The Carbohydrate Controversy
As a diabetic, undoubtedly you have been told to avoid carbohydrates. In the typical diabetic diet one obtains about 40% of their calories from carbohydrates (low-carbohydrate diet) and is advised to not exceed 30% of calories from fats with the remainder of calories obtained from proteins. But a question needs to be asked. Is this the optimal diet for diabetics and for health in general?
To answer this question, let us look at some research that has been done lately.
In one study, 20 normal weight diabetics on insulin were placed on the standard diabetic diet (43% calories from carbohydrates) for 7 days, and then were switched to a high complex carbohydrate diet (70% calories from carbohydrates). On the high complex-carbohydrate diet, the average insulin dose dropped from 26 to 11 units daily, and 11 patients were able to come off their insulin entirely. In addition, the average cholesterol dropped from 206 to 147.
In another 6-week study of 27 diabetics with one group on a high complex carbohydrate diet with legumes (beans/lentils/peas) and the other group on a standard low carbohydrate diet, those on the high complex carbohydrate diet had decreased blood sugars, cholesterol and sugar in the urine compared to those on the low-carbohydrate diet.
In another study, 21 diabetics with neuropathy (numbness/ burning/ tingling in the extremities), were placed on a vegan diet (no flesh foods or dairy products). Within 16 days, 17 of the 21 diabetics had complete relief of their neuropathic pain. Although numbness persisted, it was noticeably improved after 2 days.
As you can see from the research, carbohydrates are good for diabetics. The truth is you need complex-carbohydrates.
What are Complex Carbohydrates?
Complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates that are high in fibre and come from natural sources. Fibre is a carbohydrate substance that the body cannot process, and so it passes through the bowel undigested. Fibre is important in a number of ways. Specifically for diabetics, fibre helps slow the absorption of natural sugars into the blood stream, thus reducing the spike of insulin and blood sugar after meals. It also helps prevent the after-meal hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar), and provides for a steady source of energy after meals.
In addition, fibre helps reduce heart disease by decreasing cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. It helps reduce the chance of developing certain cancers, such as colon, breast, ovarian, & uterine cancers. A diet high in fibre aids in weight loss. It reduces the risk of developing diverticular disease and constipation, and reduces the risk of gall stones and kidney stones, among a host of other benefits.
What foods have complex carbohydrates?
Fruits, nuts & seeds, whole grains, legumes, and vegetables are your sources of complex carbohydrates.
Fruit is the part of the plant that grows from a flower and contains seeds within it. Although fruits have natural sugars, they are good for diabetics. These are your main source of antioxidants, and a great source for other vitamins and minerals. Fruit juices, however, usually exclude the fibre and are as rapidly absorbed as sugar, and cause the blood sugar to spike like sugar would.
Nuts and seeds, (cashews, almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and sunflower, flax, pumpkin seeds, etc.) should be eaten sparingly (closed handful), but often (daily). Buy your nuts/seeds raw and then lightly roast them in the oven with little or no salt. Research shows that those who eat more nuts are less likely to develop diabetes or heart disease.
Whole grains are grains that still contain the bran and the germ. For instance, white flour is made from only the endosperm, with the bran and germ removed. The bran and germ contain the vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Avoid processed grains (white/parboiled rice, white pasta, white flour, etc.) and eat whole grains (brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat flour, barley, oats, etc.).
Legumes include beans, peas and lentils. These contain healthy proteins, minerals and fibre. One research project showed that eating a ½ bowl of lentils with breakfast helped regulate blood sugars through lunch time. Any legume mixed with any whole grain will supply your complete protein needs.
Vegetables include parts of the plant that are not the fruit (leaves: lettuce, spinach, bhagi, etc.) (roots: potato, cassava, yam, beet, carrot, etc.) (stems: celery, bok choy, etc.) (cruciferous: broccoli, cauliflower, etc.). Vegetables contain many nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, and fibre.
In today’s culture there is an excessive focus on proteins. People are always concerned about if they are getting enough protein. The reality is that most of us are getting too much protein. In the processing of proteins, the kidneys have to filter/process certain by-products, and over time this can damage the kidneys if there is too much protein to process. Diabetes already causes kidney damage, and to add increased protein to the diet, only worsens the situation. Also, in the processing of proteins, the body pulls calcium from the bones which is lost in the urine, thus leading to osteoporosis. The research shows that osteoporosis has little to do with calcium, and much to do with too much proteins.
Plant foods have the right amounts and types of proteins that the human body needs. Animal proteins are simply more than what the human body was designed to handle.
The Skinny on Fats
Research shows that those who have increased fat consumption, especially animal fats and trans fats, have increased risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol is only found in animal products (flesh foods and animal by-products like dairy products), not in plant products. Also, the majority of your saturated fats are found in animals. Interestingly, the saturated fats that are found in some nuts and avocado’s, etc. are not shown to be detrimental like those from animal fats.
Trans fats are produced when unsaturated fats are heated up to high temperatures for a period of time in the presence of a catalyst. Turning oils into trans fats makes them more solid at room temperature (shortening, margarine), or helps prolong their shelf life (partially hydrogenated oils). Most oils are obtained by heat extraction – the raw product is heated to high temperatures for long periods of time to extract the oil. So, most of your oils are already developing some trans fat formation. A “good” oil would be cold-pressed olive oil. It is cold pressed, so it isn’t already trans-formed, and it is monounsaturated and therefore is more resistant to auto-oxidization. The best, however, would be to get the fats in the actual source (olives, nuts, vegetables, etc.).
Most diabetics have been started on a plan that includes 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day. The reality is that if you are eating a diet full of complex carbohydrates, and plant proteins and fats, you can do very well on just 2 meals daily. If you need to, you can add a small 3rd meal, but you do not need many small meals throughout the day. A large breakfast, medium lunch, and possibly a small supper are all that you need. Avoid anything between meals other than water.
One research project had one group of nurses who ate 3 meals daily for 3 days with nothing between meals, and another group that ate 2 bites of chocolate between every meal. At the end of the 3 days, they all had a GI specialist look at the contents in their stomachs. The group that had nothing between meals had nothing in their stomach, but the group that had the chocolate had remnants of their first meal 3 days earlier! Give your stomach a break, and don’t eat between meals.
Ask yourself these 3 questions before eating:
- Is it healthy for me?
- Is it the right time to eat?
- Is it the right amount?
If you can answer yes to all 3, go ahead and eat.
The 2 Rules of Nutrition
If you don’t have a lot of time to think about your food (that might be one reason you are a diabetic), then these 2 rules can help you out.
1. The closer it is to how it grows, the better it is for you!
For instance, whole wheat flour is better for you than white flour. Brown rice is better than white rice. Potatoes are better than potato chips. Apples are better than applesauce, which is better than apple juice. Eat things like they grow, and you will do much better.
2. If it can swim, fly, or run away from you if you try to kill it and eat it, don’t eat it!
Multiple research projects show that diabetics who have the best improvement in blood sugars and medication reduction are ones who adhere to a strictly plant-based diet, discarding all flesh foods and dairy products. The facts are simply stacked against a diet that includes flesh foods. All the nutrients one needs to remain healthy are found in plant products!
One of the biggest factors contributing to diabetes is overweight and obesity, so losing the pounds significantly improves the insulin sensitivity, and thus brings down the blood sugars. The old-fashioned way to lose weight is best – diet and exercise. However, don’t think of it as a diet, but rather a new lifestyle. Adopt a new you! For more information, check out our Weight Loss handout.
An indispensable part of improved insulin sensitivity is exercise. Both cardiovascular and resistance exercise has shown to decrease blood sugars. Cardiovascular exercise causes your heart rate and respirations to go up and remain up over a period of time. Resistance exercise causes your muscles to strain against an opposing force.
The recommendations for cardiovascular exercise are at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate intensity exercise. That is 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week. Moderate intensity means that you could talk to someone while you exercise, but would be too out of breath to be able to sing. Examples of good exercises are walking, bicycling, gardening, swimming, using the elliptical machine, stationary cycle or treadmill.
The recommendations for resistance exercises is at least 2 times weekly, covering all major muscle groups (shoulders, arms, back, chest, abdomen, legs/thighs). If you choose to lift weights, choose a weight that you can easily lift 10 times, then work up until you can do it 15 times easily. Then increase the weight so that you can do 10, and then work up to 15, and so on.
Make sure you wear good foot protection and check your feet after every time you exercise to make sure there are no sores. If you have other health problems, check with your doctor before you begin, and start slow and work up to your goal over the next 1-3 months.
You need to drink 1 ounce of water daily for every 2 pounds you weigh. This will help satisfy hunger, keep you hydrated, and clean out toxins.
This means avoiding that which is harmful (tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, etc.), and using wisely that which is good. You can have a perfectly healthy meal, but if you overstuff yourself, that is not healthy and is an example of intemperance.
Lots of Fresh Air
Fresh air is vital to life and health. Diabetics already have enough complications with poor healing and circulation. Get your fresh air regularly (open the windows, get out into nature).
Entire Trust in God
This is the most important aspect—seriously! The only way there will be sustained change, and that for the better, is if you are able to rely on God to do for you what you are unable to do for yourself. To know that you have Someone who is greater than you helping you along and giving you His strength is a great encouragement. Trust in God. You can’t help but notice the difference!
Light-skinned individuals need 15 minutes of sun daily to the face and hands, and dark-skinned individuals need 30 minutes daily, in order to produce sufficient vitamin D. Sunshine also helps wound healing, kills germs, improves mood, and a host of other things.
Don’t forget that most of your healing happens during sleep. The hours before midnight are better than the hours after, so get to bed early and get your 7-9 hours nightly. Don’t forget to take a break 1 day each week. That is why God created the Sabbath.
So, as you look at treating your diabetes, don’t forget to your WELLNESS:
- Living Temperately
- Lots of Fresh Air
- Entire Trust in God
- Sunshine and
- Sufficient Rest
P.S. Work closely with your physician to decrease your medications while you make these changes, or else you may suffer hypoglycemia!