Recognizing Diets That Don’t Work When Managing Diabetes

By Alan L. Rubin

For the overweight person with type 2 diabetes, any diet that causes some weight loss helps for a time. But you have to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I prepared to stay on this diet indefinitely?

  • Is this diet healthy for me in the long run?

  • Does it combine all the features I need — namely weight loss, reduction of blood glucose, and reduction of blood fat levels — with palatability and reasonable cost?

If you can say yes to all these questions, the diet will probably work for you.

So how do you know which diets are healthy and effective, and which aren’t? When you walk into a reasonably large bookstore, you may be overwhelmed by the number of diet books. But the more books that are written about this subject, the less we seem to know for certain. Why would authors bother to write dozens of new books on dieting each year if the solution rested in some older book? You can bet that word of mouth would have made that book the all-time bestseller in any category.

The diet books in print these days are way too numerous to list here, but they can be grouped into a few categories:

  • Diets that promote a lot of protein with little carbohydrate: The trouble with these diets is that they’re not a healthy and balanced approach. Unless you use tofu as your source of protein, you will be getting a lot of fat in your diet, much of it saturated fat, which is not good for you. The diet is lacking in vitamins that a supplemental vitamin pill may or may not provide. Few people stay on such a diet for long. How many people can eat chicken for breakfast, lunch, and supper? The diet is also lacking in potassium, an essential mineral.

    People who do follow this kind of diet for a long time also find that they have problems with hair loss, cracking nails, and dry skin. Their breath and their urine smell of acetone because of all the fat breakdown. They become very dry and need to drink large quantities of beverages.

    Some people with type 2 diabetes who have high blood glucose levels show rapid improvement when started on a diet like this. As the glucose comes under control, the diet can be changed to a more balanced one.

  • Diets that promote little or no fat: The people who can follow a diet that is less than 20 percent fat deserve a new designation — fatnatics. This kind of diet is extremely difficult to prepare and perhaps even more difficult to eat unless you’re a rabbit. In order to make up the calories, people on this diet eat large amounts of carbohydrates, which is not a good idea for people with diabetes.

    Like the protein diet, this diet may be lacking in essential vitamins and minerals, especially the fat-soluble vitamins. Rarely do people stay on such a diet after they leave the confines of a spa or other sanctuary where the diet is promoted. However, this approach may also be a good way to start a dietary program for a person with type 2 diabetes, as long as the total calories are not greater than the daily needs of that individual.

  • Very-low-calorie diets: These diets require taking in food and drinks that contain less than 800 kilocalories daily (and generally do not taste very good). They are lacking in many essential nutrients and must be supplemented by vitamins and minerals. This approach cannot form the basis of a permanent diet because the dieter would eventually become emaciated. Most dieters who start this kind of program do not last on it and regain every ounce they have lost and then some. (There are always exceptions, of course.)

    The transition from a very-low-calorie diet to a balanced diet is very difficult and rarely succeeds.