Every day you turn on the news, a new sensational meal planning tip is highlighted for the American public. It goes something along the lines of "eat this, eliminate that." As a diabetes educator, I am asked by my patients all the time for that magic bullet, that one thing that can improve blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. My role is to make people understand that one size does not fit all, and that meal planning for diabetes is individualized. Research can help educators fine-tune the needs of patients.

An interesting article in the July issue of the American Diabetes Association's journal Diabetes Care highlighted the benefit of reducing the glycemic load of a meal plan with canola oil. (1) I had a chance to talk with the lead author and researcher, David Jenkins, about this study and its implications for medical providers.

The intent of the study was to evaluate the effects of combining a low glycemic load diet with alpha linoleic acid and monounsaturated fats since they had never been evaluated in combination.To do this, the researchers recruited 141 individuals with type 2 diabetes on oral antihyperglycemic agents. They were divided into two groups: one group followed a low glycemic diet with canola oil-enriched whole-wheat bread and the other were told to avoid white-flour products and replace them with whole-wheat items instead. Each group followed this meal plan for three months.

The study found that the canola oil group had a slight lowering of A1C, but it seemed to help those with high blood pressure the most. Dr. Jenkins mentioned that while there has always been interest in the low glycemic index/glycemic load (GI/GL) meal plan, this helps to pave the way to further illustrate that it can have some distinct advantages in people with diabetes.  However, he makes a point to say that it is not just about the GI. Choosing the right type of oil can increase the benefits, especially to LDL cholesterol. For fellow health professionals, we need to be able to steer the person with diabetes to the right choices for the entire meal plan, not just one component.

When asked what surprises the study held, Jenkins stated that it was quite interesting to find that those with the highest risk had the most benefit. He also stated that this finding goes along with previous studies. For example, David Ludwig and colleagues found that individuals with higher insulin levels (insulin resistance) were those who had the best weight loss on low GL diets. (2)  Another study also showed that individuals with higher BMI who followed a low GI diet reduced cardiovascular risk. (3)

Dr. Jenkins did mention that his next research study will be focusing on low carbohydrate diets using canola oil and its effect on diabetes. He acknowledges the controversies regarding low carbohydrate and low glycemic index, but providers need to keep an open mind and truly individualize meal plans for patients with diabetes.

The bottom line of the canola oil study showed that increasing healthy fats with linoleic acid while reducing carbohydrates can have a distinct advantage in type 2 patients. But, what does this mean for educators who work with patients every day and their number one question is: what do educators eat? Dr. Jenkins suggests that teaching patients about low glycemic foods and incorporating canola oil into their meal plans can have a distinct health benefit. Canola oil is higher in omega-3 fat than other oils, so adding canola oil can increase our intake without much effort. Directing people to the right resources about canola oil can help them easily make meal plan changes.

Canolainfo.org is an excellent resource for healthcare professionals and patients. Two helpful resources to start with include the Top 10 Myth-Busting facts about Canola highlighting some helpful information about canola oil and its benefits. Since patients are always asking for recipes, Canolainfo.org’s Eat and Be Well recipe booklet is a great resource for people to experiment with new recipes using canola oil. The website includes many other resources that can be helpful for your patients to use canola oil, so be sure to take a look at what they have to offer.

We all know that one size does not fit all when it comes to meal planning for diabetes, and this study illustrates that healthy fat and lower GI/GL meal plans could be a consideration for people with diabetes.

Recipes using canola oil can be found within DiabetesCare.net's Recipe Center, which can be accessed here.

1) Jenkins DJA et al. Effect of lowering the glycemic load with canola oil on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors: a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2014;37(7):1806-1814.
2) Ebbeling CB et al.  Effects of  Dietary Composition on energy expenditure during weight-loss maintenance. JAMA. 2012; 307(24): 2627-2634.
3) Ebbeling CB et al.  Effects of an ad-libitum low-glycemic load diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in obese young adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005.