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Diabetes and the Risk of Fad Diets

Plenty of popular gimmicks promise quick weight loss, but for people with diabetes, fad diets can be dangerous.

Diet Fads: What's Good, What's Bad

Here's a sampling of some popular diets, and experts' opinions of them:

High-Protein Diets

The famous Atkins high-protein/high-fat diet encourages eating red meat, full-fat cheese, chicken, bacon, fish and shellfish, butter, mayo, and olive oil. With Atkins, carbohydrates are severely restricted during the two-week induction period - which is intended to cause ketosis, a condition in which the body burns its own fat for fuel.

"Ketosis is not good for anyone, but especially if you have diabetes," Gidus tells WebMD. "Most people get into hypoglycemia before they even get to ketosis.

Atkins is "way too low in carbs," says Gidus, and the diet's high cholesterol and fat intake is another big problem, increasing the risk of heart disease. In addition, all that protein makes your kidneys work harder, which can worsen existing kidney problems.

"I definitely advise diabetes patients to stay away from Atkins," says Gidus.

Low-Carb Diets

Cutting carbs is a strategy for many dieters, and it's the cornerstone of the South Beach diet.

Like the Atkins diet, South Beach begins with a two-week induction period meant to trigger ketosis.

Simple carbs are forbidden, but "good carbs" are encouraged -- whole grains, vegetables, lean protein (fruits can be phased in after the induction). Unhealthy fats (including fatty meats) are banned. Most importantly, the diet does not leave out any major food groups.

"The South Beach diet is relatively healthy, since it just eliminates simple carbs," says Meneghini. "Many of my patients have discussed it with me. … For them, cutting those carbs might be an easier way of reducing overall calorie intake than reducing portions."

The first phase of South Beach is "too strict for diabetics," says Gidus. He recommends they avoid it. "But Phase Three, maintenance, is the type of food plan that I generally recommend … there's some good information there."

Carb-Controlling Diets

Glycemic index is a concept of controlling blood sugar based on the types of carbs you eat.

  • High-glycemic-index foods -- such as white bread, rice, mashed potatoes, and most cold cereals -- cause a quick spike in blood sugar, so there's a burst of energy, then hunger again.
  • Low glycemic index foods -- fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains -- cause levels to rise more slowly and last longer, so there's less hunger for a longer period.

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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