There is a lot of debate about whether or not eating carbohydrate foods contributes to blood sugar imbalances. Since carbohydrates break down into sugars, it is believed that eating too many can lead to an excess of glucose in the blood stream. If insulin is not able to get the glucose into the cells where it is needed, an excess of sugars will be floating in the bloodstream, and as some suggest, it gets stored as fat.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes that is also overweight may have been urged by their doctor to lose weight because being overweight not only increases the likelihood of getting diabetes, but it makes it more challenging to control. It can also increases your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions.
Our brains, muscles, and cells are powered by glucose as its main source of fuel. The brain especially burns up glucose just from all of our over-thinking, studying, worrying, and mental work. If the glucose can't get into the cells, it accumulates in the bloodstream. Why does this happen?
It happens for a couple of reasons, and it depends on whether you have Type 1 or Typed 2 diabetes. Type 1 is insulin-dependent because the pancreas are not able to adequately produce the insulin hormone that is key to getting the glucose into the cells. This is now believed to be a result of a dysfunction of the immune system. The white blood cells attack the cells of the pancreas rather than the bacteria and viruses they are supposed to be attacking. It is believed this could be happening because of triggers from foods that we could be eating from our very beginning.
Type 2 is far more common diabetes and is a condition of being resistant to insulin. The insulin is trying to get the glucose into the cells, but can't. Increasing levels of insulin are produced as a response to try to overcome the resistance. Why is this? Because our cells need to eat! They need glucose for energy. The body always tries to compensate to support vital functions.
Drugs are used to either help the cells improve the ability of insulin getting into the cells, help the pancreas to release more insulin, or block the liver from sending even more glucose into the bloodstream.
The general dietary advice has been to limit the amount of sugars and starches, which are made up of several glucose molecules strung together in more complex pattern. This was to manage excess glucose build up, and minimize the work the cells need to do trying to get the glucose into the cells.
One of the more reliable tests for how well someone is managing their blood sugar levels is testing hemoglobin A1c. It will test how much glucose has stuck to hemoglobin, the red pigmentation of our red blood cells that carry oxygen. If there is a lot of glucose in the blood, it will be reflected in how much got into the cells and is sticking to the hemoglobin. It can indicate more clearly what has been going on for the previous 3 months, rather than just being a brief snapshot of what is going on at the time a standard glucose test is given. Blood cells reproduce every 4 months, hence why the A1c test can indicate how well blood sugar is being controlled over a several month time period.
The American Diabetes Association recommends people having their A1c values lower then 6.5-7%. The diet they prescribe would be aimed at managing the amount of starches consumed with exchange lists, get your eating patterns more regulated in general, and would be geared towards reducing weight and cholesterol levels. Yet while this can improve some people's eating habits, the results have been minimal at reducing the A1c, typically going from 8.0 -7.5%, or a reduction of .5%.
Since the effects of this typical diet are minimal, and weight loss is minimal, doses of drugs get increased, or insulin injections are added.
Yet in countries that do not follow the SAD diet, nor the type prescribed by the ADA limiting carbs, diabetes and weight problems were rare. Heart disease and cancer is rare as well. People in these countries consumed large amounts of carbohydrates.
Many studies have been done, even as early as 1900, testing the effects of diet alone, and diet and exercise to improve insulin sensitivity which helps the glucose get into the cells for fuel. More recent research has found that fat is the culprit.
Since 1979, studies of varying ranges have been conducted, small to large, some diet alone, and some included exercise, with people already taking insulin, and even those who were potentially pre-diabetic, and not yet diagnosed with diabetes. Each study that was conducted that used a low-fat, specifically low animal-fat diet that included lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains was met with great results. On average, people placed on a low-fat, vegan or near vegan diet were able to reduce or stop taking insulin, and lost on average one pound per week. Even cholesterol levels plummeted. The tests of diet showed improvements of more than double the effectiveness of reducing A1c then drugs
While drugs like Glucophage may reduce A1c by about 0.6%, and the ADA diet showed reductions of about 0.4%, those studied consistently had a reduction of about 1.2% in their Ac1 levels. This is very beneficial as each 1-point drop reduces risk of other complications associated with diabetes such as eye problems like glaucoma, and kidney problems.
People believe they have faulty wiring that creates abnormal insulin levels, yet what the studies found was that their was sufficient insulin, it just couldn't get the glucose into the cells because the cells were gummed up with fat. The fat interferes with insulin's ability to do its job.
Part of the problem with those who have type 1 diabetes is that they may have fewer mitochondria which burn fat, converting it to energy. This, too, is effected by dietary fat. Studies also showed just how quickly fat can build up in your cells. Eating a high fat diet quickly leads to a huge increase in intramyocellular lipids. This not only stores as fat in the cells, but it in essence turns off the engines of the mitochondria, inhibiting fat metabolism. As fat builds up in the muscle cells, insulin doesn't work, and the glucose which is not getting into the cells begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. The body tries to produce more insulin, and a vicious cycle ensues of this build up of glucose, and insulin resistance.
The studies conducted are showing clearly that the accumulation of fat in the cells, and the many problems it causes in the body including insulin resistance and type-2 diabeltes, weight gain, and much more, is not just because of our genes. Diet plays a huge role. This is great news, as it leaves us all in the drivers seat. Even if genes play a partial role, diabetes can be prevented, and even reversed. Of the many studies conducted, the medications had to be continually monitored and reduced of those following a low-fat, vegan diet, or they ended up suffering the opposite swing of the blood sugar dance of hypoglycemia.
Dr. Neal Barnard has been one of the many doctors and researchers who have conducted tests on the effects of diet to prevent and reverse diabetes. Even his dad, also a medical doctor worked in a busy community clinic along with Dr. Joslin, who in 1950 had already grown frustrated with the standard medical approach to treating diabetes because of it being cumbersome, taking blood tests daily, along with the relatively ineffectual results to the drugs and the diet recommendations that were being made.
Over 200 million people suffer from diabetes. Dr. Neal Barnard has successfully treated many people by putting them on a low-fat, vegan diet with unlimited amounts of complex carbs. Animal foods, dairy, added oils are eliminated, and people eat unlimited carbs that are considered to be low on the glycemic index scale. People find the diet to be far easier than anticipated, lose weight, feel great, and greatly reduce or eliminate their insulin and medications for diabetes.
Beans and legumes, and whole grains in particular help reduce cholesterol, are high in fiber, and assist with weight loss while also lowering the risk of heart disease and many cancers.
Eating a low carbohydrate diet doesn't reverse or recalibrate the body's blood sugar balance mechanisms. The higher protein and fat actually exacerbate the problem. Unfortunately, many are very confused and misled about this issue. The body needs glucose to burn as fuel, and it is designed to get this from plant sources of whole foods. Vegetables, fruits, and beans are loaded with nutrients that contribute to vibrant health, improve elimination, and circulation of blood and lymph. Excess fat and animal protein is very congesting, and leads to inflammation, sluggish blood flow, pain, and many other diseases including impotence and Alzheimer's disease. Besides, if you can eat unlimited amounts of the right foods, and easily lose weight without counting calories, plus safeguard yourself from many chronic age-accelerating diseases, and save tons of money in the process, why not at least try?
It turns out that meat, dairy, sugar, and chocolate have one more caveat. They all have an addictive quality.
When the tongue tastes sugars, for example, it triggers the release of opiates. The brain produces serotonin as a result. But like opiates, even at lower levels, the brain can easily get hooked. Some people who have naturally low amounts of dopamine, another of the feel-good neurotransmitters, seek foods or any other substances that can produce the feel-good effects of the dopamine. Some foods like dairy have a whole host of chemical compounds that are addicting. Complex carbs, by contrast, are not foods that typically are excessively craved like the more refined ones found in white breads, cookies, etc.
Getting over the addictions just takes the right strategy, and living without the grip hold that these addictions can have on us is very liberating.
There is much more that can be said about the addictive qualities to foods, and on preventing and reversing diabetes. Dr. Neal Barnard, among others, have several great books worth the read, even if you don't have diabetes. They will help you to better understand what are the best foods to eat, allow you to get a feel for the mechanisms leading to disease, and offer great menu ideas and recipes created by well known chefs.
Try Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes, or Breaking The Food Seduction. Other books he has written include the following: Eat Right, Live Longer; Foods That Fight Pain; Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook, Food For Life: How The New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life, The 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, and Turn Off the Fat Genes.