People often refer to weight loss as one of the key management strategies for type 2 diabetes.
Yet, many other factors can lead to diabetes, and not everyone with diabetes is of higher body weight.
Regardless of your weight, if you have diabetes, a healthy diet can help to improve your blood sugar control, and also help with weight management.
In this article, we will explore the link between weight and diabetes and examine some of the key features of a good diet for diabetics, and one that can help you lose weight if this is relevant for you.
Read on to find out more about diabetes friendly diets and weight loss.
What is a diabetic diet?
There are many types of diets, and ways of eating that can support your health when you are living with diabetes mellitus.
However, there is no single diabetic diet.
Different approaches for following a diabetes diet will work for some, while something different may work for others.
It is essential to understand some critical facts about the different types of diabetes diets so that you can decide which one, if any, are best for you.
Some people may benefit from changing their diet in several ways when they have diabetes.
In contrast, some people may already be following a diet based on healthy eating, and therefore may only need to make subtle changes.
A useful definition for a diabetic diet supports you in managing your diabetes.
This will be different for everyone with diabetes since they will have varying goals related to their condition.
For example, some people may wish to lose weight to help improve their diabetes management.
Whereas some may want to focus more on adapting the kinds of food or the amount of carbohydrate they eat to improve their blood sugar level.
While we have discussed that there is no perfect diabetes diet for everyone, there are some common characteristics of a balanced diet and healthy eating plan that are widely agreed to support those living with diabetes.
Within this article, you will learn about what those characteristics are so that you can make an informed choice as to the kinds of changes you may wish to make to your own diet to help you focus more on healthy eating.
Get Your FREE Diabetes Diet Plan
- 15 foods to naturally lower blood sugar levels
- 3 day sample meal plan
- Designed exclusively by our nutritionist
The connection between weight and diabetes
The majority of people with type 2 diabetes are classified as overweight or obese.
However, it is important to note that many other risk factors can increase the risk of developing diabetes.
These include – ethnicity, age, family history, genetics, medical conditions such as high blood pressure, renal problems, prediabetes, and other lifestyle factors such as a lack of physical activity.
Furthermore, people living with diabetes are at an increased risk of experiencing weight stigma due to their condition and body weight, which can lead to mental health difficulties and the diabetic patient losing confidence in medical support.
In a study of over 1000 people living with diabetes, over half reported weight-related stigma, and 40-60% reported experiencing this within a healthcare environment.
Before we draw seemingly simple links between type 2 diabetes and body weight, we must remember that the relationship is complex, as is the disease itself.
When you carry additional weight around your middle (abdominal) area, this can put further pressure on your organs.
Pressure can be caused by extra fat surrounding organs, including the liver and the pancreas.
This is key to the development and management of diabetes as the pancreas is the organ that produces insulin.
Additional weight around your liver and pancreas can lead to insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is when the insulin your produce, or the insulin you inject if you already have diabetes and take insulin, doesn’t work correctly.
This can lead to raised blood sugar levels.
Losing some body weight and reducing pressure on these organs can help your insulin production be more effective or reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance, thus improving insulin sensitivity.
If you already have diabetes and inject insulin, losing any extra weight can help the insulin that you inject to work more effectively.
Recommended foods for a diabetic diet
There are plenty of delicious and nutritious foods that you can eat if you follow a healthier diet for your diabetes.
What’s more, this will not look the same for everyone!
Some people may choose to eat a plant-based or vegetarian diet, whereas some may choose to eat more lean protein in meat or fish while still enjoying plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates.
Basing your diet mainly on the below foods and eating fewer processed foods can help to improve the balance of your diabetes, improve your blood sugar control and prevent weight gain:
Fruit and Vegetables
More wholegrain carbohydrates, such as brown rice, pasta, bread, and other grains.
Lean Protein and other vegetarian or plant-based healthy protein foods
These include white fish, meat with the fat trimmed, nuts and seeds, beans, lentils, pulses, and soy-based foods.
These include foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. For example, olive oils and other vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish.
High fiber foods
Studies show that eating more high-fiber foods can help to improve your blood sugar control and help with weight loss.
High-fiber foods are also good for gut health.
And those who eat a high fiber diet have been found to have a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.
RELATED: 10 Foods That Help You Lose Weight.
Foods to limit in a diabetic diet
It is widely agreed that some foods don’t fit into the standard definition of healthy eating when eaten in large quantities.
If you are trying to manage your diabetes using healthy diet changes, or you just wish to eat a balanced and healthy diet, consider limiting your intake of the below foods:
Foods high in saturated fat
These include red meat, processed meat products, butter, lard, ghee, and coconut oil.
Some manufactured foods such as savory snacks, cakes, and biscuits are also high in saturated fat.
Instead, try and eat more foods that contain healthy fats.
White or refined carbohydrates
Your carbohydrate intake directly impacts your blood glucose level.
This is normal and is not to say that people living with diabetes shouldn’t eat carbohydrates.
While some people choose to follow a low carbohydrate diet, this is not an approach that suits everyone.
However, having a high carbohydrate intake can lead to poor glycemic control.
So it is better to choose complex/wholegrain carbohydrates.
Having too many high sugar foods such as sweets, cakes and biscuits is not advisable when you’re trying to focus on healthy eating.
And the same goes for people trying to improve their blood sugar control, and generally those with diabetes (including gestational diabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes).
Too many sugary foods can promote weight gain, worsen your blood sugar control, and can lead to poor dental health.
Meats, savory and sugary snacks, and some tinned, dried, and frozen goods are common examples of processed foods.
Processed foods can be valuable for some people (and are not always unhealthy). But for many they can have limited benefits in your diet.
Limit your intake of processed foods that are high in fats, sugar, and salt.
Remember that limiting your intake of the above foods does not mean that you have to cut them out completely.
It is important not to deprive yourself as this may lead to bingeing or overeating later to compensate for cutting out too many calories when you were dieting.
A healthy diet will look different for everyone, and weight loss results will vary.
For example, while some people advocate for the efficacy of the keto diet, many find it too restrictive and experience side effects.
Others enjoy the low glycemic index (GI) diet and find it improves their blood sugar control. Whereas some people find it too complicated.
Discuss any diabetes diet changes with your specialist healthcare team.
Results of a diabetic diet
Research shows that if you have type 2 diabetes and have extra weight to lose – losing 15kg can help put your diabetes into remission.
This can be significant for your quality of life and could include stopping diabetes medication or insulin.
It has also been shown through research that losing 5% of your body weight can improve your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels if you have type 2 diabetes.
Some people also find that if they lose additional weight, they have more energy, sleep better, and can carry out tasks such as physical activity.
Are there any risks?
Losing weight is not without risks.
For many people, they may regain the weight, and sometimes even more than they lost.
In one study, participants were reviewed three years after they finished a weight loss program.
Only 12% of them had kept off at least 75% of the weight they’d lost. While 40% of participants had gained back more weight than they had initially lost.
This is clearly a risk for many people who embark on a weight loss diet and highlights the need for expert guidance, support, and people to choose an approach that is sustainable for them.
Another risk of following a diabetic diet for weight loss is nutritional deficiencies.
If you do not pay careful attention to the types of food you are eating, or if you cut out an entire food group (carbohydrates are a good example of this), you can miss out on essential nutrients.
Ensure you consult a healthcare professional when making changes to your diet to try and lose weight.
Don’t get tempted by fad diets that promise rapid weight loss but don’t focus on providing all the nutrients you need for a healthy diet.
It can be beneficial to lose weight if you live with diabetes, although there are some key things to remember.
Finding the right approach for you is essential, as is embarking on any changes with the right support and guidance.
Remember that there are many different approaches out there.
What works for one person will not necessarily work for another.
Seek professional advice if you wish to lose weight and consider whether following a meal plan will benefit you.