Food and Diabetes: Major Diet Plans
An excerpt from the book, “A Guide to Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes: Using Natural Supplements, Nutrition, and Alternative Therapies to Better Manage Your Diabetes” by Gene Bruno, MS, MHS. Read additional excerpts or buy the whole book.
MAJOR DIET PLANS
Now, we will take a look at the major diet plans. Although there were many plans to choose from, the ones that follow are the ones that I feel have the most research behind them to sup- port or refute their use when dealing with diabetes.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is based upon the diets of at least sixteen countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Although there are many differences in culture, ethnic background, religion, economy, and agricultural production throughout these countries—which result in variations in food intake among the population groups—there is still a common Mediterranean dietary pattern.
The main components of the Mediterranean Diet are:
- Dairy products, fish, and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts
- Eggs are consumed no more than four times a week
- High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread, whole grain cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds
- Olive oil is used as an important monounsaturated fat source
- Very little amounts of red meat are consumed
- Wine is consumed in low-to-moderate amounts (equivalent to one glass of wine daily)
Consequently, this diet plan tends to be lower on the GI scale and includes a good balance of dietary fats. Research has shown that the Mediterranean Diet reduces both mortality and fatal and nonfatal heart attack rates, while providing protection against coronary heart disease. Furthermore, the Mediterranean Diet has been shown to provide good control over blood glucose levels.
The South Beach Diet
The South Beach Diet was designed by cardiologist Arthur Agatston and dietician Marie Almon as a diet plan to prevent heart disease. As its popularity increased, however, its use expanded into a means to lose weight.
A primary principle of the South Beach Diet is to replace “bad carbohydrates” with “good carbohydrates” and “bad fats” with “good fats.” Consequently, the South Beach Diet favors relatively unprocessed foods that are lower on the GI scale, such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains. This diet plan also eliminates trans fats, discourages saturated fats, and replaces them with foods rich in unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acid.
Overall, the South Beach Diet seems to be a good option for controlling blood glucose levels. It has also been shown to pro- mote heart health and a healthy weight.
Raw Food Vegetarian Diet
Although not always easy to follow, a raw food vegetarian diet may offer significant benefits for diabetics. By its nature, it is lower in GI foods, lower in calories, and lower in protein (compared to non-vegetarian diets). Case reports have indicated that diabetic patients placed on a diet containing an increased percentage of raw food were able to decrease their insulin requirement. In fact, one patient had his insulin requirement reduced from sixty units per day to fifteen units per day. Furthermore, long-term consumption of a low-calorie, low-protein vegan diet is associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease. This included the following parameters for lower risk: lower body mass index (BMI), lower plasma concentrations of lipids, lipoproteins, glucose, insulin, and C-reactive protein, as well as lower blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) and thickness of the internal diameter of the carotid (a measure of heart disease risk).
However, other research studies indicate that consuming a strictly raw food diet lowers plasma total cholesterol, triglyceride concentrations, and serum HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) while increasing homocysteine concentrations. Lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels are a good thing, but a reduction in HDL cholesterol and an increase in homocysteine are not good. This is due to a vitamin B12 deficiency—but the deficiency could be easily offset by using a vitamin B12 supplement. Long-term benefits of following a raw food or vegan diet were also seen in a seventeen-year observational study of vegetarians and other health-conscious people attempting to follow a healthy diet. Results demonstrated that daily consumption of fresh fruit was associated with significantly reduced mortality from ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease. Overall, the individuals in the study had a mortality rate equal to about half of that of the general population. Additionally, a twelve-week study on individuals following a raw food vegetarian diet experienced improvements in measures of mental and emotional quality of life.
MyPyramid Diet Plan
On April 19, 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled the new Food Pyramid, referred to as “MyPyramid.” Those who follow MyPyramid are said to be on the MyPyramid Diet Plan. This plan was said to provide Americans with the ability to personalize their approach when choosing a healthier lifestyle, while also letting said Americans balance nutrition and exercise. At the same time, researchers discussing MyPyramid in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association have stated that MyPyramid is not “a therapeutic diet for any specific health condition.” However, the same researchers have noted that recommendations to follow MyPyramid are remarkably consistent with the various recommendations to control obesity and diabetes, heart disease and stroke, hypertension, cancer, and osteoporosis. This includes recommendations from the American Diabetes Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, the American Heart Association, and the National Committee on High Blood Pressure. Nevertheless, there are not any specific studies validating MyPyramid as a diet plan for helping diabetics control their blood sugar levels. Even so, it seems likely that the MyPyramid plan could indeed help diabetics.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet, created by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, is a low- carbohydrate diet plan that is, for the most part, relatively high in fat and protein. The rationale for the lower consumption of carbohydrates in this plan is to limit the amount of glucose or sugars added to the body’s metabolism. In essence, Dr. Atkins proposed that the body regularly produces insulin to convert excess carbohydrates into body fat, so excess carbohydrates must be eliminated as to not create more fat.
While a number of scientific studies using the low-carbohydrate diet lend support to this approach for successful weight loss, the high-saturated fat content of this diet makes Atkins a bad idea for anyone who is at higher risk for heart disease (like diabetics).
Before Starting Any Diet
With the exception of Atkins, if you follow one of these diets with a high degree of commitment, the results can be dramatic. Consequently, if you are using an oral medication to control your glucose levels, you should check with your doctor to see whether or not the dosage you are taking will need to be adjusted. If you are using insulin, you will be able to adjust your own dose based upon your glucose readings.
Whatever diet plan you end up following, I would encourage you to choose foods that are organically grown whenever it is possible.
On its website, the USDA answers the question, “What is organic food?” in this way:
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
Organically grown foods offer Americans a healthier alternative to conventionally-grown foods. Let us examine the evidence. On August 22, 2002, Dr. Erik Steen Kristensen of the Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming presented data on food safety from an organic perspective at the Fourteenth International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Congress in Victoria, Canada.
Dr. Kristensen offered the following reasons to consider organic foods:
- Discovery of animals with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), or mad cow disease
- Fewer pesticides, antibiotics, and additives than non-organic food has
- Increased occurrence of campylobacter in non-organic meat
- Increased occurrence of dioxin (an environmental pollutant) in food and fodder
- Increased occurrence of Salmonella in non-organic meat and eggs
- No toxic fungi from foods
- Risk of listeria (a serious bacterial infection) from non-organic dairy products
Indeed, various data indicate that compared to conventionally-grown produce, organically-grown produce has:
- Lower levels of heavy metals
- Lower nitrate levels (less potential to cause cancer)
- Lower or zero levels of food additives (less food intolerance and cancer-causing potential)
- Higher phenol levels (which result in greater protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease)
- Higher vitamin C levels
Likewise, Dr. Kristensen presented data that compare conventional animal foods (like meat) to organic animal foods. His research stated that organic animal foods had:
- Higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA (which are preventive against cancer and arteriosclerosis)
- Higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins
- Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids
- Higher levels of vitamin C
- Lower residues of medicines (less transfer of resistance genes to human pathogens)
- Zero myotoxins (less potential problems for the liver, kidney, and nervous system)
Additionally, animal studies show higher fertility and less mortality in animals raised organically. Furthermore, studies have shown that when given a choice, animals prefer organic fodder to conventionally produced fodder. At this point, however, similar studies have not been conducted on humans. Collectively, though, all this data makes a pretty good case for recommending that the public make organic food choices whenever possible.
As a diabetic, you already know the importance of keeping your blood glucose levels under tight control. To make this easier, you now know some dietary options for doing just that. Additionally, this chapter should have also provided you with an understanding of the importance of consuming organic foods whenever possible. With a change in diet (and the addition of exercise), you can potentially become healthy enough to stop taking one or more of your prescribed medications. It’s true—the results can be that dramatic.
By adhering to one of the recommended diet plans in this chapter, you will experience other benefits as well. You can normalize your weight; lower your risk of heart disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke; and lower your blood pressure. You may even reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Furthermore, eating a healthy diet makes it more likely that you will be consuming a broader spectrum of important vitamins and minerals—although even then you still may not be getting enough. In the next chapter, we will discuss the use of a multivitamin and other key nutrients that can help assure diabetics that they are getting all of the nutrients they need.
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