Scientists say people with diabetes are more likely to lose weight on this diet

Man cooking diabetes. (Getty Images)
'For many with diabetes trying to lose weight, counting time is easier than counting calories.'

Focusing less on how much to eat and more on when to eat, it seems intermittent fasting could help some people living with diabetes safely lose weight and control blood sugar levels, according to a new study.

Researchers discovered that people with type 2 diabetes who only ate during an eight-hour window each day lost more weight over six months than those who reduced their calorie intake by 25%.

Both groups also had similar reductions in long-term blood sugar levels, according to the findings, published in JAMA Network Open.

Type 2 diabetes – the most common type – causes high blood sugar levels due to your body not making enough of a hormone called insulin, or what it makes when not working properly (insulin resistance). Treatments typically include eating well and moving more, while some people may take medication like tablets or insulin.

"Our study shows that time-restricted eating might be an effective alternative to traditional dieting for people who can’t do the traditional diet or are burned out on it," says senior study author Professor Krista Varady of the University of Illinois.

"For many people trying to lose weight, counting time is easier than counting calories."

woman with diabetes wearing monitor
Researchers say finding more options for controlling weight and blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes is crucial. (Getty Images)

Some 75 participants were split into three groups: those who followed the time-restricted eating rules, those who reduced calories and a control group.

Their weight, waist circumference, blood sugar levels and other health indicators were measured over a six month period. Those in the time-restricted eating group found it easier to follow the regime than those in the calorie reducing group.

The research team believe this is because patients with diabetes are often told to cut back on calories by their doctors as a first line of defence, so many of these participants had likely already tried – and struggled with – that form of dieting.

While the participants in the time-restricted eating group were not instructed to reduce their calorie intake, they still ended up doing so by eating within the fixed window.

Anyone can develop type 2 diabetes but it mostly affects people over 25 with a family history. With the number of cases expected to rise, the research team say finding more options for controlling weight and blood sugar levels is, therefore, crucial.

Separately, helping to explain why losing weight for people with diabetes can be important in the first place, Dr Hana Patel, an NHS GP, says, "If we are overweight and have diabetes and especially fat around our waist, then fat can build up around our organs, such as our liver and pancreas. This can cause something called insulin resistance. So losing this weight could help the insulin you produce or the insulin you inject to work properly."

What should people living with type 2 diabetes eat?

woman eating yoghurt and berries for breakfast
There is no one-size-fits all diet for people with diabetes, though guidance can help you achieve your goals. (Getty Images)

In terms of what people with type 2 diabetes should eat, Diabetes UK outlines, "There is no such thing as a special diet exclusively for people with type 2 diabetes. No two people with diabetes are the same. So there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of eating for everyone with diabetes."

While in the past advice might have included a strict list of foods to avoid, the charity instead urges people to make healthier choices more often, and to only have treats occasionally in small portions. What your goal is can also influence what you choose to eat, whether you want to reach your target blood sugar level, reduce cholesterol levels, improve blood pressure, be a healthy weight, or be in diabetes remission.

As a general rule of thumb, Diabetes UK recommends having things for breakfast like a bowl of wholegrain cereal with milk, wholegrain toast with olive oil-based spread, unsweetened yoghurt and fruit, or two slices of avocado with a hardboiled egg. Meanwhile, for lunch, you could have a pasta salad, soup, or salmon or tuna, while for dinner you could have lasagne and salad, roast chicken and veg (with or without potatoes), or curry chickpeas and brown rice.

What diets are currently recommended?

If you are overweight and have diabetes, see Diabetes UK's guide to losing weight safely. Again, while there is no 'one' special diet for all people with diabetes, approaches mentioned include low-calorie diets, low-carb diets and Mediterranean diets.

Dr Patel adds, "As a GP we often advise patients with diabetes to lose weight, and suggest low-carb diets. Protein and fat calories don't increase blood sugar as significantly as carbohydrates."

The Diabetes UK site does also mention other popular diets, like intermittent fasting and the Paleo diet, though points out there "isn't strong enough evidence to say these are effective for weight loss in people with diabetes". Hence, there needs to be more studies to further look into the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for people living with diabetes.

Consult your doctor about what is wright for you before making any changes to your diet or eating patterns.

Watch: Aspirin could help cut diabetes risk in over-65s, study suggests