The Diabetes Diet

What to eat to reverse diabetes naturally.

What should you eat if you have diabetes? If you’re confused and have heard a lot of conflicting information on the best diabetes diet, you’re not alone.

Undoubtedly, if you google “diabetic diet” or “diabetes diet,” you’re going to find varying viewpoints on the best diet for people with diabetes. Doctors and health organizations across the world even debate the best diabetes diet. This conflicting information also exists with individual ingredients, such as beans, eggs, red meats, etc.

Popular diets for diabetes range from low-carb to low-fat, high-fat to vegan, and plant-based to keto (ketogenic). All of this conflicting information is one of the primary reasons we created Total Diabetes Wellness.

Research overwhelmingly supports a low-carb diet as the most effective diabetes diet. This diet is also commonly called low-carb high-fat, or LCHF for short. Not only does this diet improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, but the food is enjoyable to eat.

Our goal is to simplify diabetes. We believe the LCHF diet (low-carb, high-fat diet) to be the diet of choice for the following reasons:

  • Backed by scientific research
  • Easiest diet to maintain long term
  • Feel full and satiated after meals
  • Meals are flavorful
  • Family & kid-friendly
  • Less prep time for meals compared to other diets

For these reasons, Total Diabetes Wellness recommends a low-carb, high-fat diet to help reverse prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. In addition, people with type 1 diabetes will also notice huge gains in their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control by following a low-carb, high-fat diet.

What Is a Low-Carb Diet?

What exactly is a low-carb diet? Does low-carb mean no carbs? Does low-carb mean following a keto (ketogenic) diet? Is low-carb gluten-free?

There isn’t a universal definition of exactly how many carbohydrates are in a low-carb diet, which is often confusing. The FDA recommends people consume 200-300 carbohydrates per day. However, many people eat significantly more, often without realizing it. By this recommendation, anything below this number would be considered a low-carb diet. Total Diabetes Wellness defines low-carb as anything below 100 grams of net carbs per day.

Always discuss diet changes with your doctor BEFORE making changes to your current diet. This is especially important if you are on medications. Full disclaimer here.

Net carbs are the number of digestible carbohydrates in a food or meal. To calculate the net carbs, take the total carbohydrates minus fiber. You can learn more about net carbs here.

Our low-carb diet recommendations:

  • Your daily net carb intake is between 50-100 grams. This is about 10-30% of your energy derived from carbohydrates.
  • You consume a moderate amount of protein, usually between 80-140 grams per day, depending on your weight and gender. This is about 20-30% of your energy derived from protein.
  • The remainder of your diet is from natural fats. This is about 40-70% of your energy derived from fat.

This diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet or LCHF for short.

The ketogenic (keto) diet is a more restrictive version of low-carb. With the keto diet, carbohydrates are limited to 20 grams of net carbs per day.

Foods with high carbohydrates generally contain gluten. As a result, low-carb diets are usually low on gluten as well, but not necessarily gluten-free. It is possible to eat gluten-free yet also be consuming large amounts of carbohydrates. Therefore, gluten-free and low-carb are not synonymous.

Are Fats Bad?

In Western culture, we have been told fat is the enemy for decades. The low-fat diet emerged in the 1960s. By the 1980s, doctors, the government, the food industry, and the media highly promoted the low-fat diet. The problem is that when fats were cut, they were replaced by sugars and simple carbohydrates. These foods are not healthy. Consuming them in larger quantities has contributed to the obesity epidemic and the rapidly rising prevalence of prediabetes and diabetes.

Time Magazine Covers from 1984 and 2014

Research has shown that the ‘fat is bad’ ideology is false when it comes to natural fats. Natural fats include full-fat dairy, olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, butter, nuts, seeds, fish, and fatty cuts of meat, to name a few. You do NOT want to consume artificial fats (trans fats, vegetable oils, hydrogenated oil). Many pre-packaged foods, particularly desserts, contain artificial fats.

When you eat a low-carb diet that includes healthy fats, your blood sugar stabilizes, and your insulin sensitivity improves. As a result, you will likely find the amount of insulin and diabetes medications you need decreases. You may continue to decrease to a point where you no longer need to inject insulin or take diabetes medications.

What Is a Keto Diet (Ketogenic Diet)?

Is the keto diet the right choice for someone with diabetes? The keto diet or ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet, usually less than 20 grams of net carbs per day. People with diabetes following a keto diet typically experience the best results, with blood sugar levels quickly coming under control and insulin sensitivity rapidly improving.

Research indicates that the more carbohydrates are restricted, the better your blood sugar will be, and the quicker you will become less resistant to insulin. Substantial research supports a very low-carb ketogenic diet as having the quickest and arguably the best results for people with diabetes. The biggest challenge with the keto diet is that many people find it too restrictive to continue long-term. Because of this restrictiveness, it is sometimes difficult to consume adequate daily nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in your diet.

A Diet to Reverse Diabetes

The foundations of Total Diabetes Wellness’ approach to diet are:

  • The diet must be easy to follow.
  • The diet doesn’t feel restrictive.
  • The food tastes good.
  • You feel full after a meal.
  • The time required for planning and cooking is not excessive.

Overall, we want you to create new sustainable eating habits.

We recommend a low-carb diet that is between 50-100 grams of net carbs per day. You won’t be as restricted as the keto diet, and most people with type 2 diabetes will find their blood sugar changes quickly on this diet.

When it comes to reversing diabetes, we define reversing diabetes as making lifestyle changes to get your A1C into a normal range. The end goal is to take no diabetes medications and establish and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to reversing diabetes. Many people with type 2 diabetes will be able to reverse diabetes with lifestyle changes and a low-carb diet of 50-100 grams of net carbs. Others may find they need to restrict their carbohydrate intake further to 20-50 grams of net carbs per day, or even down to keto diet levels of 20 grams of net carbs per day. Fasting may be another option to help lower your blood sugar levels to a normal range. 

We recommend beginning with a low-carb diet of 50-100 grams of net carbs per day. Additional adjustments to carbohydrate intake should be adjusted as needed depending on your results.

What to Eat

A group of friends enjoying a healthy low-carb dinnerEat when you are hungry and eat until you are satiated. That’s it! It sounds effortless, but this is the core of our low-carb diet plan. When you follow the recipes and guidelines on our website, there is no need to count calories, count macros, or follow socially accepted mealtimes. If you wake up and want to eat leftovers from dinner for breakfast instead of traditional ‘breakfast food,’ go for it! By following our diet plan, you will become more in tune with your body and will be able to understand when you are actually hungry versus eating out of habit, boredom, or stress.

We recommend eating whole, natural, unprocessed foods. Stay away from premade or pre-packaged convenience foods. Also, avoid products labeled “low-carb” or “keto-friendly.” Often these foods have inaccurate nutritional information and may have many more carbohydrates than they advertise. You’ll also save money by avoiding these products, as they usually come with a hefty price tag.

What Should I Eat?

On a low-carb diet, you can enjoy meat, fish, eggs, full-fat dairy, vegetables (especially those grown above ground), berries, and natural fats.

What Should I Avoid?

Avoid sugar, starchy and processed foods (bread, pasta, rice, cereal, chips, potatoes, sugary desserts), and highly processed meats like hot dogs and sausages.

What Should I Drink?

Water is the very best thing you can drink. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime to your water for a different flavor. Coffee and tea (without milk or sugar) contain healthy antioxidants and don’t have any carbohydrates. Sparkling water is also ok. Diet soda doesn’t have any carbohydrates, but it does have other ingredients that aren’t healthy. We recommend avoiding diet soda.

Can I Drink Alcohol on a Low-Carb Diet?

You can enjoy an occasional alcoholic drink while eating low-carb. If you have a drink, dry wines, champagne, and spirits are the best choices for having low to no carbohydrates. Stay away from beer, sweet mixed drinks, and cocktails. *Alcohol can slow weight loss for some people and can also increase food cravings. You may find your tolerance for alcohol decreases on a low-carb diet. You can find the ADA’s recommendations for alcohol here.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Okay?

We recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners as much as possible. Stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit all have zero net carbs and won’t affect your blood sugar. In theory, these artificial sweeteners should be allowed on a low-carb diet. The biggest challenge with zero-carb artificial sweeteners is they can keep you craving sweet-tasting food and drinks. For some people, this creates a hard habit to break and can set you up for failure in a low-carb diet’s long-term sustainability.

Can I Eat Desserts?

Yes. However, it is essential to understand the chemical dependency your body may experience by eating sweets too often. Having a healthier dessert for the holidays, a birthday, or a special occasion is an option we want you to feel that you have. Our recipes include healthy options for an occasional dessert.

The habit of eating something sweet, or even just eating a dessert after certain meals, creates a habit that can make it incredibly difficult to maintain a healthy eating lifestyle that will help you reverse type 2 diabetes. Therefore, Total Diabetes Wellness recommends that you try to avoid desserts, except for rare and special occasions.

Can I Eat Red Meat? Is Red Meat Bad for Diabetes?

Juicy pan seared steak cooked to medium rareRed meat consumption has been heavily debated among health experts for years, much like the debate over fat. However, advertising supporting red meat boasts its rich protein and healthy nutrients. Advertising opposing red meat calls it a carcinogen and links red meat consumption to a plethora of health issues, including cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease, and weight gain, just to name a few.

When reviewing scientific research, it is clear that many of the reported harmful effects of red meat may have more of a correlational effect than a causal effect. Many studies don’t identify the type of meat consumed (i.e., highly processed hot dogs vs. unprocessed steak) or the other food consumed by study participants. For example, someone might attribute their high cholesterol, heart disease, or obesity to their red meat consumption. However, they may also eat an unhealthy diet full of sugar, highly processed foods, and trans fats. There’s no simple way to separate and identify the health effects of just red meat consumption and not the entire diet.

Red meat has many health benefits, including being a high-quality protein source, a source of heme iron. In addition, it is an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, zinc, niacin, potassium, and selenium.

It is important to avoid highly processed meats. The most common highly processed meats include hot dogs, sausages, deli meats, and bacon. Of course, it is possible to find these foods in healthier versions, without additives such as nitrates, sugar, MSG, and other harmful chemicals.

Red meat can be a healthy part of a low-carb diet as long as you avoid processed meats. Whole, natural foods are best, and meat is no exception. When possible, choose meat from grass-fed or pastured animals. These meats have some added health benefits to grain-fed animals, including omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. If it is affordable and locally available, grass-fed and pastured meat may be worth it for the health and environmental impact. However, if grass-fed and pastured meat isn’t locally available or is cost-prohibitive, please don’t let this keep you from eating low-carb.

Low-Carb Food List

Best Low-Carb Foods to Eat

Low-Carb High-Fat foods laid out on a counter

  • Eggs – Any way you like them. Pasture-raised eggs are the best option if available and affordable. 
  • Meat – Enjoy any kind of unprocessed meat! Beef, poultry, pork, lamb, etc. This includes fatty cuts of meat and skin on poultry. Grass-fed and organic meat is the best option if available and affordable.
  • Fish and Seafood – All seafood is permitted. Look for fish and seafood that is wild-caught rather than farmed. Farmed fish tend to have higher instances of disease due to farming conditions
  • DairyFull-fat dairy products are the best options. This includes real butter, heavy cream, sour cream, greek yogurt, and cheeses. Avoid regular milk, and any low-fat, reduced-fat, skim, or fat-free dairy products as these contain a lot of added sugar and artificial sweeteners.
  • Nuts and Seeds – In moderation, nuts are a great snack. The best options are macadamia nuts, pecans, brazil nuts, and walnuts. Chia seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds are great and offer lots of fiber. Be careful of cashews and pistachios; both are high in carbohydrates.
  • Non-starchy Vegetables – Vegetables that grow above the ground are the lowest in net carbs. Be careful of root vegetables, especially potatoes.
  • Oils – Olive oil, avocado oil & coconut oil are the best choices.
  • Avocados – Avocados are a great source of natural fat and are full of vitamins and nutrients.
  • Berries – In moderation, berries are a great sweet treat loaded with antioxidants. Raspberries are the lowest in carbohydrates, followed by blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Enjoy berries with a dollop of whipped heavy cream for an extra decadent treat.
  • Beans and Legumes – Beans and legumes are high in fiber and offer many health benefits for people with diabetes, including reducing inflammation and reducing heart disease. Because beans have carbohydrates and everyone responds differently to certain foods, we recommend testing your body’s reaction to them. Many people with diabetes can eat beans in moderation without a negative effect on blood sugar.

Foods to Avoid on a Low-Carb Diet

  • Grains and Starches – Bread, rice, pasta, cereal, corn, oats, crackers, chips, baked goods. All of these foods are high in carbohydrates, including whole-grain options.
  • Sugar – Artificial sweeteners such as corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup as well as natural sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. Zero carb sweeteners (monk fruit, sucralose, stevia, erythritol) most likely won’t affect your blood sugar. However, we suggest avoiding these as much as possible as they can sometimes trigger cravings for unhealthy sweet foods.
  • Sweet Drinks – Juice, soda, sweetened teas, sports drinks, chocolate milk, eggnog, smoothies, etc. All of these have lots of sugar added.
  • Starchy Vegetables – Potatoes (even sweet potatoes), squash, beets are high in carbohydrates and should be used sparingly or avoided altogether.
  • Fruits – Berries are ok in moderation, but be careful of other fruits. Since fruit has a lot of naturally occurring sugar, you need to pay attention to how many net carbs each fruit has if you include fruit in your diet.
  • Alcohol – Beer, wine coolers, sugary mixed drinks are all high in carbohydrates. 
  • Low-carb, Low-fat, and other diet foods – Steer clear from anything marketed as low-carb or keto. Often these highly processed foods have a lot more carbohydrates than they advertise. Stay away from low-fat foods also. You’re allowed to enjoy natural fats on this diet, so don’t waste your time with margarine when you can enjoy butter.

What’s the Difference Between Total Carbs and Net Carbs?

The term ‘net carbs’ can be confusing because it is not an officially recognized term, nor is it agreed upon by all nutrition experts. For Total Diabetes Wellness, net carbs is the number of carbohydrates food contains after subtracting the fiber. Our guideline of eating 50-100 grams of carbohydrates per day is net carbs, not total carbs.

When looking at a nutrition label, it’s usually easy to see the total carbohydrates per serving listed. You may have noticed on most food labels there isn’t a ‘net carb’ listing. Here is an example of how to calculate net carbs:

The nutrition label on a bag of cashews indicates that one serving has 9 grams of total carbohydrates and 1 gram of fiber. Net carbs would be 9 (grams of total carbohydrates) – 1 (gram of fiber) = 8 grams of net carbs.

Cashew Nutrition Label
A misconception might be that vegetables don’t have any carbohydrates. This is not true. For example, one cup of raw broccoli has 6 grams of total carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber. Net carbs would be 6 (grams of total carbohydrates) – 2 (grams of fiber) = 4 grams of net carbs.

If you’re following the recipes on our website, you don’t need to worry about counting carbohydrates or figuring out net carbs; we’ve done that for you. The USDA Food Composition Databases provides complete nutrition information on thousands of foods, including vegetables and foods that don’t have nutrition labels when purchased.

When to Eat

When Should I Eat?

Happy woman eating a healthy meal at homeThis question gets asked a lot, and the simple answer is: Eat when you are hungry. You do not need to worry about making sure you eat a specific combination of meals and snacks at designated times. Once your body has adjusted to eating a low-carb, high-fat diet, you will find you are less hungry overall and may not be hungry at conventional meal times. (This usually occurs 2-3 weeks after starting a low-carb diet). If you wake up and aren’t hungry at traditional breakfast time, wait to eat until you feel hungry.

Eating late at night is not ideal and can cause weight gain and raise blood sugar levels. We strongly recommend that you don’t eat or snack between your last meal of the day and your first meal of the following day. If you find yourself getting hungry after dinner, we recommend that you eat more food for dinner, drink more water, or go to bed sooner.

Can I Snack?

Total Diabetes Wellness defines a snack as food consumed between meals. A snack is determined by when you eat, whereas a dessert is a type of food. A snack is not synonymous with dessert.

You should aim to avoid snacking as much as possible. Every time you eat (or snack), your blood sugar rises. By avoiding snacking, you help your body limit big spikes and swings in your blood sugar.

Giving up snacks is not realistic for some people. For this reason, we strongly recommend keeping a couple of non-perishable snacks on hand or close by, such as healthy beef jerky, nuts, or Moon Cheese. This is a much better alternative than feeling the need to stop and grab some food on your way home or at work for an unexpected longer day.

The best low-carb snacks should be low in carbohydrates and high in fat. Hard-boiled eggs, cheese, cold cuts, avocado, and brazil or macadamia nuts are all great low-carb snacks that don’t require any preparation.

Fasting and Diabetes

Can Fasting Help with Diabetes?

Intermittent fasting, low-carb foods displayed around a clock Fasting has many benefits for everyone, such as lowering inflammation in the body, weight loss, and lowering cholesterol.

For someone with type 2 diabetes, fasting allows you to remove sugar from the liver and other vital organs. By allowing time between meals, you are essentially starting the process of eliminating excess glucose (sugar) from your bloodstream, your cells, and your organs. This is critical to help prevent chronic and life-altering diseases from happening and help jumpstart reversing your diabetes.

WARNING: If you are taking medications, you should consult your doctor to determine a plan while fasting. If you take insulin and perform a fast, you are at risk of hypoglycemia, a potentially fatal condition. Consult your physician before attempting a fast!

What Types of Fasting Are the Best?

There are several ways to fast, but there are two main types of fasting we will explore. You can use intermittent (occurring at regular intervals) fasting or extended (longer periods in between meals) fasting to lower blood sugar and naturally reverse type 2 diabetes. The main idea to remember is that a fast is just the amount of time between meals, and at any time, you have the ability and power to end a fast. For example, if you attempt a 3-day fast but feel uneasy only 24 hours into your fast, you should terminate the fast and try another time.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting occurs at regular intervals. A 16-8 fast is one of the most common forms of intermittent fasting. This fasting schedule provides huge gains while having a schedule that is sustainable for just about anyone.

What is a 16-8 fast? This means you can eat healthy within an 8-hour window, and then you fast (no snacks) for the next 16 hours, usually between dinner and breakfast. Whether you decide to eat two meals or three meals in that 8-hour window is up to you. Healthy snacks in this window are also permitted.

Note – The goal is 16 hours between meals, but even if your schedule gets thrown off, a 15 hour fast still has a lot of health benefits, so don’t worry about being so rigid with the times, but focus more on the act of getting that longer fasting window in to help remove glucose from your body.

Extended Fasting

Extended Fasting is a fast of 24 hours or more. Research shows that extended fasting will trigger autophagy. Autophagy is the process where your body breaks down old cells and regenerates newer, healthier cells. During longer fasts, your body breaks down and burns fat at an increased speed through lipolysis.

Vitamins and Supplements for a Low-Carb Diet

Spoon full of vitamins and supplementsWhen eating a diet full of whole, unprocessed foods, most people receive adequate vitamins and minerals directly from their food. Food is always the ideal way to consume vitamins. Your body will absorb the iron and antioxidants from a steak much better than any pill or powder form of the same vitamins. For this reason, when you follow a low-carb diet full of whole, unprocessed foods, most people find they don’t need to add additional vitamins or supplements. 

Many vitamins, particularly multi-vitamins, are full of fillers and are not easily absorbed. If you’re concerned about getting enough vitamins, we recommend first having your doctor test your blood for vitamin deficiencies.

Based on your results, if you need to supplement any vitamins, make sure to choose a high-quality vitamin with dosages appropriate for you. Most people don’t need the “megadoses” some vitamin companies offer. It is possible to overdose on even natural vitamins and experience unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects.

Benefits of Eating Low-Carb

There are many health benefits of low-carb diets, including:

  1. Reversing type 2 diabetes, including improved blood glucose and insulin sensitivity
  2. Weight loss
  3. Reduced sugar cravings
  4. Gut health
  5. Lower blood pressure
  6. Improved fertility
  7. Clearer skin
  8. Reduction of migraines
  9. Increased energy
  10. Improved endurance
  11. Improved mental health

Here are several other benefits of eating low-carb:Healthy happy young women with beautiful skin

  1. Healthy eating will save money in the long run. Healthy whole food is more expensive upfront (purchasing healthy food). However, the medical costs associated on the back end (insulin, chronic illness, and surgeries) pale in comparison. You will save a lot of money eating healthy throughout your life.
  2. Healthy food provides minerals and nutrients to help boost and maintain your immune system, causing you to be sick less often.
  3. Enjoy an extended life as well as combat aging effects from healthy eating.
  4. Have more energy throughout the day to enjoy time with your family and loved ones.
  5. Eating healthy has a positive impact on your mood and makes you more enjoyable to be around.
  6. Healthy eating Increases your academic ability and your ability to focus.
  7. For people with diabetes, healthy eating helps you avoid chronic illnesses and diseases such as obesity, blindness, end-stage renal disease (kidney failure), amputations, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, cancer, fatty-liver disease, infections, erectile dysfunction, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and others. Because diabetes attacks ALL cells in your body, it is very common to develop multiple chronic diseases if you don’t treat and reverse your type 2 diabetes.

Tips for Success Maintaining a Low-Carb Diet

1. Make a Meal Plan

Close-up of person filling out a meal plan with pen and paperA meal plan will help make things easier. Creating a meal plan for the week will streamline grocery shopping and help you avoid figuring out what to make for dinner on the fly. Meal planning will also help you stick to your diet. Knowing what you are going to eat in advance will help you avoid making unhealthy choices at mealtime. Meal planning is also a great way to save money, as you can plan your meals around foods that are in season and on sale. Use a notebook or electronic meal planner to keep track of your meals.

2. Meal Prepping

Meal prepping is preparing whole meals or ready-to-cook ingredients ahead of schedule. This is a great way to save time. Imagine coming home to a premade casserole and just popping it in the oven or cooking a quick stir fry dish for dinner and having all the vegetables pre-chopped. Like meal planning, meal prepping also helps you avoid unhealthy food choices that often happen when you’re in a hurry.

3. Have Snacks on Hand

As we mentioned in the snacking section of this article, we strongly recommend having a couple of non-perishable snacks on hand when you’re at work or away from home. Having a low-carb snack available may help you avoid swinging by the drive-through if you’re out and hungry.

4. Plan for Leftovers

One of our favorite time-saving tips is to eat leftovers for lunch. Plan for this in your meal plan for the week and purposely cook a double portion for dinner. This will give you a delicious and hearty lunch that just needs to be heated. No prep or cooking required for lunch will save you time in the kitchen, especially ideal for work.

5. Stay Hydrated!

Woman holding a clear glass of waterMake sure you’re drinking plenty of water! The Institute of Medicine recommends men drink about 13 cups (104 oz.) and women drink about 9 cups (72 oz.) of water per day. Adding a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime can help change things up. Sparkling water is ok too, as long as it doesn’t have any sugar. One of the effects of dehydration is your blood sugar increases. Drinking enough water will help your blood sugar and help curb unhealthy cravings, as thirst can often masquerade as hunger.

6. Eat at Home

Most restaurants don’t offer nutritional information, making it incredibly difficult to maintain a low-carb diet. Many dishes have starch, sugar, and fillers that are typically not listed or made aware to the consumer. When you cook and eat at home, you have complete control of the ingredients going into your meals.

Why You Should Eat Healthy

Your life depends on it. You have a choice to make. Do you fully commit to becoming healthier and reversing your diabetes, or do you continue to eat food that will destroy your cells and body? You need to accept that you are about to live a different lifestyle. Although it may be different, we believe this new lifestyle will open up new experiences and help you appreciate the changes you are about to experience. You are not alone! Total Diabetes Wellness and our community is here to help you with your journey.