According to government figures, more than 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese (although excess weight isn’t the only risk factor for this type of diabetes). But for people with type 2 diabetes who fall into that 85 percent, dropping the pounds can help stabilize blood sugar levels and even eliminate the need for blood sugar medication.
So which diet can help you achieve your weight-loss goals? There’s no one right answer. But, says Nora Saul, RD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator and manager of nutritional education at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, “people who have blood sugar can, with a little forethought, use many of the healthy popular diets.”
If you have type 2 diabetes and want to lose weight, here are some sensible diet options to try.
DASH Diet: “Although originally designed to lower blood pressure, DASH — or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — is an all-around good eating plan,” says Saul. In fact, U.S. News and World Report rated the DASH diet as tops for treating diabetes in a May 2011 article. That’s because the diet is high in fruits and vegetables, which means it’s high in fiber, antioxidants, and potassium. It’s also high in low-fat dairy, calcium, lean protein, and whole grains. “It has meal plans for different calorie levels,” says Saul, which allows flexibility according to your weight.
South Beach Diet: The South Beach Diet is a modified low-carb diet that emphasizes healthy fats. If you want to try it, Saul advises sticking to the maintenance phase of the diet. “The initial phases are too low in carbohydrates,” Saul points out. Yes, people with diabetes have to watch how many carbs and the type of carbs they eat, but you don’t want to cut them out entirely. “I encourage whole grains,” says Saul, who warns against eliminating any specific food group, even for weight loss. (Note: Everyday Health is the publisher of SouthBeachDiet.com.)
Weight Watchers: Weight Watchers is a popular commercial weight-loss plan. It’s also a good choice if you have type 2 diabetes, in part because the system provides group support and accountability in addition to a structured eating plan. People with diabetes might need to make some modifications to the diet plan, however. For example, explains Saul, in the latest version of Weight Watchers counting system or “points,” fruit has zero points. But for people with blood sugar, a serving size of fruit does count toward total carb intake for the day.
Mediterranean Diet: Though not a specific eating plan, a Mediterranean diet mimics the way that people who live in countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece and Italy, tend to eat. Rich in beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, grains, and seafood, it isn’t so much a weight-loss diet as a different way of eating. “People lose weight because they are full and are not eating a lot of the empty calories they consumed before,” says Saul, who says this concept works well for people with blood sugar, too.
Atkins Diet: The Atkins Diet gained fame as the diet that led the low-carb diet revolution twice. This diet may be a good option for some people and can help manage blood sugar levels, but it can be too restrictive and may not be a long-term lifestyle choice for everyone with blood sugar. However, reading about and trying out this diet could be a learning experience in terms of understanding how carbs function in your diet.
Jenny Craig: Jenny Craig (now rebranded as Jenny) is a personalized eating and diet program that includes a lot of support as well as prepackaged meals. The catch is that it can be costly and, although the diet plan is intended to ultimately help you make your own meals and food choices, some people might find it difficult to get out of the habit of relying on a stocked freezer. Finally, people with blood sugar that is not adequately controlled may be discouraged from enrolling.
GI Diet: A low glycemic index (GI) diet is an excellent choice for people with type 2 diabetes, Saul says. This one might require some research and study until you understand exactly where foods fit in the glycemic index and how you can include the right ones in your diet. The glycemic index lets you know how fast a 50-gram portion of a carbohydrate food raises blood sugar in comparison with white bread. The lower the number, the better the food is for controlling blood sugar.
Whatever diet you decide on, there are a few overarching principles that should guide your choice. Among them, look for diets that include food you like (or will come to like) and that don’t rely on expensive supplements or tools. And be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any weight-loss regimen.
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