What are the best diets to follow on GLP-1 medications?
LAST UPDATED: Jun 15, 2023
5 MIN READ
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL COVER
Though there is no “one size fits all” diet, there are a few diets that can help reduce side effects and help to increase your medication’s success rate.
What are GLP-1 medications?
Glucagon-like peptide-1 agonists work by recreating the effects of a hormone naturally produced by your body, called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1).
GLP-1 agonists are medications healthcare professionals use to manage blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes. Sometimes, a healthcare provider may prescribe GLP-1 medications to people without diabetes to aid in weight loss.
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How do GLP-1 medications work?
When you eat food, your body automatically releases the hormone GLP-1. This hormone stimulates insulin release, and stops glucagon from being released, slows digestion, and decreases appetite. GLP-1 medications act on the same receptors as the naturally produced hormone to mimic these effects.
Originally, GLP-1 agonists were designed to help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes because as we said earlier, they stimulate the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps move glucose from your blood into cells to be used as energy, lowering your blood sugar levels.
The medications also stop the body from releasing glucagon, a hormone that helps bring glucose out of storage and into the bloodstream. In people with diabetes, it could raise their blood sugar level to an unhealthy range if they have insulin resistance.
Another function of this medication is to slow gastric emptying, meaning food stays in the stomach longer.
When food moves through digestion quickly, it tends to increase blood sugar levels more rapidly and you may feel hungry again sooner. Since the medication slows down digestion, it takes longer for the stomach to empty and longer before you feel hungry again.
If you’re considering taking GLP-1 medications, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider about the different options available. Some GLP-1 agonists are approved only for treating type 2 diabetes while others are approved as a weight loss drug.
Best diet to follow while on GLP-1 medications
GLP-1s don’t guarantee results on their own. Instead, they’re designed and FDA-approved in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle including eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Whether your goal with GLP-1 medications is blood sugar control or weight loss, adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle will support your goal.
Fortunately, there is no exact diet to follow. So instead of trying to find a strict diet, aim for dietary changes that fit best for you. Making slow changes that build into sustainable habits will help support your health for years to come.
There are a few diet types that may be best suited for supporting your health goals while taking GLP-1 medications. Focus on one of these types or pull pieces from each to find what works best for you.
Eating enough protein is important for most people. It especially helps people who are active and those trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Some of the benefits of protein include supporting feelings of fullness, rebuilding muscle tissue, improving recovery after exercise, and many other body functions.
Increasing your protein intake can be important if you’re looking to maximize fat weight loss while keeping muscle tissue when taking GLP-1 medications.
A 2021 study found that people taking a GLP-1 medication experienced a decrease in fat-free mass compared to people taking a placebo. Fat-free mass is any of the tissue in the body that isn’t fat such as muscle, bone, skin, etc. This means that some weight loss didn’t come from excess body fat but came from those lean tissues.
Research supports that eating a high-protein diet during weight loss helps prevent the loss of lean body tissue. This effect could help ensure a larger percentage of the weight lost while taking a GLP-1 medication from excess body fat instead of muscle.
There is no exact calculation to see the specific amount of protein your body needs and researchers have assessed different levels. In the study, high protein diets were listed with ranges like 1.07-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or as a percentage range like 25-30% of total calories for the day.
When adding protein to your diet, consider adding a variety of plant-based and animal protein sources, such as:
Fish and seafood
Beans and legumes
Healthcare professionals often recommend a consistent carbohydrate diet for people wanting to manage their blood sugar levels. A consistent carbohydrate diet involves balancing your carb intake throughout the day. Its goal is to help keep blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day.
Whenever you eat foods containing carbohydrates, the glucose goes into the bloodstream and to different areas of the body. Normally, the body can easily bring the sugar out of the blood and maintain a stable level through insulin release from the pancreas. However, in people with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or type 2 diabetes, the sugar stays in the blood longer, leading to high blood sugar levels.
Eating a consistent carbohydrate diet spreads the work of processing the carbs throughout the day, helping keep the blood sugar level more stable than eating a meal high in carbohydrates. While following a consistent carbohydrate diet, consume more complex carbohydrates that promote a more stable blood sugar level. Examples of complex carbs include whole grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, and legumes.
Simple carbs are more easily digested and tend to spike blood sugar levels. Limit simple carbs such as sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, desserts, and white bread.
The exact amount of carbs you need depends on your body's needs. Talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian about how many grams of carbohydrates may be best for you.
Whether you’re taking GLP-1 medication to support blood sugar control or weight loss, a plant-based diet may be for you.
A plant-based diet consists of mainly eating or all plant-based foods. Some people may choose to follow an entirely vegetarian diet, or they may just reduce the amount of animal products they consume. One study found that plant-based diets were associated with better gut health and insulin sensitivity. Another study shares that plant-based diets may improve blood glucose levels, body weight, blood lipid levels, and blood pressure.
However, it’s important to remember the benefits of a plant-based diet depend on the types of foods you’re eating. Many foods high in calories and sugar can be considered plant-based.
When eating a plant-based diet, focus on most of your meals coming from whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. If you continue including some animal products opt for leaner options that are lower in saturated fat.
Fad diets stop here
If appropriate, get effective weight loss treatment prescribed for your body.
The popular Mediterranean diet could be a good diet option while taking GLP-1 medications. This diet focuses on eating primarily plant-based foods and healthy fats.
The main foods in a Mediterranean diet include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, seafood, nuts, legumes, and olive oil.
One of the trickiest parts of weight loss has been maintaining weight loss and preventing rebound weight gain. A 2020 study found people who consistently followed a Mediterranean diet were twice as likely to maintain weight loss.
If you’re taking GLP-1 medication for blood sugar control, the Mediterranean diet could be a fit for you. Following a Mediterranean diet is associated with better blood sugar control.
Which diet should you follow?
There isn’t an exact answer to which diet is best while taking GLP-1 medications. The answer depends on how different foods impact your body and what you enjoy eating. The best diet is full of healthy foods that you enjoy eating. Aim for sustainable lifestyle changes that will support your long-term health goals.
Talk with a healthcare professional about your questions about GLP-1 medications and following a healthy diet.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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