essential for success,” says Stephanie Rost, M.S., RD, of Weight Watchers International. A new two-week Simple Start feature helps you eat right and lose weight without a focus on tracking food points. Meetings, plus extensive online and smartphone tools, help you stay on track. Membership in the program averages less than $10 a week.

Diabetes focus: The program is not specifically designed for people with diabetes, but it is based on common healthy lifestyle principles. With the assistance of your health care team, it can be adapted to your individual needs and paired with carb counting. In a recent study, a group of Weight Watchers program participants were at least eight times more likely to lose 5 percent or more of their body weight (important for improving blood sugar levels) in six months compared with a group of self-directed dieters who tried to lose weight without help from a program.

What you eat: The Simple Start program includes two weeks of easy meal ideas and recipes with photos, plus a shopping list of satisfying, everyday foods that don’t trigger overeating. Once you’ve made it through the first two weeks, you can opt to transition to the PointsPlus program. Foods emphasized include nonstarchy vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and flavor enhancers such as plain fat-free Greek yogurt, dried seasonings, fresh herbs, or reduced-sodium soy sauce.

For more information, visit weightwatchers.com.
 

DIET PLAN: The Diabetes Breakthrough

Overview: The Diabetes Breakthrough (Harlequin, March 2014) is an at-home guide based on the Joslin Diabetes Center’s Why WAIT program, which attacks weight loss from all angles, including diet, exercise, medication adjustments, behavior change, and education. The program has been clinically shown to produce an average weight loss of 25 pounds in 12 weeks and a 50-60 percent reduction in diabetes medications. Plus, participants have kept an average of 6.4 percent of their weight off after five years.

Diabetes focus: The book includes how to talk with your doctor about choosing “weight-friendly” diabetes medications. It also emphasizes a protein-rich diet and strength-training exercises to keep and build muscle mass, which helps maintain good metabolism. “People with diabetes lose more muscle than other people when they restrict calories,” says Osama Hamdy, M.D., Ph.D., coauthor of the book and founder of Why WAIT. “Our program cuts the loss of muscle mass in about half of the typical amount in other plans.”

What you eat: To keep calories and blood sugar in check, you consume a meal replacement drink, such as Boost Glucose Control, at breakfast and lunch for the first six weeks. For dinner (as well as breakfast and lunch after the first six weeks) you choose from 14 structured menus with recipes. Snack options are provided, too. Fish, poultry, and lean meat servings average 6-8 ounces at dinner rather than the typical 3 ounces that are normally recommended. Colorful vegetables and high-fiber whole grains are also promoted.

For more information, visit thediabetesbreakthrough.com.
 

DIET PLAN: Mediterranean Diet

Overview: The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle approach to healthy eating based on the food traditions of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It’s largely a plant-based diet but encourages omega-3-rich fish and allows limited amounts of animal-based foods. The diet emphasizes using simple, minimally processed foods to make nutritious meals. The message at the heart of this diet is that meals are best when shared with others and savored. Daily exercise is encouraged.

Diabetes focus: In a review of 17 studies, Mediterranean-style diets were found to significantly improve fasting blood sugar and A1C levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Although many books on the Mediterranean diet are available, The Oldways 4-Week Mediterranean Diet Menu Plan (Oldways, 2012) is a quick read and outlines four weeks of Mediterranean diet meal plans with simple, flavorful recipes. The recipes’ nutritional values are listed in the back of the book, which you can use for calorie and carb counts.

What you eat: Daily staples include in-season fruits, vegetables (especially darky leafy greens), legumes, nuts, minimally processed whole grains, olive oil, and herbs and spices, plus fatty fish at least twice a week, such as salmon, herring, or sardines. Low-fat cheese and yogurt, poultry, and eggs can be eaten in small amounts. Lean red meats and sweets are limited to a few times a month. Dessert is typically fresh fruit.

For more information, visit oldwayspt.org.
 

DIET PLAN: Nutrisystem D

Overview: This program ships you portion-controlled foods that are nutritionally formulated and tested for good blood sugar control. Extensive online resources help you modify food-related behaviors, boost activity, and gain peer and professional support. “Within three months, 80 percent of participants achieve at least a 5 percent reduction in their body weight, which can significantly improve diabetes management,” says Meghan Nichols, RD, manager of research and development at Nutrisystem. 

Diabetes focus: Nutrisystem has counselors, registered dietitians, and certified diabetes educators available to assist you by phone. “Thanks to Nutrisystem’s low-glycemic foods, participants typically find their blood glucose starts to stabilize early on in the program,” says Anthony Fabricatore, Ph.D., vice president of research and development at Nutrisystem. “Minimizing peaks and valleys in blood glucose is a big help in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.” Consult your health care provider about diabetes medication adjustments before you start. Once you meet your weight goal, complete the company’s transition and weight-maintenance program. 

What you eat: “People choose from about 150 different Nutrisystem ready-to-go and frozen foods that are healthier versions of favorite foods, supply about 65 percent of the day’s calories, and cost about $11 a day,” Nichols says. You round out your diet with small amounts of dairy products and nuts, plus fresh fruits and vegetables, and follow a structured plan of five or six small meals and snacks daily.

For more information, visit nutrisystem.com/jsps_hmr/product-pages/diabetic_overview.jsp.
 

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