Debunking Fad Diets for Folks With Diabetes

While "F" stands for "fad," it also stands for "fluctuations." By no fault of their own, most people who follow fad diets are eventually unsuccessful due to their restrictive and unsustainable nature. They set us all up for yo-yo results. It seems as though every month, there is a new flavor of the month type of diet, which usually encourages everything BUT a healthy balance.

Are fad diets bad for diabetes management?

For people with diabetes, these extreme eating behaviors can make blood sugar regulation more challenging than it has to be. Learn how to discern facts from fiction when it comes to your previously favorite fad diet.

Fad diets create a vicious cycle

Fad diets often begin with intense enthusiasm and success, improving both confidence and feelings of self-efficacy. Unfortunately, this positivity is usually short-lived. Due to fad diets' restrictive nature, there is often a growing obsession with food and eating. It often causes people to categorize foods into "good" or "bad," ultimately tampering with one to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Fad diets can also intensify a fixation on foods that are deemed restricted, which can increase feelings of irritability and depression.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Well, because they seem so enticing, easy, and quick; even health experts sometimes fall for fads. And that marketing, they do such a great job convincing people. Don’t judge yourself for any past fad diets unless you want to judge the 99% of others who have followed them too. Fact is, eventually, people will deviate from the fad diet, only to be met by guilt, failure, and decreased confidence. But rather than giving a fad diet another go on Monday, learn how to incorporate appropriate portions of ALL food items. Free the whole grains! Free the starches! All hail the potato, along with !

How to spot a fad diet

Avoid all fad diets. Sounds simple enough, right? But, with all of the mixed information on the internet, magazines, and social media, how can people differentiate between the good and the bad? Put on your investigator hat and check out these clues to identifying a fad diet.

  • Restricts or eliminates entire food groups
  • Claims substantial and rapid results
  • Uses the term "miracle foods" and "scientific breakthroughs"
  • Relies on anecdotal evidence or insufficient research
  • Claims to protect from multiple conditions such as the common cold, arthritis, cancers, heart disease, etc.

Call it quits on these fad diets

Where to begin?! For someone with type 2 diabetes, these fad diets can be extra problematic. Check out why you should consider avoiding these popular diets when managing diabetes.

Ketogenic and type 2 diabetes

Stay cautious with keto. This high fat, extremely low carbohydrate diet promotes that its followers will "rely on fat for fuel." Although this has been used effectively with seizure disorders, more long-term research is needed for type 2 diabetes. With most of the diet coming from fat, it typically encourages a high consumption of saturated fats such as red meat, butter, and high-fat dairy, which increases the risks of cardiovascular-related issues – common complications associated with diabetes. One benefit of keto is the elimination of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. These foods are often consumed in excess and contribute to energy imbalance and weight gain which are the route of many chronic diseases in the US. Keto meal choices can be an effective tool when dining out to avoid hidden sugars and refined flours. For example, when cooking a meal at home, you can choose whole grain or sugar-free dressings, condiments, sauces, etc. When eating out, it’s not always possible to identify the hidden ingredients.

Currently, the American Diabetes Association’s Standards of Medical Care states that “low carbohydrate eating plans may result in improved glycemia and have the potential to reduce antihyperglycemic medications for individuals with type 2 diabetes.”4 But, while the ketogenic diet may be an effective way to manage blood sugar levels, it isn’t necessarily the best whole-body approach to health.

Going keto involves eliminating whole grains, starchy vegetables, and most fruit—all phytonutrient-rich fiber sources that help decrease the risk of disease. High fiber diets can help protect against heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, certain types of cancer, and some gastrointestinal disorders — many of which are common complications associated with diabetes.1 Currently, the daily fiber recommendations are 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women under 50 years old. For older adults, the recommendation is to consume 30 grams or 21 grams per day for men and women, respectively.5 The majority of Americans do not meet their fiber requirements. When counseling patients who have followed keto, I have consistently observed fiber needs were well below recommended needs. But, in addition to reaching one's fiber needs, research shows that a diversified food intake of fiber-rich foods can significantly improve the health of the microbiome to decrease chronic inflammation and overall disease risk.6 In other words, whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit have too many nutrients to ignore. Plus, eating an array of different colorful whole foods from plants provides a plethora of phytonutrients that offer anti-virus, anti-bacteria, and brain benefits.

Keto may be identified as one option to improve glycemic control, but there are more balanced options that are associated with longevity. If you choose to adopt an extremely low carbohydrate lifestyle, use meat to complement your meal rather than have it be the star of the show. Choose more fats from nuts and seeds in place of fat from meat. Also, keep in mind that probiotics found in non-keto-approved foods can help improve the microbiome to better your overall health. After all, you have to trust your gut! While this diet may help stabilize blood glucose levels, there are other ways to do so that are more inclusive to all food groups. The Keto diet also promotes and all or nothing approach, which can lead to a “diet mentality.” This is often associated with weight cycling which increases the risk of cardiometabolic diseases.8 If you decide to pursue a keto diet, work with a certified diabetes educator to best optimize your diet for some of the nutrients you may be eating in much lower quantities than is recommended.

Also, if you have a history of disordered eating, eating disorders, or kidney disease, this is best to be avoided. If you’re trying to become pregnant, pregnant or lactating, skip the keto diet. Lastly, if you start this diet, make sure to first talk to your physician about adjusting your diabetes medications.

Whole 30 and type 2 diabetes

A diet that is not very wholesome, despite its title! This month-long diet encourages eliminating sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy. One is essentially limited to the consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, seafood, and unprocessed meat. However, many of the foods restricted are actually positive choices that can help improve diabetes management. A plant-based diet rich in whole grains, legumes, and soy can lower the risk of metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Not to mention, whole grains and legumes offer high fiber content which can also help stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day!2

Intermittent fasting and type 2 diabetes

This diet is a big no-no for people with diabetes. It promotes long-duration fasts that can cause drastic shifts in blood sugar levels. Significant blood glucose fluctuations can increase oxidative stress and damage the integrity of blood vessels, which can increase the risk of disease.3 Not to mention, plummeting blood sugar levels can cause severe hypoglycemia, which may result in blurry vision, unconsciousness, weakness, dizziness, confusion, seizures, and more.4

For balanced and sustainable alternatives, stay tuned for our upcoming article, "Healthy Alternatives to Live Fad Diet Free."

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