An alternative dietary approach for people living with diabetes
Diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States, with over 34 million Americans living with diabetes. When managing diabetes, diet is extremely key and developing an eating plan appropriate to you can be a very powerful tool. We look at the different dietary approaches MDs might want to consider when caring for patients with diabetes.
Carbohydrates play a key factor as part of nutrition when managing diabetes, as the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which then raises the levels of glucose in the blood. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a diet with a low carbohydrate intake and a high fat intake, in order to control blood glucose and insulin use. This approach is adopted by millions of people living with diabetes.
Adopting a plant-based diet for people with diabetes
It is important to note however that there is no ‘magic’ diet and this traditional approach does not suit everybody. In order to understand an alternative dietary approach, Qardio spoke with Cyrus Khambatta, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age and is the Co-founder of Mastering Diabetes, a coaching program designed to help people with all forms of diabetes how to transition to a low-fat, plant-based diet. The ‘traditional’ ADA-recommended diet did not work for Cyrus: “I didn’t find the recommended diet effective in controlling my blood glucose and insulin use, so I had the desire to go change nutrition. I decided to undertake a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry, during which I uncovered almost 100 years of evidence-based research that documented the power of eating a plant-based diet to reverse blood glucose instability and insulin resistance, which is the underlying problem in type 1 and type 2 diabetes.”
What is the effect of the ‘traditional’ diet on patients in the long-term?
In Cyrus’ experience, traditional diets appear to be effective short-term but they are actually ineffective in the long-term: “These traditional diets can be beneficial in the short-term because they do help people lose a lot of weight which in turn will reduce their A1C value, their fasting insulin and their fasting glucose. However, over the course of time, people eating high fat, high protein diets end up with worsened cardiovascular health, liver health and kidney health. So even though it reduces A1C levels and blood glucose, in the long term it increases the risk of chronic disease.” Therefore, it is important to take into consideration the long-term effects a diet may have on your body.
What advice would you give to people who are reluctant to try an alternative dietary approach?
With anything new, it is always important to keep an open mind. Diabetes is a complex disease and what works for one individual might not necessarily work for another. Introducing a new approach in the diabetes community can result in criticism. In Cyrus’ experience: “I try to educate those in the diabetes population that MDs do not learn nutrition in medical school. The reality is that the average doctor gets 10,000+ hours on training and only 20 hours on nutritional training. Therefore it is unrealistic to rely on MDs as an authority to talk about food as medicine.”
The importance of educating the patient on their condition
Diabetes is a chronic disease, and depending on the type and the individual, it can be controlled with the correct nutrition, tools and education. Cyrus believes in the power of educating the patient: “I try to teach people the biology of diabetes, as I’ve found that it’s important not to skip the education process and jump to the ‘solution’. Without the right education, just presenting a solution doesn’t work.”
With thanks to Cyrus Khambatta, Co-founder of Mastering Diabetes for his input.