Diet is a crucial aspect of type 2 diabetes management, but it can be hard to assess which diet you think may be best for you.
If you are newly diagnosed, you are likely to uncover conflicting information. The NHS recommends people with diabetes receive half their daily intake of calories from carbohydrates, while there is evidence to suggest benefits of adopting a low-carb diet.
If you are treated with blood glucose-lowering medication, which increases the risk of hypoglycemia, certain diets may require close monitoring of blood glucose levels to reduce the risk of hypos.
We’ve listed the pros and cons of which diets can be considered for people with type 2 diabetes, and looked at how they could affect your management.
*Before undertaking any major changes to your diet, you should first consult your doctor and/or dietitian.
1. Low-carb diet
The low-carb diet involves reducing your carb intake to less than 130g a day. To replace these carbs, and the calories that are lost, eating monosaturated fats such as oily fish, nuts, olive oil and avocados is recommended. The diet encourages a stronger intake of vegetables.
Pros: There is wide-ranging scientific and anecdotal evidence of the low-carb diet improving glycemic control in patients with diabetes.
Furthermore, it helps many people achieve weight loss, with the theory being that carb reduction leads to less insulin production. With less stress placed upon insulin cells, the diet can be beneficial in helping people with type 2 diabetes to reduce dependence on diabetes medication.
Cons: A commonly held argument by the NHS and Diabetes UK is that there is a lack of evidence confirming the long-term safety of the low-carb diet.
Significantly reducing carb intake could also to low blood glucose levels in people on any diabetes medication that can lead to hypos. This would need addressing with your doctor.
Who is the diet not suitable for? People with reduced kidney function should consult their doctor before considering the diet, as should those with a history of heart problems.
2. Mediterranean diet
You will eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fibre on the Mediterranean diet. The diet is low in processed foods, while sources of fat include olive oil, oily fish, mozzarella cheese and yoghurts. Carbs can be eaten in the form of freshly made bread and pasta, but try to stick to portions that won’t adversely raise your blood glucose levels.
Pros: When combined with regular exercise, the diet has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer, while also improving heart health. It is easy to follow, and not linked with vitamin or nutritional deficiencies.
Cons: It may take time to assess what quantities of certain foods you can have, such as fruit or carbs, which may cause blood sugar spikes.
3. 5:2 Fasting diet
The 5:2 diet is an intermittent fasting diet. For five days of the week, you stick to the daily advised calorie intake (2,500 kcal per day for men, 2,000 kcal per day for women), and for two days – which cannot be consecutive – you have 25 per cent of these values.
Pros: A number of benefits have been reported from clinical studies on type 2 patients, including weight loss, reduced LDL cholesterol and reduced insulin resistance.
The flexibility of the diet has also been praised – allowing people to eat a regular amount of calories on most days of the week, but still receive health benefits through the two days of fasting.
Cons: Similarly to the low-carb diet, the long-term safety of the 5:2 diet has not yet been established. Also, the risk of hypoglycemia could be significantly raised if you take insulin, or other hypo-causing medication.
Who is the diet not suitable for? It’s important that anyone on hypo causing medication discuss how to avoid hypos occurring before starting the diet.
4. Ketogenic diet
Ketogenic diets are high in fat. They typically involve eating a 4:1 weight ratio of four parts fat and one part from a combination of protein and carbohydrate. The diet induces ketosis, which is when the body breaks down fat for energy.
Pros: Some research has shown that by excluding high-carb foods from your diet – you may eat as little as 40g per day – the ketogenic diet can be effective in controlling blood glucose levels.
Cons: There are doubts among medical professionals over the long-term safety of the ketogenic diet, which hasn’t yet been established, as well as being in prolonged periods of ketosis.
Who is the diet not suitable for? You should see a specialist prior to taking on the ketogenic diet to make sure that it is carried out safely.
5. Newcastle diet
The Newcastle diet is a short-term, very low-calorie diet which has been effective in reversing the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. 600 calories come from meal replacement shakes, while 200 calories come from non-starchy vegetables.
Pros: The diet has been shown, under supervised research conditions, to significantly lower body weight and improve blood glucose levels. This is to the extent in which a significant proportion of individuals with type 2 diabetes have been able to come their diabetes medication.
Cons: The very low calorie intake makes the diet difficult to stick to. Moreover, the diet should only be conducted under medical supervision as it is an extreme form of diet. Side effects such as headaches and dizziness have been observed.
6. Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet is a specific form of low carbohydrate diet. Over four phases, the aim is to lose weight and keep it off through limiting carb intake and eating lots of non-starchy vegetables.
Pros: Weight loss is a primary benefit, with advocates of the diet reporting that 15 pounds can be lost in the first two weeks, although this is largely through lost water.
Cons: Similarly to the ketogenic diet, people on this diet experience periods of ketosis, the long-term safety of which is uncertain. Nausea and diarrhoea can also be experienced in the early stages of the diet.
Who is the diet not suitable for?: You should not consider adopting the Atkins diet if you have severe kidney disease, are pregnant or breastfeeding.
7. Low Fat Diet
A low-fat diet helps reduce calorie intake, and will typically involve eating foods such as lean meats, fish, vegetables and fruit. The low-fat diet opposes the low-carb diet, as you replace fatty foods with carbs.
Pros: As fat carries more calories per gram than carbs or proteins, limiting how many calories you eat can aid weight loss, while also improving cholesterol levels.
Cons: The diet is recommended by many health organisations, including the NHS, but a criticism is that by relying more on carbs, patients with type 2 diabetes may experience higher blood glucose levels than those on low carbohydrate diets.
Which diet would you recommend for somebody newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and why? Share your thoughts below.