"The more weight you lose, the more you'll improve your levels. But how you do it is largely up to you," says Michael Dansinger, MD, director of the Diabetes Reversal Program at Tufts Medical Center and nutrition doctor for NBC's The Biggest Loser.
Still, some options are healthier and safer than others, so talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian before you get started. In the meantime, read up on some of the most popular plans.
1. The DASH Diet
Best known for keeping high blood pressure in check, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is also an excellent choice for people with diabetes.
"It's a plant-focused diet that's rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, as well as low-fat dairy, lean meat, fish, poultry, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats," says Sonya Angelone, RD, a consulting nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It's easy to follow, healthy for the whole family, and great for weight loss."
The fact that it's been proven to lower blood pressure is a major bonus, adds Toby Smithson, RD, a certified diabetes educator and founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com. "Nearly two out of three people with diabetes also have hypertension," she says.
2. The Mediterranean Diet
Lots of fresh, seasonal food, plenty of produce, heart-healthy olive oil, and a little wine make the Mediterranean Diet an enjoyable choice for people with diabetes, says Constance Brown-Riggs, RD, a certified diabetes educator and author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes.
Studies show that people are more likely to stick to this plan, “so it may help you avoid yo-yo dieting,” Smithson says.
If you want to follow the Mediterranean Diet, Smithson suggests working with a dietitian. "Fifty percent of the foods in this diet come from the carbohydrate group. Even though they're healthy carbs, they need to be accounted for throughout the day."
3. Mark Bittman's VB6 Diet
Being a part-time vegan ("VB6" stands for “vegan before 6 p.m.”) is the secret to this plan's success. "It's one of my favorites," says Jaclyn London, RD, senior dietitian at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
The VB6 Diet also emphasizes being careful about where the small amounts of meat, fish, and dairy you eat are coming from. "It's designed to restrict you so you make better choices when you do indulge,” London says. “You're saving up for that small piece of local, organic, grass-fed beef."
4. The Volumetrics Diet
On this plan, you eat lots of water-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, and broth-based soups. Whole grains are also a staple because they're high in fiber, which will satisfy you and help keep blood sugar levels stable.
"I stand by the Volumetrics Diet because it's nutritious and very filling," London says.
5. The Biggest Loser Diet
You'll eat a specific percentage of carbohydrates, protein, and fat on this plan, which is based on the hit TV show.
The Biggest Loser Diet is healthy for people with diabetes and it's something you can stick with, because no food groups are entirely off-limits, Smithson says.
The plan limits refined carbs and other high-carb foods, and that may be a good thing for people with diabetes, Brown-Riggs says. "It seems like a diet that's balanced, and it follows the basic guidelines for people with diabetes," she says.
6. American Diabetes Association Carbohydrate Counting
It's not a "diet" in the traditional sense. The main purpose isn't weight loss.
Carb counting is a great way to manage your blood glucose levels. Many high-carb foods also tend to be high in calories, so cutting back on them often leads to shedding pounds.
If you choose this approach, ask your doctor or a diabetes educator how many carbs to eat at each meal (45-60 grams per meal is an average, but your number could be different.) "An individualized meal plan must be designed based on your nutritional requirements, caloric needs, medications, and exercise routine," Smithson says.
7. Ornish Diet/The Spectrum
Research shows that people who followed the Ornish Diet (which is essentially a vegetarian diet) for a year lost an average of 11 pounds, and many of them were able to lower their dosage of diabetes medication or switch from insulin to an oral drug.
The catch, however, is that this diet may be a little too restrictive for some people, which means it could be difficult to maintain if you’re not used to eating only plant-based foods.
"Most people aren't able to make a 180-degree turn," Brown-Riggs says. A more flexible version, called The Ornish Spectrum, might be easier to follow.
8. Weight Watchers
You count "points" instead of calories, you get group support, and nothing is off-limits. But since you can spend points on anything you want, it's possible to lose weight without making healthy choices (such as by eating too many processed foods).
"The primary emphasis of Weight Watchers is weight loss, and people with diabetes still have to be careful about how many carbohydrates they're eating in a particular meal," Brown-Riggs says. "You can absolutely follow it, but if you have diabetes you need to be aware that it's not all about the points."