What’s the Best Diet for Type 2 Diabetes?

In my last couple posts, we discussed ways to reduce sugar and why that is so important for your health. Today, let’s talk about some simple yet powerful strategies to reverse direction when sugar has led you down the path to prediabetes, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome.

First, I want you to know that these metabolic challenges can be reversed, even if you’re already taking diabetes medication. There are countless stories of people reversing entrenched cases of diabetes with diet and lifestyle improvements. It’s not even a long complicated process. It can be done in months, weeks, or even days. 

There are many books written by nutrition minded physicians who have had great success in reversing diabetes. Some recommend a low fat vegan diet (like Dr Barnard and Dr Fuhrman) while some go to the opposite end of the spectrum and recommend a more Paleo type approach, and everything in between. Although we love it when there’s one clear magic bullet, the great news is that there isn’t just one way to regain optimal blood sugar control. This means that we have flexibility in making the changes that resonate with us, that we can enjoy and sustain.

Although the general sentiment is that you have to dramatically reduce carbs, it turns out you can reverse diabetes with a high carb, low fat diet as well as a high fat, low carb diet. Although these approaches seem contradictory, what they have in common is the most important: 

They are not both high carb and high fat. This appears to be the most dangerous combination, and unfortunately is typical of the Standard American Diet. French fries, anybody?

They emphasize whole foods. It’s the processed, damaged, stripped, destroyed, chemicalized, fake, sugar drenched foods that are making us sick on all fronts, not just diabetes. In theory we all understand this. But we have trouble applying it because so much of the standard American diet is processed, including everyday items like pasta, bread, pizza, muffins, cereal, cookies, and cake, which are made with processed flour that is stripped of its nutrients, protein, fat, and fiber. Grains that are dismantled in this way are rapidly digested and spike blood sugar, which then spikes insulin, and metabolic mayhem ensues. Some people choose to avoid all grains when reversing diabetes or trying to lose weight, but actual whole grains like quinoa and brown or black rice can be part of a therapeutic diet. Fiber seems to be the key. Eat foods that naturally have ample fiber.

They eliminate sweeteners, even the “healthy” ones. Just like processed grains, sweeteners (most of them also highly processed) permeate our food system. Our palates and pancreases have become unknowingly habituated to them. This became very obvious to me personally when I noticed that green tea and strawberry jam seemed sad and boring when they didn’t have added sugar! You can use stevia for a period of time as you wean off sugar, but ultimately, it’s very helpful to eliminate that too, so your palate can start appreciating then natural sweetness in foods again.

Alcohol in moderation if at all. Alcohol rapidly raises blood sugar and contributes to fatty liver, one of the hallmarks of diabetic metabolic dysfunction. If an alcoholic drink is something you really enjoy, instead of carb loaded, sugary beverages, opt for vodka or tequila with soda water with a lime or splash of cranberry. Just have one if possible.

Move your body and use your muscles. Insulin resistance starts in the large skeletal muscles when they’re not being used for long periods of time. If you’re logging a lot of sedentary time working at a desk, watching TV, or driving, try to take some movement breaks. Get up regularly and run up and down the stairs, do some squats or pushups, or sun salutations. Moving throughout the day is key, not just one workout followed by hours of sloth. Keep those muscles active and taking in glucose!

CAUTION: If you are currently on hyperglycemic medication of any kind, let your doctor know before you start making these changes. Your need for medication can reduce dramatically within days, and we don’t want to risk hypoglycemic episodes.

If you just followed these basics, you’d make wonderful progress. You’d lose weight, have better blood markers, and feel more energetic. Next time, I’ll expand on these strategies a bit, including some helpful supplements.

Image credit: Jacob Postuma

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