Nothing gets me more riled up than talking about the current ‘standard of care’ medical model for diabetes. Really, it’s not so current at all. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has been ‘educating’ patients with the same terrible dietary advice that’s been given for decades. (See a great example of that here!) In fact, the ADA still insists that diabetes is a progressive disease that should be managed. (Insert eye roll here!) Imagine the possibilities if they instead were giving people hope and teaching them how to reverse diabetes with diet.
But sadly, the only thing that actually has changed since the 70’s is that the number of people who’ve developed diabetes has grown astronomically. 52% of adult Americans are either diabetic or prediabetic today.
Logic says that if we’ve followed medical advice and the problem has only become worse, maybe it’s time to rethink the advice being given. Obviously it’s not working.
So what does work?
Reverse Diabetes With Diet
The following information comes straight from Virta Health, a clinic in San Francisco dedicated to reversing Type 2 diabetes by thinking outside of the box. Instead of using the same broken medical model, they’re applying diet and lifestyle changes via physician supervised health coaching as well as technology (via apps) and community support.
The best part? They’re seeing amazing results!
After finding this well done post I felt compelled to pass it on in hopes it could help you. In this series, Dr. Sarah Hallberg explores the causes of type 2 diabetes and why our current medical treatment doesn’t work. Dr. Hallberg then goes on to discuss dietary intervention and its role in reversing type 2 diabetes.
So, let’s get started!
1. How Food Affects Blood Sugar
What happens when we eat carbohydrates, protein and fat?
Your blood insulin responds very differently to different macronutrients. Fat does not impact blood insulin levels. Carbs have a high impact, protein impacts them moderately, but fat? No impact!
Carbs and fats provide energy for the body. When carbs are limited in the diet, fat becomes the preferred and efficient fuel source. When you reduce your intake of one macronutrient, you have to increase your intake of at least one other macronutrient—otherwise you’ll feel hungry and not have enough energy. The low-fat craze started with flawed science that incorrectly stated that fat was dangerous. In a low carb, high-fat diet, fat provides you with the energy your body needs, and also helps knock out hunger and cravings.
2. Carbohydrate Intolerance and Insulin Resistance
Type 2 diabetes is a disease of high blood sugar. It can also be thought of as carbohydrate intolerance or insulin resistance. That means when someone with type 2 diabetes eats carbohydrates, it causes their blood sugar to rise above what is healthy.
Everyone has a different carbohydrate tolerance. One person may be able to eat a carb-heavy diet with no problem, and another may get blood sugar spikes and gain weight from eating very few carbohydrates. Both people can be healthy, as long as they are eating within their personal tolerance levels.
So, what is a carbohydrate? It’s one of the main energy sources in many foods, including bread, pasta, fruit and starches. When carbohydrates are digested, they are broken down into glucose in the blood. You may know this as blood sugar.
The body allows for only 1 tsp of sugar per 5 liters of blood, but there are 9 tsp in a cup of cooked white rice.
The excess glucose in your blood is pulled out by the hormone insulin. In a person with a high carbohydrate tolerance, this process works well and excess blood sugar is promptly removed.
In a person with carbohydrate intolerance, type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, this system breaks down. The body loses its insulin sensitivity and more and more insulin is required to remove the excess blood sugar. As a result, blood sugar levels remain high and insulin levels are high as well, and these high insulin levels can make your body even less sensitive to insulin.
The result? The cycle will happen over and over again and the problem will get worse.
3. How Type 2 Diabetes Became An Epidemic
52 percent of adults in the United States have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, which means that you are more likely than not to have diabetes or be developing it. How did we get here?
Well, in 1977, the U.S. government recommended new dietary guidelines. Remember the food pyramid?
The food pyramid recommended 6-11 servings of carbs per day, and very little fat — a low-fat, high-carb diet. As we outlined in our last video, type 2 diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance. Someone with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes has a low carbohydrate tolerance, so eating carbs will lead to exaggerated blood sugar spikes. While those with a high carb tolerance may be able to eat a carb-heavy diet and remain healthy, someone with a low carb tolerance will experience chronic high blood sugar and likely even weight gain if they eat a high-carb diet.
Soon after these guidelines were recommended in 1977, type 2 diabetes prevalence increased dramatically, and it hasn’t slowed down since.
These dietary recommendations have made high carb, low-fat foods a staple of the American diet. “Healthy” foods like fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, sugary protein shakes and low-fat processed grains flooded the market. The standard American diet began to include more sugary drinks and sodas, as well as more processed grains. Since all carbohydrates (even complex carbs) are broken down into sugar in the body, these dietary recommendations meant that the average blood sugar of Americans began to rise – and the diabetes epidemic began to grow.
4. Treating Type 2 Diabetes
With the explosion of type 2 diabetes, there has also been an explosion in the treatments offered – many new drugs have been brought to market, and there are hundreds of lifestyle interventions to choose from.
The problem with the medication-based approach is that you’ll most likely have to be on these medications for the rest of your life. They are expensive and many come with a host of side effects. The medication approach focuses on management of diabetes, not reversal. Taking medications for type 2 diabetes combats the end result, which is rising blood sugar, but does not address the root causes—insulin resistance and carbohydrate intolerance.
Shifting the paradigm to diabetes reversal, however, means addressing the root causes of type 2 diabetes.
Most lifestyle interventions focus on eating less and exercising more. But many patients have tried this and have seen minimal results, while also fighting unsustainable hunger and cravings. The problem with these programs is that they tend to be high in carbs, even if they are cutting back on calories. When you eat a high-carb diet, the resulting increase in your blood sugar triggers an insulin response in your body, and insulin blocks your body’s ability to burn fat. Insulin actively blocks the breakdown of stored body fat, meaning that as long as insulin is high, it will be very difficult to lose weight—even if you are eating very little.
Plus, when you eat too few calories, you’ll be exhausted, and struggle with constant hunger and cravings. The solution? If you want to lose weight and potentially reverse your diabetes, don’t just eat fewer calories on a high carb diet. Instead, switch to a low-carb, high fat diet that won’t cause blood sugar spikes. By keeping your blood sugar down, you’ll keep your insulin levels down, and unlock your body’s natural ability to burn its stored fat. It may seem counterintuitive, but to lose fat, you have to eat fat. This type of low-carb, high-fat diet is called a ketogenic diet.
*I do not recommend making significant dietary changes without physician supervision, especially if you are on any medications.
5. The History & Safety Of Ketogenic Diets
There are cultures who have thrived for centuries on high-fat, low-carb diets, such as the Masai warriors and Inuits.
And ketogenic diets have been used as medical treatments for a long time—specifically, to treat children with epilepsy. In the past 20 years, elite athletes, especially endurance athletes looking for an edge, have started adopting low carb and ketogenic diets for improved performance.
6. Research On Ketogenic Interventions For Type 2 Diabetes
Clinical trials have proven a low-carb, high fat diet to be significantly more effective than programs that encourage you to eat less and exercise.
In our clinical trial, Virta patients lost almost 12% of their starting body weight in 6 months1—that’s nearly 3x the weight loss of commercially available weight loss programs.
And contrary to what you might have been told, low-carb, high fat lifestyles have not demonstrated an increased risk in cardiovascular disease. In fact, patients in our clinical trial also had a significant reduction (22%) in triglycerides, which are associated with risk for cardiovascular disease, in just 10 weeks.1
56% of patients were able to lower their HbA1c to below the diagnostic threshold for type 2 diabetes, and 47.7% were able to reverse their diabetes—lower their HbA1c while eliminating their medications (excluding Metformin).1
7. Ketogenic Meals & Food Options
There are plenty of delicious high-fat, low-carb options available. (See below for my favorite cookbooks!) Let’s go through a sample day on a ketogenic diet.
Breakfast. You can enjoy breakfasts like scrambled eggs with cheese and sausage, bacon and fried eggs cooked in butter, cream cheese pancakes, full-fat yogurt with raspberries and almonds or even a breve latte from Starbucks.
Lunch. Salads are always a good option for lunch – load it up with meat or tofu, cheese, avocado, veggies and a full-fat dressing like olive oil or ranch. In a rush? Grab a lettuce-wrapped burger or bread-less sandwich from any fast food outlet. Like to cook? Try steak and brussels sprouts smothered in butter, salmon and asparagus with hollandaise sauce or a Thai curry made with tofu, coconut milk and green beans.
Snacks. For snacking, try salted nuts and olives, salami and cheese, celery and almond butter or full-fat yogurt.
Dinner. Prefer to dine out? Try a lettuce wrapped burger from a fast food restaurant, a salad from Chipotle or surf and turf with broccoli from Applebee’s. Feel free to have a glass of wine or scotch. Want something sweet? Try some low-carb ice cream, dark chocolate, almond flour pancakes or berries with whipped cream.
Preparation is key! To have the most success, pick up some really great keto cookbooks (in addition to online resources) for substitutions and meal ideas. The following are my favorites from my ridiculously large collection of keto/low carb cookbooks. 🙂
Just click on the images to purchase!
My Favorites Include:
I hope what you’ve heard and read has been overwhelmingly eye opening! I’ve seen the ugly side of progressive diabetes first hand. Trust me when I say it’s not the future you wish for. Whether you have prediabetes (aka insulin resistance) or have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it’s my hope that this has persuaded you to make positive dietary changes at the very least. At best, I hope it’s persuaded you to bravely jump on the challenge to reverse the damage through big changes in your diet. <3
Go here to learn more about the program that Virta Health has to offer.
To learn more on your own, check out “The Diabetes Code” by Dr. Jason Fung. If you stay busy (like I do) you might prefer to listen to it instead.