WEIGHT LOSS REVERSES DIABETES
In 2011, scientists at Newcastle University discovered that diabetes is caused when excess fat gets stored in the liver and pancreas. Since then they have been aggressively looking at weight loss as a method to reverse diabetes. Some say it does not matter how you lose weight as long as you get it off. Is that true?
Since Dr. Atkins 1972 Diet Revolution[i] it has become increasingly common to see people follow a high-protein, low-carb diets as a way to lose weight. Many similar diet books, such as the South-Beach or Paleo diets quickly sprang up, also advocating high-protein, low-carb diets. No doubt, you have also heard that there are dangers associated with these diets but feel helplessly lost without a clue of what to do, yet feel desperate to do something to relieve yourself of some of those extra pounds.
The Ingredient that Makes Diets Work
Having studied most of the dietary approaches, I feel confident in saying that there is a common thread that runs through all the diet plans which work to promote better long term health. They all advocate increasing the quantity of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, grains and seeds in the diet. The best diets advocate eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods, especially the green leafy vegetables and colorful, non-starchy vegetables. These foods contain the highest quantity of nutrients per calorie. When you eat any diet that is high in these constituents, your health will improve. But what about diets that do not contain substantial amounts of these foods?
Cardiovascular Disease Among People with Diabetes
Here is something to consider. According the American Heart Association, 68% of people age 65 or older with diabetes will die of heart disease, not diabetes.[ii] Why is that? It is because diabetes and cardiovascular disease are caused by the same underlying problem—inflammation. If inflammation is the underlying cause, why are patients not aggressively treated for inflammation instead of focusing on the blood sugar? Clearly, if 68% of people with diabetes are dying of cardiovascular disease, there are many more who have it but die of something else. How many of them actually die of diabetes? How many others are dying of other inflammatory diseases? In order to improve their diabetes, many people pursue strategies of losing weight without considering what kind of impact their course of action might have on their cardiovascular disease? Different labels have been put on these diseases which may be distracting patients from the real solution. It is imperative that the whole person be considered when deciding on an important intervention like a weight loss strategy.
Effects of Eating More Vegetables
A diet high in green leafy and colorful vegetables works by providing your body with all the nutrients required for cellular growth. When these substances are available in sufficient quantity healing occurs and inflammation is decreased. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn recommends that cardiovascular patients eat (chew) greens several times a day. He reports that high fat diets make the inside lining of arteries like Velcro, causing them to hold on to cholesterol, whereas, eating greens six times a day makes the arterial linings slick like Teflon, preventing cardiovascular disease. B. Poljsak, PhD states that due to all the processed foods being eaten, 65% of Adults are eating a nutrient deficient diets, which lead to inflammation. But 80% of young people are eating nutrient deficient diets. The point is, eating vegetables decreases inflammation, making both cardiovascular disease and diabetes better.
Effect of Diet on Coronary Blood Flow
In a study done, comparing a whole-foods, plant-based diet with a low-carb, high-protein diet researchers discovered that the whole-foods, plant-based diet increased blood flow to the heart by 40%. The low-carb, high-protein diet decreased blood flow to the heart by 40% compared to the Standard American Diet. In a population that is at high risk for cardiovascular disease, like people with diabetes, a 40% reduction in coronary blood flow represents a huge increase in risk for heart disease.[iii]
A Case in Point
Stan was a coworker who learned that I was going to begin teaching a classes in how to reverse diabetes. He told me that he had been diagnosed with diabetes 14 years earlier. His fasting blood sugars customarily ran in the 180’s; he had neuropathy pain in both feet; and he suffered from angina. He had previously had 8 stents placed in his heart. Every day at work he would experience chest pain any time he did moderate physical exertion. I shared with him our belief that a whole-foods, plant-based diet offered the safest alternative lifestyle for a person with diabetes. He went home and gave it a try. Two weeks later he shared that his blood sugars were down to around 120, but was most excited to report that his angina had completely gone away. I do not believe that his cardiovascular disease had reversed in that time—it usually takes several months to accomplish that. But what happened was the diet he began following increased coronary blood flow to the place that he did not experience the same angina. A few months later, Stan reverted to eating what he had been accustomed to eating and it was not long before his angina returned.
Scientist have learned much about the risks and health benefits of certain diets. But, when considering the whole person with diabetes who needs to lose weight, I strongly caution against a diet that advocates eating high-protein or high fat. Instead, I steer an individual toward a diet pattern that utilizes 9 servings/day of green leafy vegetables and/or the colorful, non-starchy vegetables each day. These high-nutrient foods are anti-inflammatory, and are low calorie as well, resulting in weight loss, healing, and health. This kind of diet is what will be safest for someone with diabetes, who needs to lose weight.
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[ii] Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes, American Heart Association. Accessed 02/12/18. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/Diabetes/WhyDiabetesMatters/Cardiovascular-Disease-Diabetes_UCM_313865_Article.jsp/#.WoGtBmaZP-Y
[iii] Fleming, Richard M. (2000) The effect of high-protein diets on coronary blood flow. Angiology, 51(10):817-26