How Effective Is the American Diabetes Diet?

There is no American Diabetes Association diet, the American Diabetes Association explains. The organization makes dietary recommendations that may help people with diabetes achieve blood sugar control, weight loss, heart-healthy cholesterol levels and optimal blood pressure. Known collectively as medical nutrition therapy, these evidence-based recommendations have proven marginally effective in helping Americans reach these goals.

In clinical trials, people with Type 1 diabetes who received medical nutrition therapy achieved about a 1 percent decrease in their glucose levels, measured as hemoglobin A1c. People with Type 2 diabetes achieved a 1 to 2 percent decrease, the American Diabetes Association reports. Research also demonstrates that nutrition therapy helps decrease low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in people who don't have diabetes; however, it is unclear what type of diet is most effective in achieving this goal.

Modest weight loss improves insulin resistance, so weight loss is another goal of medical nutrition therapy, states the American Diabetes Association. However, the organization acknowledges that long-term weight loss is difficult for most people to achieve. In studies, rigorous restriction of caloric intake, regular physical activity, individualized counseling and frequent patient follow up were necessary to help patients achieve long-term weight loss of 5 to 7 percent. Since few diabetics have access to this type of intensive follow up, the actual efficacy of these measures in the general population is unknown.

As of 2015, the American Diabetes Association recommends the "plate method" of dietary management for people with diabetes, the organization explains. This involves filling half of one's plate with nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate with high-protein foods and a quarter of the plate with starchy vegetables or whole grains, then adding a serving of fresh fruit and a serving of low-fat dairy to the meal.