There are 115 million Americans with pre diabetes or diabetes.
- Did you know that every day, over 200 people with diabetes have a limb amputated? That’s over 70,000 per year.
- Even more distressing, 1 in 4 didn’t know they had diabetes until it was too late.
- But worst of all, amputation isn’t even the most dangerous part of uncontrolled blood sugar… Diabetes also leads to Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart failure, and cancer;
It begins with that original 2005 from the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC), which purported that cannabis can have the following benefits for PWDs (people with diabetes):
- stabilizing blood sugars (confirmed via “a large body of anecdotal evidence building among diabetes sufferers”)
- anti-inflammatory action that may help quell some of the arterial inflammation common in diabetes
- “neuroprotective” effects that help thwart inflammation of nerves and reduce the pain of neuropathy by activating receptors in the body and brain
- “anti-spasmodic agents” help relieve muscle cramps and the pain of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
- acts as a “vasodilator” to help keep blood vessels open and improve circulation
- contributes to lower blood pressure over time, which is vital for diabetics
- substituting cannabis butter and oil in foods “benefits cardiac and arterial health in general”
- it can also be used to make topical creams to relieve neuropathic pain and tingling in hands and feet
- helps calm diabetic “restless leg syndrome” (RLS), so the patient can sleep better: “it is recommended that patients use a vaporizer or smoked cannabis to aid in falling asleep”
Evidence for all of this still stands, and has in fact been corroborated and built upon in the past decade. Here’s more:
- Research shows it is beneficial indeed for those already diagnosed with either type 1 or 2, and especially for those who suffer complications.
A milestone study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2013 concluded:
- cannabis compounds may help control blood sugar
- marijuana users are less likely to be obese, and have lower body mass index (BMI) measurements — despite the fact that they seemed to take in more calories
- pot smokers also had higher levels of “good cholesterol” and smaller waistlines
- “The most important finding is that current users of marijuana appeared to have better carbohydrate metabolism than non-users. Their fasting insulin levels were lower, and they appeared to be less resistant to the insulin produced by their body to maintain a normal blood-sugar level,” Murray Mittleman, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead researcher told TIME magazine.
- In 2014, a “summary of the promising epidemiological evidence” on marijuana in the management of diabetes published in the Natural Medicine Journal also concluded that in thousands of subjects, past and current marijuana use was associated with lower levels of fasting insulin, blood glucose, insulin resistance, BMI, and waist circumference.
- And in 2015, Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem released a study showing that the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in cannabis, could effectively be used to treat different illnesses including type 2 diabetes.
- There’s also compelling scientific evidence that cannabis can aid in treating diabetes complications, for example eye disease; cannabis reduces the intraocular pressure (fluid pressure in the eye) considerably in people with glaucoma, which is caused by conditions that severely restrict blood flow to the eye, like diabetic retinopathy.
By Dr. Mercola
It has taken decades, but medical professionals are finally starting to give diet and exercise for the prevention and reversal of type 2 diabetes some well-deserved attention.
“… the new study can give people with the disease hope that through lifestyle changes, they could end up getting off medication and likely lowering their risk of diabetes-related complications,” Reuters Health reports.1
The research,2 also featured by MedPage Today,3 demonstrates that diet and physical activity are the answer diabetics have been searching for, which is exactly what I’ve been teaching since I started this web site, 16 years ago.
It’s worth noting that I do not at all agree with some of the dietary recommendations given to the participants in this study. For example, I believe including healthy saturated fats and avoiding processed liquid meal replacements would be a wise move.
I also believe following the dietary recommendations laid out in my free Nutrition Plan can provide far better results than those achieved in this study.
The researchers randomly assigned diabetic participants, who were also overweight or obese, to an intensive program of diet and exercise, in which they were urged to cut calories down to 1,200-1,800 calories per day and engage in nearly three hours of physical exercise per week.
After one year, 11.5 percent of the program participants no longer needed medication to keep their blood sugar levels below the diabetes threshold. Only two percent of the non-intervention group experienced any significant improvement in their condition.
Those who’d had been diagnosed with diabetes more recently saw greater blood sugar improvements on the program. Ditto for those who lost the most amount of weight and/or made the greatest progress in raising their fitness level. The lifestyle intervention group also managed to sustain their remission better over the following three years.
The Only Way to Avoid and/or Reverse Type 2 Diabetes
Amazingly, one in four Americans has some form of diabetes or pre-diabetes. If this is not a clear sign that conventional health recommendations are flawed, I don’t know what is. I too have personal experience with this disease. I developed it myself for a short while, when I tried to implement an Eat Right for Your Type program in the late 90s.
Additionally, most of my paternal relatives (my dad included), have, or have died from, diabetes. My personal experience with diabetes and subsequent review of the literature made it very clear to me that virtually every case of type 2 diabetes is reversible…
And the cure for type 2 diabetes has nothing to do with giving insulin or taking drugs to control your blood sugar. In fact, giving insulin to someone with type 2 diabetes is one of the worst things that can be done.
The truth of the matter is that type 2 diabetes is a fully preventable conditionthat arises from faulty leptin signaling and insulin resistance, both of which are directly diet- and exercise-related. It is NOT a disease of blood sugar.
Once you understand that, the remedy becomes clear: To reverse the disease, you need to recover your body’s insulin and leptin sensitivities. The ONLY way to accomplish this is through proper diet and exercise, as detailed in my free Nutrition Plan. Bariatric surgery, which is being increasingly recommended as a diabetes treatment, will NOT do the trick, and there is NO drug that can correct leptin signaling and insulin resistance… Adhering to the following guidelines can help you do at least three things that are essential for successfully treating diabetes: recover your insulin/leptin sensitivity; normalize your weight; and normalize your blood pressure:
- Severely limit or eliminate sugar and grains in your diet, especially fructose which is far more detrimental than any other type of sugar. Following my Nutrition Plan will help you do this without too much fuss.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is an absolutely essential factor, and without it, you’re unlikely to get this devastating disease under control. It is one of the fastest and most powerful ways to lower your insulin and leptin resistance. If you’re unsure of how to get started, I recommend reviewing my Peak Fitness program for tips and guidelines.
- Avoid trans fats.
- Get plenty of omega-3 fats from a high quality, animal-based source, such as krill oil.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels. Recent studies have revealed that getting enough vitamin D can have a powerful effect on normalizing your blood pressure and that low vitamin D levels may increase your risk of heart disease.
- Optimize your gut flora. Your gut is a living ecosystem, full of both good bacteria and bad. Multiple studies have shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than lean people. The more good bacteria you have, the stronger your immune system will be and the better your body will function overall. Fortunately, optimizing your gut flora is relatively easy. You can reseed your body with good bacteria by eating fermented foods (such as fermented vegetables, natto, raw organic cheese, or raw milk kefir) or by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.
- Address any underlying emotional issues and/or stress. Non-invasive tools like the Emotional Freedom Technique can be helpful and effective.
- Get enough high-quality sleep every night.
- Monitor your fasting insulin level. This is every bit as important as your fasting blood sugar. You’ll want your fasting insulin level to be between 2 and 4. The higher your level, the worse your insulin sensitivity is.
Diet and Healthy Aging
In related news, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine4 reviewed the conflicting research on calorie restriction and mortality.
“Two long-term studies of the effect of calorie restriction in rhesus monkeys conflict: one concludes that restriction does not affect mortality, and the other concludes that it does. Differences in dietary composition and extent of restriction may explain the discrepant results,” Linda Partridge, PhD, writes.
Yes, as always, the devil is in the details, and this is particularly true when it comes to diet. A calorie is not “just a calorie,” for example. There’s every reason to believe that the key to improved health and longevity lies not in calorie restriction per se, but in restricting certain kinds of calories—calories from sugars, to be specific. And possibly also those from poor quality proteins.
Dr. Ron Rosedale has been passionate about diabetes and aging for over 30 years and he is constantly reviewing the literature in this area. He is one of my primary mentors on this topic. He is convinced, as most other experts are, that calorie restriction does indeed provide life extension. But it is likely not because there are decreased total calories. He believes the key is to limit the carbs and excessive protein. The fat calories are “essentially free’ and do not impair insulin or leptin signaling, or the mTOR pathways, which can contribute to decreased longevity.
Dr. Partridge points out two primary differences between the two studies that may account for the conflicting results:
- The control groups in the two studies were not fed in the identical manner. In the first study, which did find calorie restriction reduced chronic disease and mortality, the control group had no restrictions on their food intake. Rather they were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. In the second study, which did not find a correlation between calorie restriction and reduced mortality, the control group received a fixed amount of food, which was lower than the ad libitum intake. This was done in order to prevent obesity.
“Work with laboratory animals has shown that the benefits of caloric restriction are quantitative, with stronger reductions in food intake producing a greater extension in life span, provided that malnutrition is avoided,” Partridge writes. “The controls in the most recent study received a diet that was somewhat calorie restricted, and indeed they were lighter in weight than controls in the earlier study. Thus, they may have had some benefits of caloric restriction, limiting the power to detect any additional benefits from the substantively restricted diet comprising the intervention.”
- The nutritional composition of the diets also differed between the two studies. Proportions of carbohydrate, fat, and protein were similar, but in the first study (which did find a correlation between calorie restriction and mortality), sucrose made up nearly 30 percent of the animals’ diet. In the second, which did not find such a correlation, the diet contained only four percent sucrose.
This should come as no surprise to any of you who have read any of my articles about the health hazards of sugar. The sugar molecule is one of the most ravaging, and eating a high-sugar diet is the most efficient way to accelerate the aging processes in your body. So clearly, a diet low in sugar will significantly help reduce mortality. When both the study group and the controls are fed a fixed low-sugar diet, their outcomes can be expected to be fairly comparable…
Dr. Partridge also mentions that studies have shown the composition of the protein in your diet can have a substantial effect on your health. According to Partridge:
“Studies of animal models, including rodents, have shown that reduced intake of particular nutrients, especially specific amino acids, rather than reduced calorie intake underlies the health improvements brought about by reduced food intake. This observation underscores the importance of dietary restriction over caloric restriction: the effects on health of reducing overall food intake will often depend on the composition of the diet that is fed to the controls.”
I believe this is an important point to remember, as most people simply eat far too much protein of poor quality; thinking it’s all the same. This simply isn’t true, as the nutritional content of meats and other animal products, such as eggs, are dependent upon how the animal was raised and fed. There are major nutritional differences between protein sources raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) and those raised according to organic standards, such as grass-fed beef and pastured chickens and their eggs.
Obesity Bigger Health Crisis than Hunger
Understanding what makes for a healthy diet and lifestyle has never been more important. Shockingly, obesity has now become a greater global health crisis than hunger! Obesity is also the leading cause of disabilities around the world, according to the latest Global Burden of Disease study, published in The Lancet.5 As reported by CNN Health:6
“The report revealed that every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates — an increase of 82 percent globally in the past two decades. Middle Eastern countries are more obese than ever, seeing a 100% increase since 1990. ‘The so-called ‘Western lifestyle’ is being adapted all around the world, and the impacts are all the same,’ [co-author Ali] Mokdad said.
… for the first time, noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease top the list of leading causes of years spent sick or injured. ‘All these problems are tied to obesity,’ Mokdad said. ‘We’re even seeing a large percentage of people suffering back pain now. If we could lower the obesity rates, we’d see the numbers of noncommunicable diseases and pain decrease as well.’
People are living longer than projected in 1990 — on average, 10.7 more years for men, and 12.6 more years for women. But for many of them, the quality of life during those years is not good. On average, people are plagued by illness or pain during the last 14 years of life…”
Yes, modern medicine may be able to keep sick people alive longer, but it fails miserably when it comes to providing a high quality of life. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases are also threatening to bankrupt nations across the globe. Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization has referred to noncommunicable diseases “a slow-motion disaster” that may eventually become financially unsustainable. According to a 2011 report7 by the World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health, noncommunicable diseases is expected to cost more than $30 trillion over the next two decades alone!
Clearly, something needs to change. Part of the problem is that so many of the recommendations issued by conventional medicine are seriously flawed, having been thoroughly corrupted by conflicts of interest. The notion that you cannot trust your doctor’s advice on diet and exercise is disconcerting for most people, but the fact is that many doctors are clueless when it comes to nutrition and fitness. There’s no shortage of physicians that will OK aspartame for weight control and diabetics, or tell you to avoid saturated fats and stick to a low-fat diet, for example. The list goes on. The failure of such recommendations to produce good health can clearly be seen among the general population that believes such myths.
I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades researching and trying to pin down the necessary ingredients of a healthy diet and lifestyle. The end result can be found in my comprehensive Nutrition Plan, which is available free of charge.
There’s still cause for hope however. According to a national study8 featured in The New York Times,9 there’s been a modest decline in obesity rates among 2- to 4-year-olds from poor families, which is a good sign, however small it might be. As reported by the NYT:
“The study was based on data from 30 states and the District of Columbia and covered the years from 1998 to 2010. The share of children who were obese declined to 14.9 percent in 2010, down from 15.2 percent in 2003, after rising between 1998 and 2003. Extreme obesity also declined, dropping to 2.07 percent in 2010 from 2.22 percent in 2003… It is unclear what drove the decline, but Dr. Blanck offered hypotheses.
Breastfeeding, which often leads to healthier weight gain for young children, has increased since 2000.
The percentage of 6-month-olds still being breast-fed increased to 47.7 percent among children born in 2009, up from 34.2 percent among children born in 2000. Breastfeeding of infants from low-income families has risen over the years. In 1980, only 28 percent of infants from those families had ever been breast-fed, compared with 66 percent in 2011. … the amount of money spent on food marketing to children declined by nearly 20 percent from 2006 to 2009, with the biggest drop in television advertising.”
How to Stop Wasting Food
Fresh whole food is an essential part of a healthy diet, but buying and storing fresh foods does require a bit more planning and know-how, compared to stocking up on processed foods with extended expiration dates. A recent article in CNN Health10explored the many ways you can reduce your food waste, which can cost the average American household anywhere from $500 to $2,000 a year. Below are two of my favorite tips. For the rest, which includes what to do with bread, fresh fruits (and especially bananas), please see the original article.11
- Seasonal vegetables
Use it now: As with fruit, the flavors of most vegetables marry well. Cut whatever you have into bite-size pieces, sauté a diced onion in a soup pot, and add the veggies (starting with the firmest, since they take longest to cook). Cover with vegetable broth and simmer until tender. Purée or eat chunky.
Save it for later: Make your own frozen veggies. Prepare them as you’d cook them, except stop when they’re halfway done. You can steam or boil green beans, corn, broccoli, and chard, then quickly rinse in cold water to stop the cooking, and drain and pack in freezer-safe bags. Or pickle your veggies.
Use it now: Fresh herbs are flavor powerhouses, so it can be tricky to improvise without a recipe. A few combos that work deliciously: Try thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf with chicken; add rosemary, parsley, and sage to pork. Toss mint, dill, and cilantro in your salads or green veggie dishes.
Save it for later: To preserve tender herbs (dill, cilantro, parsley), make a sauce or paste (think pesto) with olive or vegetable oil. Purée the cleaned leaves in a food processor with the oil and a little salt. Cilantro oil, for example, can later be mixed with coconut milk, chilies, lime, and soy sauce to make a Thai sauce for fish or chicken. Herb pastes keep up to one week in the refrigerator (drizzle oil over the top to prevent browning) and up to six months in the freezer.
Hardy herbs, like rosemary and sage, meanwhile, are easy to dry. Clean a bunch, grasp the stems, tie with string, then suspend, leaves down, in a dry room. When herbs crumble, transfer to a jar and store in a cool, dry place. Or submerge herbs in a bottle of white-wine vinegar. The flavor will spruce up your salads for months.
To this I would add the following recommendations:
- FoodSaver Vacuuming System: One of my all-time favorite tricks, which works for most produce, is to create a “vacuum pack” to help protect it from oxygen and airborne microbes that will accelerate its decay. Leave the produce in the bag it came in from the grocery store, place it against your chest and use your arm to squeeze the excess air out of the bag. Once the air is removed you can seal it with a twist tie and thus minimize exposure to oxygen.
This simple technique can easily double or triple the normal shelf life of your vegetables by keeping air away from them. I typically store my food in quart or pint glass Ball jars. The FoodSaver brand also has a wide-mouth jar sealerattachment, which is ideal for sealing your leftovers, fermented veggies, sauces and other liquids stored in a wide-mouth jar, and can keep your food fresh up to five times longer. I regularly use it for extending the life of my vegetable juice and making my juicing more efficient so I don’t have to juice every day.
- Ferment your own vegetables using all the left-overs, before they go bad. Fermenting your own veggies is a really inexpensive way to make sure you’re getting beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in your diet, and it’s much easier than you might think!
To learn more, please refer to this previous article, How to Easily and Inexpensively Ferment Your Own Vegetables, which includes an informative interview with Caroline Barringer, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), and an expert in the preparation of the foods prescribed in Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional Program.
The Diabetes Diet
Healthy Eating Tips to Prevent, Control, and Reverse Diabetes
Diabetes is on the rise, yet most cases are preventable and some can even be reversed. Taking steps to prevent and control diabetes doesn’t mean living in deprivation; it means eating a tasty, balanced diet that will also boost your energy and improve your mood. You don’t have to give up sweets entirely or resign yourself to a lifetime of bland food. With these tips, you can still take pleasure from your meals without feeling hungry or deprived.
Taking control of diabetes
Whether you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes, the most important thing you can do is to lose a little weight. Losing just 5% to 10% of your total weight can help you lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Losing weight and eating healthier can also have a profound effect on your mood, energy, and sense of wellbeing.
It’s not too late to make a positive change, even if you’ve already developed diabetes. The bottom line is that you have more control over your health than you think.
Watch out for belly fat
Not all body fat is created equal. Your risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen as opposed to your hips and thighs, as a lot of belly fat surrounds the abdominal organs and liver and is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. You are at an increased risk of developing diabetes if you are:
- A woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more
- A man with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more
Calories obtained from fructose (found in sugary beverages such as soda, energy and sports drinks, coffee drinks, and processed foods like doughnuts, muffins, cereal, candy and granola bars) are more likely to add weight around your abdomen. Cutting back on sugary foods can mean a slimmer waistline as well as a lower risk of diabetes.
What you need to know about healthy eating for diabetes
While exercise is important, what you eat has the biggest impact on weight loss and controlling diabetes. But a diabetic diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Your nutritional needs are virtually the same everyone else, so no special foods are necessary. You just need to pay attention to some of your food choices—most notably the carbohydrates you eat.
Myths and facts about diabetes and diet Myth: You must avoid sugar at all costs.
Fact: You can enjoy your favorite treats as long as you plan properly and limit hidden sugars. Dessert doesn’t have to be off limits, as long as it’s a part of a healthy meal plan.
Myth: You have to cut way down on carbs.
Fact: The type of carbohydrates you eat as well as serving size is key. Focus on whole grain carbs instead of starchy carbs since they’re high in fiber and digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more even.
Myth: You’ll need special diabetic meals.
Fact: The principles of healthy eating are the same—whether or not you’re diabetic. Expensive diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit.
Myth: A high-protein diet is best.
Fact: Studies have shown that eating too much protein, especially animal protein, may actually cause insulin resistance, a key factor in diabetes. A healthy diet includes protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Our bodies need all three to function properly. The key is a balanced diet.
- Healthy fats from raw nuts, olive oil, fish oils, flax seeds, whole milk dairy, or avocados
- Fruits and vegetables—ideally fresh, the more colorful the better; whole fruit rather than juices
- High-fiber cereals and breads made from whole grains or legumes
- Fish and shellfish, organic, free-range chicken or turkey
- High-quality protein such as eggs, beans, milk, cheese, and unsweetened yogurt
- Trans fats from partially hydrogenated or deep-fried foods
- Packaged and fast foods, especially those high in sugar, baked goods, sweets, chips, desserts
- White bread, sugary cereals, refined pastas or rice
- Processed meat and red meat from animals fed with antibiotics, growth hormones, and GMO feed
- Low-fat products that have replaced fat with added sugar, such as fat-free yogurt
Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs
Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—so you need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat. Limit refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, packaged meals, and snack foods. Focus on high-fiber complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs. They are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin.
What about the glycemic index?
High glycemic index (GI) foods spike your blood sugar rapidly, while low GI foods have the least effect on blood sugar. While the GI has long been promoted as a tool to help manage blood sugar, there are some notable drawbacks.
- The true health benefits of using the GI remain unclear.
- Having to refer to GI tables makes eating unnecessarily complicated.
- The GI is not a measure of a food’s healthfulness.
- Research suggests that by simply following the guidelines of the Mediterranean or other heart-healthy diets, you’ll not only lower your glycemic load but also improve the quality of your diet.
- Your overall eating patterns are more important than obsessing over individual foods.
Choosing carbs that are packed with fiber (and don’t spike your blood sugar) Instead of… Try these high-fiber options… White rice Brown or wild rice, riced cauliflower White potatoes (including fries and mashed potatoes) Sweet potatoes, yams, cauliflower mash Regular pasta Whole-wheat pasta, spaghetti squash White bread Whole-wheat or whole-grain bread Sugary breakfast cereal High-fiber, low-sugar cereal Instant oatmeal Steel-cut or rolled oats Cornflakes Low-sugar bran flakes Corn Peas or leafy greens
Be smart about sweets
Eating a diabetic diet doesn’t mean eliminating sugar altogether, but like most of us, chances are you consume more sugar than is healthy. If you have diabetes, you can still enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert now and then. The key is moderation.
Reduce your cravings for sweets by slowly reduce the sugar in your diet a little at a time to give your taste buds time to adjust.
Hold the bread (or rice or pasta) if you want dessert. Eating sweets at a meal adds extra carbohydrates so cut back on the other carb-heavy foods at the same meal.
Add some healthy fat to your dessert. Fat slows down the digestive process, meaning blood sugar levels don’t spike as quickly. That doesn’t mean you should reach for the donuts, though. Think healthy fats, such as peanut butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt, or nuts.
Eat sweets with a meal, rather than as a stand-alone snack. When eaten on their own, sweets cause your blood sugar to spike. But if you eat them along with other healthy foods as part of your meal, your blood sugar won’t rise as rapidly.
When you eat dessert, truly savor each bite. How many times have you mindlessly eaten your way through a bag of cookies or a huge piece of cake? Can you really say that you enjoyed each bite? Make your indulgence count by eating slowly and paying attention to the flavors and textures. You’ll enjoy it more, plus you’re less likely to overeat.
Tricks for cutting down on sugar
Be careful about alcohol
It’s easy to underestimate the calories and carbs in alcoholic drinks, including beer and wine. And cocktails mixed with soda and juice can be loaded with sugar. Choose calorie-free mixers, drink only with food, and monitor your blood glucose as alcohol can interfere with diabetes medication and insulin.
Reduce soft drinks, soda and juice. For each 12 oz. serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage you drink a day, your risk for diabetes increases by about 15 percent. Try sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime instead. Cut down on creamers and sweeteners you add to tea and coffee.
Don’t replace saturated fat with sugar. Many of us replace healthy sources of saturated fat, such as whole milk dairy, with refined carbs, thinking we’re making a healthier choice. Low-fat doesn’t mean healthy when the fat has been replaced by added sugar.
Sweeten foods yourself. Buy unsweetened iced tea, plain yogurt, or unflavored oatmeal, for example, and add sweetener (or fruit) yourself. You’ll likely add far less sugar than the manufacturer.
Check labels and opt for low sugar products and use fresh or frozen ingredients instead of canned goods. Be especially aware of the sugar content of cereals and sugary drinks.
Avoid processed or packaged foods like canned soups, frozen dinners, or low-fat meals that often contain hidden sugar. Prepare more meals at home.
Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by ¼ to ⅓. You can boost sweetness with mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla extract instead of sugar.
Find healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Instead of ice cream, blend up frozen bananas for a creamy, frozen treat. Or enjoy a small chunk of dark chocolate, rather than a milk chocolate bar.
Start with half of the dessert you normally eat, and replace the other half with fruit.
Spotting hidden sugar
Being smart about sweets is only part of the battle. Sugar is also hidden in many packaged foods, fast food meals, and grocery store staples such as bread, cereals, canned goods, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, and ketchup. The first step is to spot hidden sugar on food labels, which can take some sleuthing:
Do some detective work
Manufacturers are required to provide the total amount of sugar in a serving but do not have to spell out how much of this sugar has been added and how much is naturally in the food. The trick is deciphering which ingredients are added sugars. Aside from the obvious ones—sugar, honey, molasses—added sugar can appear as agave nectar, cane crystals, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, and more.
A wise approach is to avoid products that have any of these added sugars at or near the top of the list of ingredients—or ones that have several different types of sugar scattered throughout the list. If a product is chock-full of sugar, you would expect to see “sugar” listed first, or maybe second. But food makers can fudge the list by adding sweeteners that aren’t technically called sugar. The trick is that each sweetener is listed separately. The contribution of each added sugar may be small enough that it shows up fourth, fifth, or even further down the list. But add them up and you can get a surprising dose of added sugar.
Let’s take as an example a popular oat-based cereal with almonds whose package boasts that it is “great tasting,” “heart healthy” and “whole grain guaranteed.” Here’s the list of ingredients:
Whole-grain oats, whole-grain wheat, brown sugar, almond pieces, sugar, crisp oats,* corn syrup, barley malt extract, potassium citrate, toasted oats,* salt, malt syrup, wheat bits,* honey, and cinnamon.
*contain sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and/or brown sugar molasses.
Combine brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, barley malt extract, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar molasses, and malt syrup, and they add up to a hefty dose of empty calories—more than one-quarter (27%) of this cereal is added sugar, which you might not guess from scanning the ingredient list.
Adapted with permission from Reducing Sugar and Salt, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.
Choose fats wisely
Some fats are unhealthy and others have enormous health benefits, so it’s important to choose fats wisely.
Unhealthy fats. The most damaging fats are artificial trans fats, which are created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them less likely to spoil—which is good for food manufacturers but very bad for you. Avoid commercially-baked goods, packaged snack foods, fried food, and anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil in the ingredients, even if it claims to be trans fat-free.
Healthy fats. The safest fats are unsaturated fats, which come from fish and plant sources such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation and support brain and heart health. Good sources include salmon, tuna, and flaxseeds.
Saturated fats. Reducing saturated fat was once thought to be the key to losing weight. Over the past three decades, though, the percentage of calories from fat in the average diet has dropped, but obesity and diabetes rates have soared. Why? When you eliminate fat from your diet, you tend to substitute refined carbohydrates which cause blood sugar levels to spike, leaving you feeling hungry and prone to overeating. While trusted health authorities such as the American Diabetes Association still recommend limiting saturated fat intake, other experts believe that some people may benefit from introducing healthy sources of
saturated fat into their diets. Eating whole-milk dairy products, for example, is actually linked to less body fat and lower levels of obesity. This may be because full-fat dairy makes you feel fuller, faster, and keeps you feeling satisfied for longer. If you have diabetes, you should always seek medical advice before making changes to your diet. For more, see The Fat Debate.
Ways to reduce unhealthy fats and add healthy fats:
- Instead of chips or crackers, snack on nuts or seeds or add them to your morning cereal. Nut butters are also very satisfying.
- Instead of frying, choose to broil, bake, or stir-fry.
- Avoid saturated fat from processed meats, packaged meals, and takeout food.
- Vary your diet with free range chicken, eggs, fish, and vegetarian sources of protein.
- If you choose to eat red meat, try to look for “organic” and “grass-fed”.
- Use cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil to dress salads, cooked vegetables, or pasta dishes. Use coconut oil for stovetop cooking.
- Commercial salad dressings are often high in calories and trans fat so create your own with extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, or sesame oil.
- Add avocados to sandwiches and salads or make guacamole. Along with being loaded with healthy fats, they make for a filling and satisfying meal.
- Enjoy full-fat dairy in moderation and choose organic or raw milk, cheese, butter, and yoghurt when possible.
Eat regularly and keep a food diary
It’s encouraging to know that you only have to lose 7% of your body weight to cut your risk of diabetes in half. And you don’t have to obsessively count calories or starve yourself to do it. Two of the most helpful strategies involve following a regular eating schedule and recording what you eat.
Eat at regularly set times
Your body is better able to regulate blood sugar levels—and your weight—when you maintain a regular meal schedule. Aim for moderate and consistent portion sizes for each meal.
Start your day off with a good breakfast. It will provide energy as well as steady blood sugar levels.
Eat regular small meals—up to 6 per day. Eating regularly will help you keep your portions in check.
Keep calorie intake the same. To regulate blood sugar levels, try to eat roughly the same amount every day, rather than overeating one day or at one meal, and then skimping the next.
Keep a food diary
A recent study found that people who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. Why? A written record helps you identify problem areas—such as your afternoon snack or your morning latte—where you’re getting more calories than you realized. It also increases your awareness of what, why, and how much you’re eating, which helps you cut back on mindless snacking.
What about exercise?
Exercise can help you manage your weight and may improve your insulin sensitivity. An easy way to start exercising is to walk for 30 minutes a day (or for three 10-minute sessions if that’s easier). You can also try swimming, biking, or any other moderate-intensity activity that has you working up a light sweat and breathing harder.
Related HelpGuide articles
Resources and references
Eating right for a diabetic diet
Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes – Easy-to-understand overview of what diabetes is and how you can control and prevent it through exercise and healthy eating. (Harvard School of Public Health)
The Truth About the So-Called “Diabetes Diet” – Learn the facts about eating for diabetes. For example, it’s okay to substitute sugar-containing food for other carbs as part of a balanced meal plan. (Joslin Diabetes Center)
Diabetes Myths – Get the facts about diabetes, including the truth about common diabetes diet myths. (American Diabetes Association)
Diabetes nutrition: Including sweets in your meal plan – What you should know about sugar, how to include it in your diet and information on alternatives. (Mayo Clinic)
Sugar and Desserts – Good information on sugar and including it in your diet (American Diabetes Association)
Added Sugar in the Diet – How added sugar is hidden in processed and prepared foods. (Harvard School of Public Health)
Diabetic diet-friendly foods
Understanding Carbohydrates – Covers the three main types of carbs: sugars, starches, and fiber. Includes information on making smart carb choices. (American Diabetes Association)
Carbohydrates and Diabetes – Explore a collection of simple tips on managing your consumption of carbohydrates. (UCSF Medical Center).
Fruits – Many people mistakenly assume that fruits aren’t a part of a diabetes-friendly diet. But fruits, like vegetables, are loaded with nutrients and fiber. Learn how to include them in your diabetes diet. (American Diabetes Association)
Fat and Diabetes – Information on the different kinds of fats, as well as what foods they are in. (American Diabetes Association)
Diabetes and weight loss
Keep an Eye on Portion Size – Information on the difference between serving size and portion size, plus a downloadable PDF of a Serving Size Card. (Department of Health & Human Services)
Diabetes and exercise
What I need to know about Physical Activity and Diabetes – Planning and activity tips for exercising with diabetes. (National Institutes of Health)
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