Finding the right diet for you

I really don’t like the word ‘diet’.  It implies we follow something for a short period to lose weight and then we go back to ‘normal’ eating and the weight just piles back on.  What we eat isn’t just about weight loss.  It is about feeling good now, as well as staying well in the future.  It’s about sitting with friends or family and sharing good times over a meal. With this in mind, we should all be adopting a way of eating that fits in with the foods we like to eat, and who we like to eat them with.

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of presenting at the Diabetes Expo 2017, held by Diabetes Australia’s Victorian Branch. It was a fabulous day, with over 3,500 people attending.  Together with some of Australia’s top nutritional researchers, I spoke in a plenary session, Demystifying Diets, which discussed the pros and cons of 5 different diet/eating approaches – Glycaemic Index, Intermittent Fasting, Sugar Free, the Mediterranean Diet and the CSIRO low carb diet. Every one of these diets has been shown to help lower blood glucose levels as well as help with weight control. They also have a positive effect on blood pressure and blood fats.

So, what is the right approach for you? It’s a bit like buying clothes – one size does not fit all.  Seeing a dietitian or other diabetes health care professional, such as one of the Total Diabetes Care team, can help you find what would work best for you. If the truth be known, there are some common features across all approaches; eat nutritionally rich food, eat to appetite, make sure you enjoy every mouthful of what you eat, and don’t waste calories on junk.

I have included a couple of the key points of each of the diet approaches below.

Glycaemic index

The Glycaemic Index or GI ranks carbohydrate foods based on their effect on blood glucose levels. The lower the GI, the slower the rise in blood glucose.

  • Low GI foods are foods with a GI less than 55.
  • Intermediate GI foods are foods with a GI between 55 and 70.
  • High GI foods are foods with a GI greater than 70.

As with all the sensible eating plans, no food is forbidden. You can include food with a high GI in your diet but, where possible, try to choose food with a lower GI. There are often low GI options for the things you like to eat.  For example, basmati rice and wholegrain or sourdough bread are low GI and can be used to replace jasmine rice and white, fluffy bread which have a high GI.  Trying to include a low GI food in each meal can help reduce how high and how fast your blood glucose level rises after meals. It can also help you feel fuller for longer, which is helpful if you are trying to lose weight.

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Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting involves lowering your food intake to about 25% of what you usually eat, usually between 1 to 4 days a week.  This equates to about 500 calories a day for women and 600 calories a day for men.  A popular approach is to ’fast’ for 2 days a week, and eat to appetite for the rest of the week.  There are several cookbooks around that provide example meal plans, such as the 2-Day Fast Diet by the Australian Woman’s Weekly.

In my research, participants used OptifastTM  shakes,, a medical grade meal replacement to replace all their meals for 2 days a week. As with any change to your food intake, you will need to talk to your diabetes team before you start an intermittent fast as your diabetes medications may need to be reduced on fasting days.

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Sugar free

There are numerous versions of the sugar free diet. The more extreme diets restrict all foods that contain added sugars, such as sugary drinks, cakes, biscuits, ice cream etc) as well as fruit and any vegetables that contain natural sugars.  Less extreme forms restrict food with added sugars but allow the inclusion of fruits and vegetables, but not fruit or vegetable juice.  The natural sugar in whole fruit and vegetables is ‘packaged’ with lots of healthy fibre and other nutrients and should be included in any healthy diet. Fruit juice, on the other hand, has had the fibre removed,
or reduced, so it is more calorie dense with less nutritional value.


The Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is not a single diet, as each of the countries that surround the Mediterranean sea has a unique style of eating.  Following the Mediterranean diet is easy if you follow these tips:

  • Use olive oil as your main added fat
  • Eat vegetables with every meal (include 100g leafy greens, 100g of tomatoes and 200g of other vegetables a day)
  • Eat at least two legume meals a week (250g per serve)
  • Eat at least two serves of fish a week (150-200g per serve), including oily fish such as salmon and sardines
  • Eat small portions of meat (beef, lamb, pork and chicken) less often (1-2 days a week)
  • Eat fruit every day and dried fruit and nuts as snacks or for dessert
  • Eat yoghurt every day and cheese in moderation
  • Eat wholegrain breads and cereals (limit amount if you are watching your weight)
  • Drink wine in moderation (1-2 glasses) and always with meals
  • Have sweets or sweet drinks for special occasions only

Adapted from ‘The Mediterranean Diet’ by Catherine Itsiopoulos, Pan Macmillon Australia.


The CSIRO Low Carbohydrate Diet

Based on emerging research from around the world, as well as original CSIRO research recently conducted in Australia, the low-carb diet has proved successful in managing unhealthy weight gain and type 2 diabetes. The diet lowers the proportion of carbohydrate relative to protein and unsaturated ‘healthy’ fat, and encourages participants to follow a regular exercise routine. The diet’s higher proportion of protein, balanced with low GI carbohydrates, helps to control hunger and prevent muscle loss during weight loss.  Grant Brinkworth, a leader researcher at the CSIRO, together with Pennie Taylor, have recently released a book ‘The Total Wellbeing Diet’ that provides menu plans and recipes to get you started.

Adapted from ‘The Total Wellbeing Diet’ by Grant Brinkworth and Pennie Taylor, Pan Macmillon Australia.


Written by Jane Overland


Total Diabetes Care