Which Diet Is Best For Reversing Type 2 Diabetes?

Which Diet Is Best For Reversing Type 2 Diabetes?

Introduction

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases affecting millions of people worldwide, with type 2 diabetes accounting for the majority of cases. About 38 million Americans have diabetes, and 1 in 5 don’t know it. Furthermore, almost 98 million adults in the US have prediabetes.

Insulin resistance is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, often developing many years before the established diabetes diagnosis. Historically, type 2 diabetes has been successfully managed with a low-carbohydrate diet, which was well before the development of injectable insulin and anti-diabetic medications. In the last few decades, there has been a growing body of research studying the effectiveness of different diets on the management of type 2 diabetes. 

In this article, we are going to review the most recent research studies to find which diet, if any, works best for reversing type 2 diabetes. But before diving into the research studies, we need to define which objective criteria are crucial for quantifying the positive effect of diet on type 2 diabetes. They include glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), fasting glucose levels, weight loss, and blood lipids.

Here’s the list of the most popular dietary approaches studied for type 2 diabetes. 

  • Low-carbohydrate diet
  • Mediterranean diet
  • Vegetarian and vegan diet
  • Paleolithic diet

General dietary approach

As a rule of thumb, the best diet for reversing diabetes is the one that emphasizes foods with low glycemic load, also called low glycemic index. Usually, such foods are naturally higher in proteins and fats and relatively low in carbohydrates. Many of them are also rich in fiber, which supports satiety, and digestive health, and slows down glucose absorption from the gut. However, eating carbs is not something to completely avoid when having diabetes as it’s the source of carbs that matter, not just the carbs themselves. For example, quinoa is a great source of complex, slow-releasing carbs, while white rice will cause a rapid spike of your blood glucose. The key difference is that slow carbs increase blood sugar gradually, so your insulin production can keep up with the glucose levels. 

Let’s now see what science says about the effectiveness of each diet in type 2 diabetes.

Low-carbohydrate diet

A recent study of the low carbohydrate diet in type 2 diabetes patients have yielded incredible results. Over half of patients achieved complete reversal of diabetes, and 97% of patients showed improvements in their blood sugar control. The time one lived with the diagnosis before starting the diet also matters. 77% of patients had their diabetes reversed within the first year of diagnosis, which is not a surprise as metabolic dysfunction gets worse as the number of years with the diagnosis increases.

The other analysis of over 20 clinical trials has also found that following a low carbohydrate diet (<26% of calories from carbs) for 6 months helps achieve diabetes remission without any negative consequences. Interestingly, the study found slightly diminished insulin sensitivity after 12 months, which indicates an increased risk of diabetes. The main takeaway is that a low carbohydrate diet can be very effective in reversing diabetes in under half a year, but a more balanced diet, with the inclusion of complex carbohydrates, should be considered after the complete reversal of diabetes.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is often touted as one of the healthiest diets, particularly due to its wide range of benefits for a number of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, chronic digestive disorders, certain cancers, depression, and more. The Mediterranean diet is centered around whole foods, mainly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, and a significant amount of olive oil. It also includes fish and seafood, as well as some poultry, cheese, and eggs in moderation. Meats, however, are consumed once in a while. Many studies have found that following the Mediterranean diet improves blood sugar control, and blood lipids, and helps lose weight. Metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that collectively increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, is often considered a prediabetic state. Following a Mediterranean diet improves the chances of remission from metabolic syndrome by almost 50%.

Vegetarian and vegan diets

Vegetarian and vegan diets have been on the rise in the last decade. A growing body of research supports the positive effect of partial or complete elimination of animal products for a number of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes. For example, the most recent study of the effectiveness of a plant-predominant diet (only 5% of animal fat as eggs and low-fat dairy) in type 2 diabetes patients revealed pretty remarkable results. A whopping 37% of patients have reversed their diabetes. The main feature of the plant-predominant diet is its high fiber content because most of the food intake comes from vegetables, beans, and whole grains. These food groups have been constantly shown to have a protective role against diabetes occurrence as well as a strong potential to reverse diabetes. In addition, vegetarian and vegan diets can be very effective for reducing complications of diabetes and lowering medication use.

Paleolithic diet

The Paleolithic diet is based on increased consumption of lean meat, fish, fruit, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, eggs, and nuts while excluding dairy products, cereal grains, beans, refined fats, sugar, candy, soft drinks, beer, and extra salt. Studies show the Paleolithic diet can be beneficial for a number of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. For example, one study compared the beneficial effects of the Paleolithic diet versus a so-called Diabetes diet, which is a standard recommended diet by the antidiabetic association, for blood sugar control. The results strongly favored the use of the Paleolithic diet, which is not surprising considering that the Diabetes diet emphasizes foods rich in carbohydrates. The Paleolithic diet not only helped decrease the lab parameters and blood pressure but also reduced waist circumference and body weight.

Takeaway

A large analysis compared the efficacy of different dietary approaches on blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Here is what it found. For reducing HbA1c, the low-carbohydrate diet was ranked as the best dietary approach (84%), followed by the Mediterranean diet (80%) and Paleolithic diet (76%) compared to a control diet. For reducing fasting glucose, the Mediterranean diet (88%) was ranked as the best approach, followed by the Palaeolithic diet (71%) and vegetarian diet (63%). All dietary approaches seemed to be effective for lowering HbA1c and fasting glucose. According to this analysis, the Mediterranean diet is the most effective and efficacious dietary approach to improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.

Conclusion

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to the best diet for reversing type 2 diabetes. However, following a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and beans, and with moderate amounts of fish and other animal products seems to work best both for the prevention and reversal of diabetes. The crucial part of a diet that can reverse type 2 diabetes is the lack of or minimal amounts of processed foods that are rich in simple carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and small amounts of protein. To date, low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, vegetarian & vegan, and Paleolithic diets are the most effective dietary approaches to type 2 diabetes with the Mediterranean diet appearing the most universal and effective.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to read this article on 8 Surprising Early Warning Signs of Type 2 Diabetes.

*This information is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical or dietary advice tailored to individual needs.

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Dr. Kimberly Langdon

Kimberly Langdon

Dr. Kimberly Langdon has been an MD for 31 years, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine, earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place accolades for her Senior Research Project and Score of 98th percentile on a National Proficiency Test.

During her clinical career, she delivered over 2000 babies and specialized in minimally invasive procedures, menopause, endometriosis, menstrual disorders, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. After retiring from clinical practice, she founded a medical device company to commercialize her two patented and four patent-pending medical devices for both life-threatening and non-life-threatening infections.

Kimberly Langdon M.D.

Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Coologics, 2010-present
https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimberly-langdon-m-d-41847610/
The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine 1987-1991
The Ohio State University Hospital Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency Program 1991-1995
Private practice 1995-2010

Po-Chang Hsu

Po-Chang Hsu

Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., received his medical doctorate from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. During his medical school training, Dr. Hsu worked with various patients, including adult and pediatric patients with acute and chronic conditions. Dr. Hsu’s interests include neurology, psychiatry, pediatrics, and sleep medicine.

Before medical school, Dr. Hsu finished a master’s degree at Harvard University and wrote a thesis on neuroimaging in schizophrenia patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated hospital. Dr. Hsu was also a part of the 2008 NASA Phoenix Lander Mission team, which sent a robotic spacecraft to the North polar region of Mars. Dr. Hsu also had research experience on neuroimaging in neonates at Boston Children’s Hospital, another Harvard Medical School-affiliated Hospital.

Since graduating from medical school, Dr. Hsu has worked as a full-time medical writer and consultant. In addition, he has experience writing and ghostwriting books and articles for physicians and health technology start-up companies. Dr. Hsu believes good communication between healthcare providers and patients creates the best results.

Publications

-Peer Reviewed Journal Article:
Kounaves, S.P., Hecht, M.H., West, S.J., Morookian, J.-M., Young, S.M.M., Quinn, R., Grunthaner, P., Wen, X., Weilert, M., Cable, C.A., Fisher, A., Gospodinova, K., Kapit, J., Stroble, S., Hsu, P.-C., Clark, B.C., Ming, D.W. and Smith, P.H. The MECA wet chemistry laboratory on the 2007 phoenix mars scout Lander. Journal of Geophysical Research. 2009, Mar; 114(E3): 10.1029/2008je003084.

-Poster Presentation:
2011 Harvard Psychiatry Mysell Poster Session; Boston, MA
Hsu, P.C., Rathi, Y., Eckbo, R., Nestor, P., Niznikiewicz, M., Thompson, E., Kubicki, M., Shenton, M.E. (March, 2011). Two-Tensor Diffusion Tensor Imaging of Acoustic Radiations in Schizophrenia

Dr. Nicolette Natale

Nicolette Natale

Dr. Nicolette Natale is a physician, with a background in Psychology, General Medicine, and English Literature, combining her expertise to provide readers with the most accurate, easy-to-understand, and comprehensive information regarding healthcare. She received her Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine from Nova Southeastern University, and her bachelor’s in English Literature and Psychology from the University of Miami. Dr. Natale seeks to empower individuals with knowledge, fostering a greater understanding of holistic health and encouraging a proactive approach to well-being