Despite the clear need for people with diabetes to follow a healthy diet, health experts still disagree about what exactly that should look like in a given person. For example, there is evidence that low-calorie diets and meal replacements may help people with obesity and diabetes experience weight loss and diabetes remission. Such a diet wouldn’t be appropriate for someone who isn’t trying to lose weight, but studies suggest that for people with obesity and diabetes, it could make sense to prioritize weight loss over following a generally healthy diet. And when it comes to blood glucose control for people with diabetes, at least one study has shown that an individualized diet — based on a person’s gut microbiome, age, and physical activity — may be the best approach.
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Still, many people want general health guidance, and that’s where the latest dietary rankings come in. A panel of 27 experts in nutrition, diabetes, heart health, and weight loss scored 40 different diets as part of the process, giving them scores in areas like ease of following, likelihood of weight loss, and effectiveness for preventing or managing diabetes and heart disease. In a press release on the rankings, U.S. News noted that anyone making major dietary changes should consider consulting a health care professional like a doctor or a dietitian, so that any specific health concerns can be taken into account.
Mediterranean ranked best for diabetes
For best overall diet, the Mediterranean diet — which emphasizes reducing red meat, sugar, and saturated fat while incorporating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and lean sources of protein — took the top spot for the fifth year in a row. Two diets were tied for the next spot — the DASH diet, which is designed to reduce blood pressure, and the flexitarian diet, which emphasizes healthy plant foods including plant-based protein. For best diet for diabetes, after the Mediterranean diet there was another tie for second place — between the flexitarian diet and a vegan diet, which cuts out all animal products. U.S. News noted that while a vegan diet may be good for diabetes and heart disease, it feels quite restrictive for many people and might not be sustainable compared with a more flexible approach — like the flexitarian diet.
The Mediterranean diet also took the top spot for easiest diet to follow, best diet for healthy eating, best plant-based diet, and best diet for heart health (tied with the Ornish Diet, a targeted eating program for heart health). It’s worth noting that most of these diets have a great deal of overlap in what they recommend — consuming a variety of minimally processed vegetables, fruits, beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds, and lean sources of protein, while avoiding or reducing red meat, fried foods, sugar, salt, and highly processed food items.
“The influence of diet on health across the life span cannot be overstated,” said David Katz, MD, president of True Health Initiative and former director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, in the press release. “While the themes of eating well for long- and short-term health are well established, there are many variants that allow for ‘personalizing’ the benefits of great nutrition.”
Want to learn more about the Mediterranean diet? Read “Five Reasons to Try the Mediterranean Diet” and “Eating Patterns and Type 1 Diabetes: Mediterranean Diet,” then try five of our favorite diabetes-friendly Mediterranean recipes.