A diet promising to ‘reverse diabetes’ is gaining attention, thanks to TV presenter Dr Michael Mosley. But just how accurate are the claims?
It starts with eating a mere 800 calories (about 3300kJ) per day for eight weeks, which is about 40 per cent of the average person’s needs.
According to British doctor and TV journalist Dr Michael Mosley, you will shift an average of 14kg. This will improve your insulin sensitivity and stabilise your blood glucose levels.
Dr Mosley claims that you may be able to reduce or even stop your diabetes medications.
What the diet involves
The aim is to lose some of the fat wrapped around your vital organs. In the initial eight-week phase of the Blood Sugar Diet, you eat mainly lean protein (fish, chicken, red meat) and non-starchy vegetables (so, no potato, sweet potato or corn). Then, you move on to a 5:2 style of intermittent fasting. That is, five days of regular eating and two ‘fasting’ days of eating 800 calories (3300kJ), until you hit your goal weight.
To maintain your success, you then progress to a long-term, low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in vegies and fruit, whole grains, nuts, beans and lentils, and fish and poultry, with only a sparing amount of red meat.
The science behind this diet
Eating only 800 calories (3300kJ) per day will lead to fast weight loss. And losing weight from your abdomen can improve insulin sensitivity and help lower blood glucose levels.
Eating less carbs in general results in less glucose being released into your blood stream. But this doesn’t necessarily mean your diabetes is ‘reversed’. It may simply be in ‘remission’ or just better managed. So if you regain weight, it is likely that your blood glucose levels will rise again.
Can it be dangerous?
This eight-week diet can result in dangerously low blood glucose levels (i.e. hypoglycaemia) for people on insulin or certain types of diabetes medications.
If you’ve had type 2 diabetes for a very long time, you may not be able to stop taking your diabetes medications.
So, it’s important to talk with your doctor before starting the diet and before changing your medication doses.
The ‘Blood Sugar Diet’ at a glance
You eat healthy, whole foods such as eggs, fresh vegetables, lean meats, legumes (lentils/chickpeas) and healthy fats, such as avocado.
You avoid high-fat, high-sugar foods like cakes, biscuits, chips and soft drinks.
The fast initial weight loss can help to motivate you to change unhealthy habits.
You need a lot of willpower to limit yourself to 800 calories (3300kJ) per day.
You miss out on some high-fibre carbs like wholegrain breads and cereals, which also improve insulin sensitivity.
You increase your risk of developing hypoglycaemia.
The dietitians' verdict
Losing weight is beneficial for better blood glucose control and managing your diabetes. But extreme restriction — by placing your body in starvation mode for two months — may not be a suitable option if you have pre-existing health conditions.
By simply cutting down on takeaway foods, sugary drinks and sweet/salty snacks, you’ll reduce your total carbohydrate intake and lose weight, too. And opting to eat more vegetables and whole foods is a more sustainable approach in the long term.
Text by dietitians Brooke Longfield (HFG) and Adele Mackie (Diabetes Victoria). Diabetes Victoria members receive recipes, discounted health events and expert advice from diabetes health professionals.