In 2013 there were about 400 000 people in British Columbia living with diabetes. Of those, abut 370 000 had Type 2 diabetes, a preventable lifestyle-induced disease. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be 550 000 people with the disease with an associated increase in costs to the taxpayer of 25%.
Dietary and lifestyle changes are key to treating Type 2 diabetes and preventing many of the serious consequences of living with the disease. These include eye damage, kidney damage, nerve damage, circulation problems and heart attack and stroke.
Currently, mainstream diet recommendations require people living with Type 2 diabetes to restrict their portion sizes, measure and weigh their food, and to limit the total amount of carbohydrate in their diet.
There is much evidence now to support a new approach. This evidence first came from comparing different populations around the world. It was found that populations whose diets were centred around mostly plant based foods such as rice, noodles, beans and vegetables, were much less likely to develop diabetes than people whose diets contained more fat or were centred around meat based meals.
For example, in Japanese people following their traditional diet, diabetes was very rare. However, when people from the same family moved from Japan to the USA and started eating the Western diet, they were much more likely to develop diabetes than siblings that had remained in Japan. This shows that genetics was not the cause of the diabetes.
Studies have shown that diets rich in meat and fat cause the body to be more resistant to insulin’s actions. Clinical research has proven that changing to a low-fat, plant based diet actually improves insulin sensitivity, helps with weight loss and decreases blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
The first step is thus to avoid animal-derived products. This will eliminate all animal fats and also animal-based protein. As discussed previously in this column, while we all need protein, we do not need to get it from animal sources. Animal proteins speed up kidney damage in people who have already lost some of their kidney function. These same proteins also cause the loss of calcium from the body through excretion into the urine, potentially increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Plant proteins do not cause any of the same problems. As long as you are getting enough calories from your plant-based diet, you will be getting the perfect amount of protein.
While most people nowadays realize that red meat is not good for them, they still think chicken is a much healthier option. Lean beef has about 30% fat as a percentage of calories. Many people are surprised to find out that even the leanest chicken which is white meat with no skin, has about 23% of fat and much of that is saturated fat.
Beans, in contrast, have only 4% of their calories from fat. Most vegetables, fruits, beans and grains have less than 10%. It is important to note that they do contain fat as many people still think that there is no fat at all in plant based foods and thus think they need to add fat to their diet.