Experts predict that diabetes mellitus will become one of the world’s leading disablers and killers within the next twenty-five years. The World Health Organization has sounded the alarm, urging “immediate action to stem the tide…and to introduce cost-effective treatment strategies to reverse this trend.”
One obvious strategy is to make a strong effort to avoid certain foods, namely refined carbohydrates, and added sugars and sweeteners that lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes. You must get “carbo-smart,” as I have repeatedly told patients, and written about, over the years, because many of the health problems we have, including diabetes, are linked to overconsumption of carbohydrates.
The journal Nutrition makes this point absolutely clear in a 2014 critical review authored by more than two dozen international experts. In it, they presented major evidence proving that low-carbohydrate diets should be the “first approach” for the most common form of the disease – type 2 diabetes – and the “most effective adjunct” to medication in type 1. Such restrictive diets “reliably” reduce high blood glucose and either reduce or eliminate the need for medications that often create side effects. Moreover, the benefits do not require weight loss, “although nothing is better for weight reduction” than a low-carbohydrate diet, they said.
Duke University professor Eric Westman, M.D., director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, summed up the findings this way: “At the end of our clinic day, we go home thinking, ‘The clinical improvements are so large and obvious, why don’t other doctors understand?’ Carbohydrate restriction is easily grasped by patients: because carbohydrates in the diet raise the blood glucose, and as diabetes is defined by high blood glucose, it makes sense to lower the carbohydrate in the diet. By reducing the carbohydrate in the diet, we have been able to taper patients off as much as 150 units of insulin per day in 8 d, with marked improvement in glycemic control and even normalization of glycemic parameters.”
The authors of the study further argued that low-carbohydrate diets have little risk and good compliance and that low-fat diets have generally failed to prove themselves effective. They recommended replacement of carbohydrate with fat or, in some cases, with protein. “Both are beneficial in both types of diabetes leading to better glycemic control, weight loss, cardiovascular-risk markers, and reduction in medication,” they said.
There are variations of low-carbohydrate diets. The best strategy, I believe, is along the lines of a “Paleo Diet,” one that emphasizes meat, vegetables, nuts, and extra-virgin olive oil, with just a moderate amount of fruit. It is like a Mediterranean Diet without all the pasta, rice, bread, and sugar – the carbs. Avoiding processed foods is a main part of this approach.
A good measuring stick for what’s good and what’s not so good for you is the glycemic index – a guide to how carbohydrates break down in the body and affect your blood sugar (glucose) level. Here’s a good description from the American Diabetes Association.
Besides cutting down on your carbs, apply the index basics to those you do eat. It’s simple. Emphasize foods low on the index, such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, corn, lima beans, carrots, legumes, and greens. Avoid the white bread and bagels, instant oatmeal, white rice, macaroni, pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, and saltine crackers.
Fruits contain natural sugar, called fructose. Your best bet is to avoid very ripe fruit, which is higher in fructose, and minimize your intake of high index items like watermelon, pineapple, mangos, papayas, and dried fruit. Berries, apricots, and apples are some of the lowest fruit on the index.
Raw vegetables (onions and kale are two of my favorites) are awesome. They are packed with natural enzymes, antioxidants, minerals, and insulin regulating fiber. Get at least a couple of servings in per day.
Prepare your meats less cooked than you might otherwise do, as that allows for greater preservation of the enzymes. Eating less cooked food and eating less overall are keys to success. It’s a well-known fact that cooking destroys 50 percent of protein, up to 80 percent of vitamins, and even more of other vital factors.
The “less cooked” approach can help “turn on” or upgrade an individual’s genetic expression from diabetes back to non-diabetes, according to Gabriel Cousens, M.D., medical director of Tree of Life Center– a ranch-like clinic in southern Arizona that offers a program in lifestyle education with a goal of diabetes reversal.
One of the initial steps in the program is a green juice fast featuring a good deal of cucumbers and string beans. Cucumbers help promote regeneration of beta cells − the cells in the pancreas where insulin is produced. String beans actually contain insulin. No fruit juices are included, though, because of the sugar content.
I don’t recommend you go on a fast unless you are under the supervision of a knowledgeable health professional.
- World Health Organization. Diabetes: the cost of diabetes (Fact sheet # 236).
- Feinman RD, et al. Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: Critical review and evidence base. Nutrition, 2014; Published online at http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007(14)00332-3/abstract
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