The Amazing “Magical Diet”
The straight poop about several popular food plans, from Jennifer Smith, RD, LDN, CDE – Director of Lifestyle & Nutrition Education at Integrated Diabetes Services
The age old (really old!) question is always, “What diet is best for________?” Since we live with diabetes, that’s usually the fill-in-the-blank.
There are a many new diet programs popping up. Often, people start with someone else’s idea and tweak it because it doesn’t work quite right for them. Then, someone else tries the tweaked plan, and it gets tweaked again. The straight up answer is that none of the following programs are perfect and they each have perks and downsides. I think the best thing to do is start by asking yourself, “Can I commit to it for a lifetime?” If you answer yes, then it might right for you.
The Paleo Diet takes out all grains and many/most fruits and some veggies. Many people with diabetes will experience improved BG from the drop in carb content, but they often also experience odd upward swings in BG hours after a meal due to the low carb and higher protein/fat nature of the meals. If you can manage to control your blood sugar around meal times, Paleo can be a way to drop weight and decrease the overall amount of insulin used. It is not a balanced diet however. You will be missing out on the great benefit of whole grains and healthy fruits.
The 5:2 diet
The 5:2 Diet involves severe caloric restriction for two non-consecutive days a week and normal/unrestricted eating the other five days. It is a form of intermittent fasting. Creators of the 5:2 diet claim that it promotes weight loss and has several other beneficial effects on health. Losing weight will help BG control in the long term. However, diets like this can, on a day-to-day basis, wreak havoc on BG control because of the disorder it creates in the body. Our bodies are meant to take in fuel evenly through the course of the day. For weight and BG control this helps create a balanced system of intake and expenditure. What you eat now should be used for energy in the 3-4 hours that follow. The biggest issue with the 5:2 diet comes on the days when you aren’t fasting. With no restrictions, many people who have never learned about hunger signals and how to acknowledge when they feel full will out-eat the benefit of the fasted days, thus taking in more calories than they intended in a week’s time.
The Gluten Free Diet really is specific to those who need a wheat-free or truly gluten free diet. Many people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon without a need to eat gluten-free, thinking that gluten-free foods are healthier. Many gluten-free products are just as refined as those commonly made with gluten-containing grains. Something made with rice flour or potato flour may be free of gluten, but it will not exactly be kind to those trying to minimize post-meal blood sugar spikes.
A Vegan Diet
A Vegan Diet can be quite well-balanced. It includes all the food groups – less, of course, animal products (meats) for protein. The good news is that there are many ways to obtain adequate protein in a plant-based diet. Getting rid of meats means that also getting rid of animal-based fats, which can decrease inflammation in the body and help to improve insulin sensitivity. When I went to college and stopped eating meat, I personally noticed an improvement in my blood sugar control.
There is no single macrobiotic diet plan. It can be catered to a person’s preference within the constraints of what macrobiotic eating means, so there are many variations. Most macrobiotic diets derive from a common menu, however. They’re essentially vegetarian and emphasize natural, organically and locally-grown whole foods. Whole grains—brown rice, barley, oats, rye, buckwheat—make up the bulk of your day’s foods. Vegetables, including the leafy green, root, and sea varieties, along with beans and soybean products like tofu and tempeh, are also encouraged. Fruit, fish and seafood, seeds, and nuts might be on the menu once or twice a week, but dairy, eggs, poultry, red meat, and anything artificial, processed, or with chemical additives will almost certainly be absent. The focus of a macrobiotic diet is on food which is thought to possess abundant energy. Where it grew, how it was prepared, and a myriad other factors affect how that energy will flow. When you eat, the energy is transferred from the food to your body. The diet tends to be heavier in carbs than other diet plans due to a heavy emphasis on grains and fruit/veggies. However, choosing carb-containing foods that are low on the glycemic index will help to minimize blood sugar swings.
Raw Food Diet
A raw food diet is just that – food that hasn’t been processed (similar to macrobiotic), but one step further in that food can’t have been “cooked” to a temperature above 115 degrees. The only processed foods allowed are those that have been fermented (such as kimchee) or those dissolved in vinegar. It can be an expensive and time-consuming diet to follow, and is best suited to those who have or can easily use kitchen gadgets like a food processor. There are many health claims associated with this diet, but none specific to diabetes. A raw diet is, for the most part, also a vegan diet, although some followers consume raw fish as well as raw dairy products. It contains many fruits and vegetables since these are easily eaten in their raw form. From the standpoint of blood sugar control, it can be gentle on management because of the generally low-glycemic-index of most of the foods.
The good news is that none of these diets is particularly “bad” for someone with diabetes. However, if you’re looking for a magical meal plan that is best for everyone, stop wasting your time. I have always felt that it is best to match the meal plan to the person, and not the other way around. I advise our clients to take the time to learn all there is to know about a diet before making a long-term commitment. Swinging between different ways of eating isn’t good for anyone, and is certainly not ideal for managing blood sugar levels.
Feel free to contact me anytime if you have questions or would like to discuss any particular diet plan.