Top 10 DANGEROUS Diet Fads
3 Diet Fads That May Influence Your Diabetes Risk
Before trying a popular diet to help prevent diabetes, consider how the program may affect your blood sugar levels.
By Stephanie Bucklin
Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD
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Around the globe, more and more people are changing their diet in hopes of achieving their ideal body weight. According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Report, 83 percent of people in North America reported changing their diet to try to lose weight, while 11 percent in the region reported using popular diet pills, bars, and shakes to shed extra pounds. In fact, Boston Medical Center estimates 45 million Americans go on a diet each year, spending about billion on weight-loss products annually.
While most of us pursue those efforts to achieve an attractive waistline, what we decide to nourish our bodies with affects more than just our weight: For those people whose biology and genetics have potentially left them at a greater risk of certain diseases — like prediabetes and type 2 diabetes — it’s important to be mindful of a popular diet’s characteristics when picking one to follow. That’s because what we eat may have a direct impact on our risk of these ailments, says Lori Chong, CDE, RD, a dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
“The underlying problem in type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, and there are several dietary factors that may increase insulin resistance,” Chong explains.
Eating plans can also have a major impact on long-term health, especially when overeating or following a plan that calls for omitting certain food groups and nutrients over time. Here are just a few of the diets that may impact how your body controls blood sugar, and in turn potentially affect your risk of type 2 diabetes.
What It Is
People who follow a gluten-free diet avoid consuming the protein gluten, found in wheat, barley, and rye, and other grains. As a result, they often avoid foods like bread, pasta, pastries, and pizza — or substitute gluten-free alternatives made from other grains, like rice flour or almond flour.
Possible Impact on Diabetes Risk
Although data suggests that an increasing number of Americans without celiac disease are following a gluten-free diet, experts generally don’t recommend people without celiac or gluten sensitivity try this eating plan — especially not to help prevent diabetes. That’s because many gluten-free products contain refined, not whole, grains, says Cara Lowenthal, MPH, CDE, a registered dietitian at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
When the fiber-rich portion of gluten-free grains are stripped away during the production process (in an effort to make them taste more like the gluten-containing original versions), they move up the glycemic index (GI), Lowenthal explains. The glycemic index assigns various carbohydrates a value between 0 and 100 based on how quickly they raise blood sugar levels. Simple carbs, like sugar and white bread, are high-GI foods, while complex carbs, like whole grains, are low-GI foods, according to the . “It doesn’t mean that all gluten-free products are going to be high in refined carbs, but a lot of them tend to be,” Lowenthal says.
If you don’t have celiac disease but are eating processed gluten-free products, you may be needlessly consuming fare that’s been stripped of its fiber, thereby increasing your risk of blood sugar spikes and potentially triggering more insulin production. This effect may lead to insulin resistance — the hallmark of type 2 diabetes — down the line, Lowenthal explains.
For instance, in a study published in March 2014 in theBritish Journal of Nutrition, higher consumption of refined rice and noodles was associated with higher fasting glucose concentrations in the blood — which suggests that high consumption of these foods may contribute to high blood sugar caused by greater insulin resistance, according to the study's authors.
Also, the diet “could increase somebody’s carb percentage, just because gluten-free products tend to be a little higher in carbs than their wheat counterparts,” adds Chong, who was not involved in the March 2014 study.
Of course, if you’re instead reaching for nutritious whole foods that are naturally gluten free, and are avoiding processed foods, you’re less likely to experience this, Lowenthal notes. Foods that would fall into this group include nonstarchy vegetables, protein sources such as beans and poultry, and fats like nuts and avocados.
What It Is
The ketogenic, or “keto,” diet calls for significantly limiting carbs in an attempt to force the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. Because high carbohydrate consumption is associated with blood sugar spikes and weight gain, the keto diet has become a popular choice among people with type 2 diabetes, as well as some celebrities.
Possible Impact on Diabetes Risk
While there may be some potential health benefits of following the keto diet to prevent and manage diabetes, cutting out all carbohydrates can be dangerous for the body — even for those people with diabetes. Although it’s a common misconception that carbs should be avoided if you have the disease, it’s actually true that this group still needs these types of foods for their bodies to function properly.
Plus, by eliminating this food group, people following the keto diet may consume too much saturated fat, such as that from butter, coconut oil, and heavy cream, which may contribute to insulin resistance, Chong says. Because people following the keto diet are limiting carbs, they often end up getting more of their calories through fats — including animal fats (again saturated) found in meat and fat-containing dairy products, which can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Plus, by reducing the number of carbohydrates you consume, you may be missing out on some of the fiber you’d reap from certain foods, like oatmeal, lentils, blueberries, and nuts. That restriction may lead to other issues, like high cholesterol and altered blood sugar response, Lowenthal says.
Research published inThe American Journal of Nutrition even found that a diet full of fiber-rich whole grains could help reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes in the male study group. Though the findings were restricted to a male population, they align with — eating a fiber-rich diet can promote healthy blood glucose levels. Fibrous foods include oatmeal, lentils, blueberries, and nuts.
By following a keto diet, you may miss out on important nutrients, such as fiber, and may actually increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. And because fats are more calorie-dense than proteins or carbs, you may actually end up eating more calories than you intended, Lowenthal explains. This can potentially lead to unintended weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
If you do try a keto diet, make sure you’re getting enough fiber and other nutrients. Most important, make sure you aren’t overeating saturated fat, Chong says. To ensure these recommendations are met, consider working with a dietitian to come up with a safe approach that meets your individual goals.
What It Is
Followers of the paleo diet eschew grains, beans, and processed foods and go back to the food groups that our ancestors presumably munched on: nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and meats. The diet aims to cut refined sugars, alcohol, and other so-called frankenfoods — that is, those foods that have been altered from their original state — that proponents believe contribute to weight gain and many modern diseases.
Possible Impact on Diabetes Risk
“The paleo diet is very high in saturated fat, which could promote insulin resistance,” Lowenthal says. According to a study published in February 2019 inThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consumption of foods like full-fat cheese and butter
— both of which are high in saturated fat — was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Lowenthal also notes that eliminating major food groups, like grains or dairy, could also increase your risk of diabetes if it leads to consumption of excess calories from another calorie-dense food source, or if it leads to a diet that lacks fiber. Research backs up the idea that fiber is important for blood sugar control: A review published in July 2015 in the journal Diabetologiafound that total intake of fiber was inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Any diet that cuts out major food groups should be discussed with a doctor or dietitian,” Chong says. She notes that people should be especially wary of weight cycling (repeated loss and regaining of weight) as they diet, which can increase risk of prediabetes — and which can sometimes be more likely if someone finds a diet too restrictive.
Cutting out major food groups by following plans like the paleo diet could lead you to overeat certain other food groups, including unhealthy fats — which may increase your risk of prediabetes. Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any restrictive diet to make sure you are getting all the essential nutrients your body needs.
The Best Diets for Diabetes Prevention
If you’re concerned about limiting your risk of diabetes, you don’t have to avoid all popular diets. Experts like Lowenthal point out that the following diets call for eating foods proven to lower your risk of diabetes as well as other health issues like heart disease:
The Mediterranean DietThis approach emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish. When planning meals, aim to stick to the The Mediterranean diet's guidelines of about 40 percent cabs, Chong says — and try not to go above 50 percent carbs unless you’re very active.
TheDASH dietThis diet is another top choice for helping to prevent diabetes, Chong says. DASH stands for "dietary approaches to stop hypertension," and the diet emphasizes portion control, low sodium, and foods like vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products.
When picking a diet for weight loss, don’t get too caught up in the details, Chong says. “I often get the impression that people are trying to make things too complicated,” Chong says. “I don’t even really like calling a diet a certain diet. We just need to get back to whole foods.” Ultimately, following balanced diet will have the best results for your waistline and your health.
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