A diabetic diet? Is there such a thing? ADA's new summary of nutrition guidelines

5/24/2019 by mySugr

Anyone diagnosed with diabetes quickly learns that diet is a powerful tool in managing blood sugars.

It doesn’t matter what type of diabetes you live with; you’ll benefit by learning more about your dietary habits and how you can be smarter about your food to stay in your target range more often. But that’s far easier said than done, isn’t it! Food becomes front and center in any diabetes management plan. It doesn’t help that guidelines have changed a lot over the years and that there’s so much misinformation out there.

A new summary of nutrition guidelines for people with diabetes

However, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines are the gold standard. A couple of weeks ago, the ADA released a consensus report to summarize the nutrition recommendations for adults with diabetes and pre-diabetes. We’ve highlighted some of the most exciting things in this article. If what you read here intrigues you, we encourage you to read the original report for more details and ask your Certified Diabetes Educator or coach about it.

Do my eating habits matter?

First, let’s clear up one concern. What you eat DOES matter. Many people with diabetes get frustrated that their blood sugar numbers never seem to track any regular pattern. However, from the report, there is strong evidence that medical nutrition therapy, as recommended by a Registered Dietitian, can improve A1C levels. They observed greater than 1% reduction within 3-6 months, with greater improvement over time. That may sound like a tiny amount, but it’s actually a lot! That’s more than many oral diabetes medications! And don’t forget, every bit helps! Thus, using diet to manage your HbA1c, which is so crucial for long-term diabetes management, is worth exploring.

So why didn't I get coaching?

Sadly, most people with diabetes never receive any nutritional therapy or formal education about diabetes. That’s one reason we created mySugr Coach (available with the mySugr Bundle) so that our customers can work with Certified Diabetes Educators right through the app and get this type of high-quality education and information. If you have never received any sort of nutrition coaching after your diagnosis, it might be worthwhile to make an appointment with a dietitian or reach out to your coach through the app. Keeping a food log for a week or two is a great first step to evaluating your eating habits, especially when you have blood sugar data by its side! Thankfully, that’s all easy to do with the mySugr app.

What to eat

Diabetes diet plans of the past focus on an ideal percentage of carbs, protein, and fat, the so-called “macronutrients” for all people with and without diabetes. These plans lock us into some ideal of how we should eat. However, after studying all the data, it turns out that there are NO ideal percentages that fit all people affected with diabetes. Not only did the consensus report conclude that a one-size-fits-all eating plan doesn’t work for managing, or even preventing, diabetes, it goes so far as to say that it’s unrealistic to even think there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all plan that is reasonable for everyone. Frankly, this is astonishing! Popular belief leads you to believe you’re like a machine – put in the right fuel and you’ll automatically react a certain way. But this report says otherwise. You have to find the right foods, and the right balance of those foods, that work best for your individual diabetes management. So, what’s to be done? Find out what works best for YOU. Getting help from a dietitian familiar with medical nutrition therapy for diabetes can help. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case your blood sugar and A1C numbers. The report recommends four eating tips that did result in improved numbers:
  1. Emphasize non-starchy vegetables.
  2. Minimize added sugars and refined grains.
  3. Choose whole foods over highly processed foods.
  4. Reduce overall carb intake and increase fiber.
These recommendations have been taught as part of a healthy eating plan for diabetes for years, so this consensus report emphasizes what we already know to be true. Reducing your portion of high carb foods, especially the refined ones like white bread, and eating lots of plants will slow down your blood sugar rise. Instead of needing to stick to a certain percentage of nutrients per day, you can see what foods work well for you and your blood sugar management plan. You can check your blood sugar before you eat, then 1-2 hours after your meal to see how it impacts your blood sugar! The report also has a section on sugar-sweetened drinks. It suggests that water is always the best option, but any sugar-free drinks are a fine replacement for sweetened drinks like regular soda. Thank goodness – we know Scott loves his Diet Coke.

But I like my special diet!

Many people with diabetes have reported success by sticking with keto diets, vegan diets, paleo diets, vegetarian diets, and even things like intermittent fasting. Sometimes these are promoted by their enthusiasts as the silver dietary bullet for blood sugar control. While these specific diets didn’t show to have a significant impact on blood glucose in either direction, it if works for you, stick with it. We think that what is being challenged most in the report is the idea that any particular one-diet-fits-all approach works for every person with diabetes. In fact, for those who feel hemmed in by their diets, this report gives you the freedom to explore what works best for your numbers provided you follow the four main recommendations. Let your numbers do the talking! Indeed, the report does say that, for adults with type 2 diabetes who want to prevent adding more medications or decrease their current medications to meet their blood glucose targets, it may be appropriate to try a “very low-carb” approach.

What now?

This is just the tip of the iceberg for the advice inside the report. Much of it is in medical-ese, so if you have a specific question about what the related guidelines are, our experts can help explain what else is in there – don’t hesitate to reach out.

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