The Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet comes from a trusted source but may not be the best for your diabetes
If you have Type 2 diabetes (T2DM), you may have heard of the Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet. The Mayo Clinic is a trusted name so it’s easy to think the Diet works. But we found problems with the Diet and show why it may actually work against your goal of taking control of T2DM.
The Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet
If you searched searched online for ‘best diets for diabetes,’ one that pops up is the Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet. The Mayo Clinic is a respected name with their award winning hospitals, doctors, and medical education and research centers. Here’s the basics of the Diet:
- Healthy Carbohydrates: including fruits, vegetables, legumes. These same foods are recommended under fiber-rich foods.
- Heart-healthy fish: those with high omega-3 fatty acid.
- Good fats: sources with high monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) such as avocados, nuts and oils like canola, olive and peanut.
Foods to Avoid
- Saturated Fats: certain dairy and animal proteins including hot dogs and sausages.
- Trans fat: in processed snacks and baked goods.
- Cholesterol: including high-fat dairy and animal proteins.
To put it all together they recommend to develop meal plans such as the ADA plate method (for portion sizes) or carb counting.
What the Mayo Clinic Diet Gets Wrong
So now we know the Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet recommends “healthy” carbohydrates and “good” fats. Great! That sounds like healthy eating and good nutrition. And since it’s for diabetes it should help with blood glucose and weight loss, right?
But taking a closer look and we see a diet that can actually make it harder to control T2DM. We find 4 things the Mayo Clinic gets wrong.
The Staple Foods Are Mostly Carbs
The first problem with the Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet is that the staple foods are whole grains, fruits and legumes (such as beans). But these include many foods high in carbohydrates!
We took their sample menu and used nutritiondata.self.com to calculate the amount of carbohydrates and glycemic load (GL) of the staple foods. Here are the results:
- Breakfast: 285 calories (cal.) with 242 of those from carbs and a total 31 on GL. This is the whole wheat bread, jelly, shredded wheat cereal and fruit (orange).
- Lunch: 328 cal. with 182 from carbs and total 15 GL. This is the sandwich bread and medium apple.
- Dinner: 244 cal. with 205 from carbs and 27 GL. This is the small baked potato, green beans and medium white dinner roll.
- Snack: 75 cal. with 63 from carbs and 7.5 GL from the popcorn.
That totals to 932 calories with 692 coming from carbs and a total GL of 80. That’s at least 74% of your energy coming from carbs in one day. And note that food with a glycemic index of 70 or higher is considered bad according to Healthline.
You’re Likely to Overeat Carbs
The second problem with the Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet is that you’ll end up overeating. And most likely on carbohydrates which is terrible for your diabetes.
Their sample menu is for 1,200 to 1,600 cal. in a day. However, that’s actually on the low-end for calories needed for the average person.
You can find daily caloric needs by using online calculators like this. For a 5’10” male, age 55, 230 pounds with a sedentary activity level, 2,750 cals. are needed per day.
Eating meals that only give you 1,600 cals. is clearly not enough. Thus, this will cause you to increase your meal sizes to get needed energy but the staple foods are still high in carbs!
The primary goal for patients with Type 2 diabetes is to lower blood sugar levels. And weight loss is just as important with doctors likely to recommend as a primary treatment goal for diabetes, based on recent studies.
But the meals under this Diet end up working against your goals. You’ll have to exercise more to lose or maintain weight. Or you’ll try to find for more “healthy” recipes when your glucose doesn’t improve.
This can all get tiring, fatigue kicks in and eventually people lose motivation.
Recommends Oils High in Omega-6
The Mayo Clinic recommends eating “good fats” that contain monounsaturated (MUFA) and poly unsaturated (PUFA) fats. We don’t disagree that MUFA/PUFA are healthy and studies show they can improve key markers for Type 2 diabetes.
The Diabetes Care Journal published this review of studies comparing diets high in MUFA to ones with high carbohydrates. They found benefits of the MUFA diet over the high-carb diet including significant reductions in fasting plasma glucose, triglycerides, body weight and blood pressure.
However the problem is that the “good fats” include seed oils that have high omega-6 fatty acid content.
While there’s nothing wrong with omega-6 per se, there’s a desired ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 to maintain overall health. This study in PubMed.gov showed the importance of consuming a low ratio of omega-6/omega-3 (roughly 2:1) in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.
Peanut oil has a 32:1 omega-6/omega-3 ratio! Making it very easy to exceed the ideal ratio.
Mischaracterizes Animal Protein
Finally, the Diet recommends avoiding animal proteins and lumps in highly processed meat like hot dogs, sausages and bacon. This is misleading because processed meat is clearly different from minimally processed meat such as a steak with salt and pepper.
We can all agree that processed food is poor nutrition and bad for health. Highly processed foods are stripped from vital nutrients, include chemical stabilizers and most have added sugar. No doubt people with diabetes should avoid these and stick to minimally processed foods and recipes.
Yet this mischaracterization of animal protein has been done for years by mainstream health authorities. We often see studies trying to link overall poor health and nutrition with eating red meats.
Take this recent research published in JAMA looking at associations of animal protein intake with certain diseases. They concluded that eating over two servings of red meat, processed meat or poultry is linked to a 3% to 7% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The percentage increase is quite small but note the “or” used to lump in processed meat with red meat and poultry.
And the actual results show a clear distinction between the two meats. The study found that the 30-year absolute risk for CVD was much higher for processed meat (at 1.74%) than red meat (at 0.62%). More than double, actually.
The Mayo Clinic is known for medical education and research so it’s easy to assume their Diet is good for health, nutrition and improving Type 2 diabetes. But the Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet has problems that we think will make it harder to lower blood sugar and lose weight.
The diet includes many carb-heavy foods and can leave you hungry, causing overeating with more carbs. The diet also recommends seed oil but doesn’t caution again their high omega-6 content. And the Mayo Clinic lumps in hot dogs and sausage with minimally processed animal proteins, despite the clear differences in nutrition.
We think this diet will make you work harder to control Type 2 diabetes naturally. A meal with carb-heavy foods makes it harder to lower blood sugar. And you’ll likely overeat, which results in excess calories and will require more exercise to lose weight.
Ultimately, frustration kicks in when you don’t see results and it’s easy to lose motivation.
So what diet should I eat? Stay tuned, we’ll be posting a separate article going in depth on this issue since there’s a lot of important context and information. But for now, you can get a preview of our preferred diet in our post on meal planning hacks for diabetics.
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