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Nutrition

“We’ve avoided facing an inconvenient truth: drugs won’t cure a dietary disease.”

Jason Fung, The Diabetes Code

It’s no secret that a healthy diet is a core tenant of diabetes treatment. All diabetes associations around the world agree with this fact. But what constitutes a healthy diet? Every diabetic will ask themselves that question at some point or another. Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation exists, which leads diabetics to adopt dietary habits that don’t work.  
 
The prevailing message diabetics hear is that type 2 diabetes is considered an irreversible and progressive disease. This is simply not true. Diabetes can be reversed if its root cause is treated; and that’s diet. Diabetes is caused by dysfunction in the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates, specifically glucose. The most common treatment for diabetes is medication which lowers blood glucose levels. Although these medications do lower blood glucose, they cannot cure what is essentially a dietary disease. The long-term solution to diabetes treatment is to change the food you eat.
 
This page provides information and resources to learn how diet impacts diabetes. Read over the discussion below to learn the basics of diet and diabetes. Additional information is included by way of books, videos, and movies. We urge you to consider this information carefully and consult with your primary care doctor regarding all factors related to your health. Never stop taking medication or change the dosage of your medication without first consulting the doctor who manages your diabetes.

The first step to improving your diet is changing your relationship with food. The goal isn’t just to eat healthy food, it’s to have a healthy relationship with your food. If you don’t have both, your diet will not work. Eat with a purpose – to nourish your body and provide the necessary building blocks for a healthy body. Recognize the difference between being hungry and being bored. It’s easy to graze on food when you’re bored rather than to eat when your body actually needs energy and nutrients. Simply changing what you eat can alter how often you’ll want to eat. The psychology of food cravings and food addiction is complex, but it’s heavily influenced by what you put into your body. Changing what you eat can help you take control of your appetite and health.

There are three basic macronutrients you eat: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Of these three, protein and fat are necessary for your survival. They include specific fatty acids and amino acids your body cannot make. Carbohydrates, however, are not essential; you can restrict them without adverse effects to your health. In fact, excess carbohydrate consumption is the primary cause of type 2 diabetes. Consequently, effective treatment of type 2 diabetes really needs to include carbohydrate restriction. More than 75 clinical trials have demonstrated the value of reduced carbohydrate consumption in the treatment of diabetes. In fact, studies have shown better outcomes for diabetics who adopt a limited carbohydrate diet compared with those who use medication and who adopt the American Diabetes Association’s recommended diet. Drugs cannot cure what is essentially a dietary disease.

Insulin and other diabetes medications simply move glucose from the blood, where you can measure it, into the cells and tissue where you can’t. The glucose doesn’t go away; the medication just shifted where it’s at. Consequently, the problem still exists – excess sugar in the body. 

There are several medications used in the treatment of diabetes. The oldest of these medications is insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas – a gland just below the stomach. Insulin has several functions, but it primarily signals the body to store excess glucose. It does this by helping the body move glucose from the blood into the cells. In type 2 diabetes, there is too much insulin – a response to excess carbohydrate consumption over time. The body’s receptors to insulin become desensitized and the effects of insulin are reduced. The body compensates by releasing even more insulin. Oral medications work by increasing insulin production from the pancreas, increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin, or reducing how much glucose the liver makes. 

The long-term use of medication for diabetes will eventually fail. In the short-term, they can be a life-saving tool to keep a diabetic from experiencing unsafe blood glucose levels. Over the long-term, however, the goal should be to reduce and eventually eliminate dependance on medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It must be stressed to all diabetics that discontinuing diabetes medication on your own is dangerous. Never alter the doses or stop taking medication without first consulting your doctor. Inform your doctor you are making important changes to your diet and you expect a need less medication as your diabetes improves. This often requires more frequent testing.

All diabetics share one common characteristic – they cannot properly control blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes involves an underproduction of insulin, whereas type 2 diabetes involves an overproduction of insulin. Essentially, they are polar opposites. 

Type 1 diabetes is caused by damage to the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The most common cause is an autoimmune reaction that destroys the insulin producing cells. The details behind that are complex and beyond the scope of this discussion. Type 1 diabetics will always require insulin because their body does not make enough or doesn’t make any at all. Their dependence on insulin can be limited when carbohydrates are limited. How much insulin is required is dictated by how much sugar and carbohydrates are eaten. It’s important to reduce how much insulin is needed because too much insulin will create insulin resistance in a type 1 diabetic. Sadly, they have type 1 diabetes and develop type 2 diabetes over time. This is called double diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetics produce too much insulin as a response to excessive carbohydrates in their diet. An easy way to understand this mechanism is a simple analogy. Consider what happens to our hearing when we listen to loud music (excess volume). Exposure to loud music will cause our ears to dull the noise. It does this to protect our ears from permanent damage. To compensate, we have to increase the volume more and more. Eventually, we loose the ability to hear softer sounds because of the damage created by the loud music. Type 2 diabetics are very similar. Excessive music volume is the same as excessive insulin in the body. Excessive sugar and carbohydrates require excess insulin to keep the blood sugar from becoming dangerously high. Over time, the body becomes desensitized to insulin and higher levels are needed. It’s not until this process exceeds the body’s ability to compensate that type 2 diabetes develops. In fact, research has shown than insulin resistance can go on for an average of fourteen years before someone meets the criteria for diabetes. Would you listen to loud music for fourteen years before you did something about it?

Although calorie restriction can improve diabetes in the short-term, it will not reverse the disease in the long-term. The calorie in/calorie out model assumes all foods can be reduced to a basic unit of energy – the calorie. It also assumes that our metabolic response to all calories is the same. This is simply not true. And perhaps most significant, we don’t absorb everything we eat or drink. Some of what we eat passes through us every time we go to the bathroom. We also release energy in the form of heat. We’re not a closed energy system. Therefore, there is not a one-to-one relationship with our food and what our body does with that food. 

The body has an interesting response when we reduce our calorie intake – it lowers our basic metabolic rate (BMR). This metabolic rate can change by as much as 40%. So, simply lowering how many calories we eat will not lead to the long-term health benefits that we seek. Also, our metabolic rate is not constant and changes depending on several factors including what we eat, how much we eat, and how active we are on any given day. Changing WHAT you eat, not HOW MUCH you eat is the key.

It’s all about insulin. Stop eating processed, insulin-stimulating food. That’s the primary cause of diabetes – insulin-stimulating food. Eaten to an excess, sugar leads to diabetes. Now, everyone’s metabolism is different and the quantity of carbohydrates that works best for you takes time and experimentation. A diet rich in essential protein and fat and limited carbohydrate consumption is critical to improving type 2 diabetes. 
 
The first step in creating a healthy diet plan is to establish how much protein you need. No one has ever shown that more than 1.5 gm/kg improves human protein synthesis. Typically 1 to 1.5 gm/kg of body weight is sufficient. This translates into around 100 gm of protein for an average adult male. Next, limit carbohydrates to less than 50 gm per day. And, those carbohydrates should come from natural, whole foods; not processed foods. In other words, if the carbohydrate source doesn’t look like it did in nature, don’t eat it. Processed foods lack the minerals, vitamins, and fiber that are important to overall health. Simply reducing a food to a powder can increase the insulin response in the body compared with its whole, natural state. So, avoid flour, starches, grains, and cereals. They’re all processed. An obvious thing for diabetics to avoid is sugar, especially added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Added sugars have no nutritional value and should be avoided. Sadly 80% of food products in a grocery store have added sugar. So read food labels carefully. Complex carbohydrates, which are simply long chains of sugars, and highly refined carbohydrates, such as flour, are quickly digested into glucose. Finally, choose healthy fats to make up the remaining calories in your diet.
Here are the basic rules to effective diabetes management.
  1. Avoid sugar
  2. Avoid refined carbohydrates
  3. Avoid processed foods
  4. Avoid vegetable oils (corn oil, canola oil, safflower oil, etc.)
  5. Limit carbohydrates to less than 50 gm/day
  6. Eat high quality protein (fish, chicken grass-fed beef, pork, and dairy)
  7. Eat healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil, etc.
  8. Experiment with time-restricted eating and fasting
  9. Reduce stress
  10. Exercise
  11. Get proper sleep
  12. Use supplements if needed (iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, etc.)

Videos

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The Truth Behind Why We’re Sick and Fat

Dr. Jason Fung: How to reverse diabetes type 2
Jonathan Bailor: Can Superman End Diabetes? 
Dr. Jason Fung: A New Paradigm of Insulin Resistance
Dr. Sarah Hallberg: Reversing Type 2 diabetes starts with ignoring the guidelines

Dr. Peter Attia: What if we’re wrong about diabetes?

Dr. Doron Sher: Carbs, Insulin, and Fat
Dr. Benjamin Bikman about protein, insulin, and glucogon

Books

The following books provide great insight into diet and diabetes. Some of these books contain educational information about the disease while others contain recipes. Some contain both. Click on the links to preview the books or purchase them. We have no affiliation with any of the authors’ we’ve just found these resources to be incredibly helpful to develop an understanding of the impact diet has on diabetes. Everyone’s tolerance to carbohydrates varies, so finding your balance is the key.

The Diabetes Code: Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes Naturally

From acclaimed author Dr. Jason Fung, this revolutionary guide to reversing diabetes is essential reading for any diabetic. Dr. Fung uses a simple approach and easy to understand analogies that reveal the truth behind what causes type 2 diabetes and how to effectively treat this disease. 

The Case Against Sugar

From best-selling author of Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes exposes the truth behind sugar. In a straight forward manner, he discusses the wide-spread health problems and epidemics of diabetes and obesity as they relate to sugar. He provides insight into the research behind these diseases and gives readers the insight to make an informed decision about their dietary choices.

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, PhD

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living

From pre-eminent researchers comes a book dedicated to the art and science of low carbohydrate nutrition. This book is a great resource for health-minded individuals. It contains a thorough discussion of the science behind a low-carbohydrate diet. It’s content is more scientific that other books, so it’s ideal for those with at least a basic understanding of nutrition.

Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health

Dr. Mark Hyman introduces a weight-loss strategy for healthy living. He explains the latest science behind weight loss and offers practical tools, meal plans, recipes, and shopping lists. In doing so, he debunks the myths regarding dietary fat and its impact on our health.

Made Whole: More than 145 Anti-Inflammatory Keto-Paleo Recipes to Nourish You From the Inside Out

Made Whole is a comprehensive cookbook and resource guide that combines tenants of the Paleo approach with low-carb/ketogenic diets. Author Cristina Curp offers nutrition advice centered around whole, natural, and unprocessed ingredients.

Movies

Fed Up

The Magic Pill

The Widowmaker

That Sugar Film

Is Sugar the new Fat?