Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, and it is a metabolic disorder — which means that it is a lifestyle disease. It’s characterized by high blood sugar, which occurs when too much glucose (sugar) stays in your blood and not enough reaches your cells. The pancreas then releases a hormone called insulin to regulate blood sugar and help the glucose get into your cells to be used for energy. However, when this process repeats too many times you can become insulin resistant, which can be due to an insufficient secretion of insulin or an insensitivity to insulin.
In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin properly, which can lead to the sugar from food staying in the blood, resulting in high blood sugar. According to CDC, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes and 90% to 95% of them have type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes and do not change your eating habits, your stress levels, control your weight and get regular activity it can become a life threatening condition.
Type 2 diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, has long been considered a disease of carbohydrate metabolism and therefore low carbohydrate diets are recognized as being particularly appropriate for people with type 2 diabetes. There has been debate about the metabolic effects of restricting carbohydrate intake in weight and diabetes management. The definition of a very low carbohydrate diet is usually one with less than 50 to 70 grams of carbohydrate each day.
If you are relying only on medications to solve your problems, then it will require life long treatment. On the other hand, making some lifestyle changes and cutting out foods that affect your blood sugar levels, such as replacing bread, pasta, rice, baked goods and high sugar fruits with healthy fats, lean proteins, and vegetables, and being as active as possible, can actually help you reverse your disease.
A very low carbohydrate diet can be challenging and complicated, so especially if you are using medications you must let your physician know what you are planning to do, so as not to cause any complications (such as ketoacidosis and hypoglycemia). But with a healthy lifestyle, and by minimizing other risk factors such as environmental toxicity, type 2 diabetes is both preventable and reversible.
I actually experienced, with my sister, that it is possible to reverse diabetes simply by changing diet and activity level. She was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes almost 20 years ago, and used high levels of insulin for many years. If she had followed the general recommendations of carbohydrates accounting for 50% of the total daily kcalorie intake, she would most likely have not lost weight and would still be using insulin today. Instead, she followed a low carbohydrate diet, and combined that with light but regular physical activity, and she lost weight and reversed her diabetes to the point that she no longer requires insulin, and diabetes no longer has any significant effect on her life.
I personally believe that a low carbohydrate diet can be beneficial for so many people, although it certainly requires very close monitoring. I do also believe that genetics play an important role too.
The macronutrient quality of the food that you’re eating certainly matters too, and the focus should be on a variety of lean protein sources such as fish, lean poultry, and quality fats from sources such as nuts, avocados and olive oil. In a low carbohydrate diet it’s encouraged to minimize all processed food, remove the majority of sugar in your diet, and focus mainly on consuming fresh foods. Consuming moderate amounts of healthy dietary fat sources may also help reduce hunger, and as a result may lead to changes in the total daily energy intake, which ultimately can lead to weight loss. Decreased carbohydrate intake, or increased quality, may help reduce refined carbohydrate intake and sugar. Especially the intake of sugar has been increasing globally, with epidemiological evidence linking this with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Growing scientific evidence shows that too much added sugar, over time, is linked to diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease. Unfortunately, added sugar is hidden in 74% of packaged foods such as yoghurt, ketchup, breads, and salad dressing.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all eating pattern for people with diabetes. I personally believe that all diet names are just labels, and we need to educate people to find the best eating pattern (or diet) for them that they can sustain, and that improves their overall health and lifestyle. The focus should be on meeting their daily energy intake and quality of macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytochemicals.
If you have a disease that is lifestyle related, then there is really no medication that can help — a lifestyle related disease can only be effectively treated by a change in the lifestyle that created it.
Ayda Erso, Nutritionist (Dip.C.N., Dip.S.N.), Master Trainer (CPT ACE, NCSF, CanfitPro), Registered Yoga Teacher, Founder, Health Angel Nutrition, Fitness and Wellness, Founder, SMS (Stability, Mobility Strength) Intuitive Training System.