So just how effective is a healthy diet plus exercise in preventing or treating diabetes in the longer term?
According to the following studies, diet plays a key role in the prevention, control and treatment of Diabetes.
We should note that trials on lifestyle are much harder to do than trials on pills, but a good attempt was made by researchers at George Washington University in Washington DC, who published their findings in 2005.
The team selected volunteers who had signs of dysglycemia (glucose intolerance) and were therefore at high risk of developing diabetes then split them into three groups. One received placebos, the next 850mg of metformin(Glucophage) twice a day, and the third began to make lifestyle changes designed to lower weight by seven percent, including two and a half hours of exercise a week (20 minutes a day).
At the end of three years, among those who made the lifestyle changes, 41 percent were no longer glucose intolerant. Among those who took metformin, 17 percent were no longer glucose-intolerant, compared to the placebo. So the lifestyle change was more than twice as effective.
What’s more, despite the prevailing medical view, the dietary approach is likely to be more cost-effective. This study published in 2006 showed that taking metformin might delay the onset of diabetes by three years, while diet and exercise change delays it by 11 years. The bottom line is that lifestyle intervention is more cost-effective than a pill.
Another landmark study, which also found diet and exercise twice as effective as metformin in preventing at-risk patients from developing diabetes estimated that the non-drug approach was also very cost-effective. In this study, published in 2002, one case of diabetes was prevented in every seven people treated for three years.
A trial published in 2005 and involving obese and overweight people with diabetes or insulin resistance showed a 50 percent reversal of insulin resistance and diabetes after only three weeks when placed on a high-fiber, low-fat diet, combined with 45 to 60 minutes of exercise on a treadmill each day.
The 31 volunteers in this residential trial at the Pritikin Longevity Center in California took on a diet that didn’t even restrict the amount of food, but just gave better choices of unrefined carbohydrates, whole foods and low-fat foods. In only three weeks the volunteers, aged 46 to 76, had lower glucose levels, better insulin resistance and a lower body-mass index. Not bad for three weeks!
The Perfect Diet for Diabetes Control and Prevention
This kind of trial makes it glaringly obvious that the solution to diabetes is not going to be drugs. The solution is changing the way of eating, and living, that led to diabetes in the first place.
Then we need to find out what the best anti-diabetes diet is along with the best way to make this change.
The low-GL Route
The best diet to recover from type 2 diabetes is the low-glycemic load (GL) diet. Glycemic load is a measurement which finds out the amount of carbohydrate in each portion of food, and how it affects your blood glucose levels.
Currently, this is a very popular and effective way of losing weight but on top of that, it is the absolute state-of-the-art diet for controlling blood sugar, preventing diabetes, and also for regaining energy.
This is How it Works
The carbohydrates contained in foods are turned into glucose at different speeds. For example, the carbohydrates in strawberries are ‘slow-releasing’, which means they raise your blood sugar level fairly gradually.
But eat a date, and your blood glucose level will begin climbing within minutes, they are very fast-releasing. The rate at which a food releases its sugar is known as it’s glycemic index (GI).
The fastest-releasing food is pure glucose, which is given a score of 100 on the index, while apples, which raise blood sugar at less than half the rate of pure glucose, score 38.
The GI is a useful way of rating foods if you want to stabilize your blood glucose because it allows you to choose slow-releasing carbohydrates. But it has one big limitation. It doesn’t tell you how much carbohydrate there is in a particular food. Watermelon, for example, has very little carbohydrate in it, as it’s mostly water; but the carbs in it are fast-releasing, so it does have a very high GI. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, have a low-GI carbohydrate, but lots of it.
Basing your choice on GI alone, you’d probably opt for sweet potatoes and avoid watermelons, but in fact, a large amount of sugar in a portion of sweet potato would push your blood glucose up much more than a large slice of watermelon would.
This is where glycemic load comes in. A food’s GL takes into account not just the type of carbohydrate in it – slow or fast-releasing – but also how much there is of that carbohydrate in the food. You work it out by multiplying a food’s GI by the amount of carbohydrate in it.
To control your blood sugar, you need to eat no more than 65 GLs a day (45 if you want to lose weight), spread out throughout the day at roughly 10 to 15 GLs per meal plus 5 to 10 GLs for a snack (you should have two in-between snacks a day), with 5 GLs to spare for drinks or desserts. The need for diabetic drugs would become increasingly unnecessary if you stick to this plan.
The tables below give you an idea of which foods are high and which low GL, what to avoid, and how a day’s healthy menu might look.
- 2 large punnets of strawberries
- 6 oatcakes
- 4 bowls of oat flakes
- A large bowl of peanuts
- 1 pint (550ml) of tomato juice
- 6 tablespoons of xylitol (a natural low-GL sugar)
- 10 handfuls of green beans
- 2 dates
- 1 slice of white bread
- 1 bowl of cornflakes
- A packet of crisps
- Half glass of Lucozade
- 2 teaspoons of honey
- 10 French fries
Good Low GL Day Diet
- A bowl of porridge 2
- Half a grated apple 3
- A small tub of yogurt 2
- and some milk 2
- Total 9
Bad High GL Day Diet
- A bowl of cornflakes 21
- A banana 12
- Milk 2
- Total 35
The Protein Connection
Another way to lower the GL of your diet is to eat more protein, fiber and healthy fats, as well as cutting out refined, sugary carb-rich foods such as biscuits.
The controversial low-carbohydrate/high-protein Atkins Diet, for instance, has recently been shown to lead to both weight loss and improved glucose control in two small studies.
One, published in 2005, put ten obese diabetic patients on the Atkins Diet for two weeks. They spontaneously reduced their calorific intake by 1,000 calories a day as well as improved their insulin sensitivity. While high protein diets, especially those based on meat, milk and cheese, may create other problems such as risk of kidney problems, osteoporosis, breast and prostate cancer, it seems that eating protein with low-GL carbohydrates does help stabilize blood-sugar levels.
So choosing the best low-GL carbs and combining those with quality proteins is the cornerstone of diabetes treatment and prevention, and is also now recommended by most diabetes associations.
The Best Anti-Diabetic Foods And Nutrients
Here are some of the best foods and nutrients which will help you control your blood sugar levels and help you in managing and controlling this chronic condition.
A Dozen Anti Diabetic Foods
- Green tea
- Oat bran and flakes
A Spoonful of Cinnamon
It’s now been found that just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day significantly reduces blood sugar levels in diabetics, and could also benefit millions of non-diabetics who have blood-sugar problems but are unaware of it.
The discovery was initially made by accident by a Doctor in the US who was researching the effects of common foods on blood sugar. He was surprised to discover that apple pie (spiced with cinnamon) was actually not bad for blood sugar.
The main ingredient found in cinnamon was a water-soluble polyphenol compound called MHCP. In the lab, MHCP mimics insulin, activates its receptor, and works synergistically with insulin in cells, improving glucose metabolism twentyfold. It helps insulin do its job of getting excess sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
To see if it would work in people, volunteers with type 2 diabetes were given 1, 3 or 6g of cinnamon powder per day, in capsules after meals. The research paper showed that all the volunteers responded well to the cinnamon within weeks, with blood-sugar levels 20 percent lower on average than those of a control group. Some of the trial participants taking cinnamon even achieved normal blood sugar levels.
Blood sugar levels started rising up again after the diabetics stopped taking cinnamon.
Cinnamon has other significant benefits. In the diabetic volunteers, it lowered blood levels of fats (triglycerides) and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, both also partly controlled by insulin. Luckily, cinnamon is a versatile spice. You’ll need about half a teaspoon a day, added perhaps to oatmeal, fruit salads, marinades, stews or curries.
Get Your Oats and Xylitol
Oats, or specifically, oat bran, are filled with a nutrient that keep your blood sugar level at normal. It’s called beta-glucan. Diabetic patients given oatmeal or oat bran rich foods experienced much lower rises in blood sugar compared to those who were given white rice or bread. In fact, it’s been known for nearly a decade that having ten percent of your diet as beta-glucans can halve the blood-sugar peak of a meal.
This level of effect is far greater than you’ll get from taking metformin (Glucophage), at a fraction of the price and with none of the side effects.
All you need to do is to start eating oat flakes, oat bran, whether cold or hot as porridge, with fruits such as berries, pears or apples, and snacking on oatcakes. There are many studies done by researchers on beta-glucans, so there is enough evidence to prove this.
Other big contenders for anti-diabetic foods include buckwheat, green tea, cherries, plums and other fruits high in a very low-GL (Glycemic Load) sugar called xylitol. Xylitol has a ninth of the GL of sugar or honey; so switching to it and using it sparingly will certainly, help you maintain your blood sugar levels and also help your sweet cravings as well.
Chromium – the Forgotten Mineral
While drugs like metformin increase sensitivity to insulin, there’s a mineral that does the same thing and has minimum side effects. It’s called chromium. Insulin can’t work properly without chromium.
Trivalent chromium was discovered to be an essential mineral back in the 1960s. This form of chromium, the kind found in foods, is completely different from the kind you find in old car bumpers. (This is called hexavalent chromium and can be quite toxic.) In the 1970s, chromium was proven to be essential for insulin to do its job properly, but the mechanism hadn’t been discovered. Now we know how it manages the job.
Chromium does two things. Firstly, insulin has to dock on to cells to open them up for the next delivery of glucose. Chromium is part of the docking port, or receptor, for the insulin. It also helps stop insulin from being changed in a way that stops it from working. Both of these improve your sensitivity to insulin.
Today we also know that many of us are deficient in this mineral, which is absolutely essential for good health. In other words, your doctor should really check whether you are chromium deficient, since this alone can cause blood-sugar problems and insulin resistance.
But how do you know if you’re chromium deficient?
Without testing, this isn’t easy to ascertain.
Some signs are low energy, especially in the morning, craving sweet foods and depression. The more sugar or refined food you eat the more likely you are to be deficient, not only because processed foods are low in chromium, but also because they rob the body of chromium. Every time your blood sugar goes up, whether due to sugar, stress or a stimulant such as coffee or a cigarette, you lose chromium. The older you are and more stressed you are, the lower your levels.
So what’s the evidence for all claims?
Now let’s look at the evidence for all these claims, from low-GL diets to chromium supplementation as a way of regulating blood sugar levels.
The Lowdown on Low GL
There is no question that low-GL is pushing back the boundaries in terms of safe, rapid and permanent weight-loss diets and for diabetes. Many studies have shown that low-GL diets cause rapid weight loss and improve insulin resistance and fasting blood sugar levels. In animal studies, it’s well known that a low-GL diet rapidly improves blood-sugar control and pancreatic function.
All of this translates into a massive reduction in risk of developing diabetes, as well as the ability to stop and even reverse the condition, especially for those in the early stages of type 2 diabetes.
Researchers in the US with the help of a trial conducted found out that those who ate a high-GL diet were more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate a low-GL diet.
There’s a lot of evidence available with researchers that a low-GL diet improves blood sugar and helps manage the symptoms of diabetes. Some of the benefits of a low GL diet are:
- Increased energy
- Better sleep Better mood
- Less craving for carbohydrates
Effects of Chromium on Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance
Those taking the chromium and biotin supplement had a 26mg/dl (1.43mmol/l) drop in fasting blood glucose with more than 70 percent of the supplement group experiencing significant drops. LDL (bad) cholesterol levels also decreased substantially.
There’s also good evidence that chromium can help prevent diabetes in people at risk.
What are Chromium’s Side Effects?
Fortunately, it is remarkably safe.
Up to 1,000mcg is perfectly safe, even in pregnancy. Long-term studies of up to five years, published in 2004, have shown this to be the case.
Food or Drugs? The verdict
For diabetes and its precursor’s dysglycemia and insulin resistance, there is no doubt that making the right diet and lifestyle changes is essential. Eating a low-GL diet, taking supplements, staying away from sugar and taking regular exercise can both prevent and significantly reverse insulin resistance and diabetes. This prevention effect is seen in the early stages far more, as compared to the currently available medication. For those with more advanced diabetes, these changes are highly likely to reduce the need for medication and, in the case of insulin-dependent diabetes, for insulin too.
- Eat a low-GL diet (roughly 45 to 65 GLs a day)
- Combine protein foods with carbohydrate foods, which stabilize blood sugar levels even further
- Avoid all sugar, except Xylitol
- Sprinkle half a teaspoon of cinnamon on your food daily
- Eat oats with oat bran for breakfast and snack on rough oatcakes
- Exercise every day – for at least 30 minutes
- Take a supplement of a high-strength multivitamin and mineral. Also add 2g of vitamin C and 200mcg of chromium (400 or 600mcg if you have diabetes, to be taken in the morning or at lunch. Chromium can over-energize so it’s best not taken in the evening)
Working With Your Doctor
If you’re lucky, your doctor will be delighted straightaway at your wish to pursue a low-GL diet and exercise.
It’s particularly important to work with your doctor if you’re on drugs for your diabetes. Your doctor will be invaluable for helping you keep within safe blood-sugar limits.