Before you make major changes to your diet, talk with your health care provider or health care team about your nutrition needs to find what works for you.
Which diet is best when you have type 2 diabetes? The truth is, it really depends on you. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), there’s really no one diet that’s superior to all others, since a food you respond well to may not work well for someone else. Plus, we all have unique tastes and preferences—as well as different cultural traditions, health needs, and financial realities that have an effect on what we choose to eat.
Exploring Popular Type 2 Diabetes Diets
In May 2019, the ADA published a consensus report that provides nutrition recommendations based on scientific evidence for people with diabetes. Within the report, they highlight a few common diets and their role in helping manage health conditions. Those diets include:
- A Mediterranean diet, which includes high amounts of fruits, vegetables, bread, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds; low to moderate amounts of dairy, fish, and poultry; and wine consumed in small amounts. These diets don’t have much red meat.
- A vegetarian or vegan diet is focused on plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and grains. Some vegetarian diets may also include eggs and dairy products.
- A low-carb diet involves keeping close track of your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrate intake should emphasize nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources that are high in fiber, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, as well as dairy products.
- The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was created to help people manage high blood pressure. Like other eating plans, it encourages you to make healthy choices and limits red meat, salt, added sugars, and sugary drinks.
- The paleo diet, also known as a paleolithic-style diet, prioritizes fruit, nuts, some veggies, and meat while limiting dairy, grains, added sugars, and alcohol.
But out of these diets, which is best for people with type 2 diabetes? Mediterranean, vegetarian, and low-carb diets were all associated with decreases in A1C, while the DASH diet was found to help with weight loss and blood pressure management. The paleo diet, however, was found to have none of these benefits.
Picking the Best Diabetes-friendly Diet
The research in the consensus report offers good news for you: you can have variety in your eating habits!
Since there’s no single best diet for managing type 2 diabetes, you have some freedom to mix and match healthy favorites from a combination of many dietary patterns.
Healthy choices to consider in your diet include:
- Fresh veggies such as broccoli, green beans, eggplant, and asparagus
- Fresh fruits such as apples, grapefruit, and cherries
- Dairy such as fat-free or low-fat milk and nonfat yogurt
- Whole grains such as whole wheat flour, bulgur, or brown rice
- Legumes such as black beans, lentils, and peas
- Proteins such as eggs, cheese, nuts, fish, poultry, and lean meats
- Good fats such as avocados, almonds, walnuts, and olive oil
Not-so-good choices, or the things you should limit, include:
- Sugar-sweetened drinks like fruit punch, sweet tea, or soda
- High-calorie snacks like sweets or chips
- Fatty meats, lard, butter, sour cream, or full-fat dairy
When you do indulge, remember to keep the portions small.
Selecting a Diet That Works for You
With all of the marketing buzz about popular diets, it can be tough to know exactly what’s best for you—especially if you’re managing a chronic disease like type 2 diabetes. Considering all the nutrition decisions you make in your everyday life, whether it’s at the grocery store, restaurants, or work, it’s okay to be confused about what to choose.
Just remember: type 2 diabetes management is uniquely personal. There’s no single diet that works best for everyone, just like there’s no one-size-fits-all management plan for diabetes.
Try your best to stick to healthy choices, follow your health care provider’s instructions, and opt for variety and try new foods or recipes. Luckily, a diabetes-friendly diet includes plenty of good-for-you options, from colorful produce to lean meats and proteins that can make shopping, cooking, and eating out fun for the whole family. Bon appétit!