Posted on February 25 2018
Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, addresses how to avoid dying from the 15 biggest killer diseases for Americans. There is no chapter on obesity, but Chapter 6 on Diabetes as the #6 killer has a lot to say about obesity, so we are going to address that issue in this week’s blog on diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease caused by too much sugar in the blood. The sugar comes from the foods that you eat. When you eat carbohydrates (sugars like sucrose and lactose; cereals like wheat, corn and rice; potatoes, fruits, etc.) your body converts those carbohydrates into a variety of nutrients, including sugar, or glucose. Obviously, carbohydrates are an important and necessary food group. Normally your pancreas gland produces insulin which is a hormone that keeps your blood sugar levels in check by helping your body’s cells utilize the glucose (sugar) to store energy in your cells and muscles. But in some cases, the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin get mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune system, creating what is known as Type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile-onset diabetes). Without insulin your cells can’t absorb, store and utilize the sugar’s energy, so it just builds up in your blood stream. There is no known cure for Type 1 diabetes, so those who suffer this disease must inject insulin into their bodies for the rest of their lives to help their body utilize the sugars and stave off the negative effects of too much sugar in the blood stream.
What are those negative effects? Excessive blood sugar decreases the elasticity of blood vessels, reducing the ability of the circulatory system to deliver oxygen to the body’s vital organs and nervous system.
The bigger problem with diabetes is called Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes), which arises when the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar by insulin produced by the pancreas is reduced. The reduced effectiveness of the body’s blood sugar control mechanisms is exacerbated by too much fat (intramyocellular lipid) in muscles, blood and the liver, which interferes with the ability of insulin to help the body properly utilize blood sugar for energy. This excess fat is also commonly associated with obesity, which arises from storing excess fat inside the body. Thus, the connection of diabetes with obesity.
So, where does the fat come from? Again, it comes from what we eat. High fat foods (oils, butter, eggs, cream, bacon, etc.) contribute fat through our digestive system to our blood stream. It also comes from fat stored inside our bodies (which got there from what we ate some time ago). It has been conclusively demonstrated that a high-fat diet impairs the body’s ability to properly convert and utilize sugars.
So, what we eat seems to play a key role in both obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The lower the fat in your diet, the better the insulin produced by your body can work and properly handle blood sugars, reducing the damage done by blood sugar to blood vessels, organs and the nervous system.
However, making this simple relationship a bit more complicated, it turns out that different kinds of fat can have very different impacts on our health. One kind of fat, palmitate, is a “saturated” fat found mostly in meat, dairy, and eggs, which causes insulin resistance in muscles and organs. But oleate is a monounsaturated fat which may actually help protect your body from the detrimental effects of saturated fats and is found in nuts, olives and avocados. So, unsaturated fats are good (mostly plant sourced fats) whereas saturated fats are bad (mostly animal sourced fats).
If insulin-producing beta cells are exposed to saturated fats in a petri dish, the beta cells begin to die. But when exposed to unsaturated fats, this does not happen. When you consume saturated fats, both the sugar-controlling ability of insulin, and the amount of insulin secretion are impaired.
The good news for most of us is that Type 2 diabetes, and prediabetes conditions can be avoided, and even reversed through switching to a diet of more plant-based and less animal-based foods. In a pilot study of 13 diabetic men and women, they were told to eat at least one big salad every day, as well as a veggie-bean soup, a handful of nuts and seeds, fruit at every meal, a pound of cooked greens and some whole grains and to restrict (but not eliminate) animal-derived products, but to eliminate refined grains, junk food and oil. The result? After seven months, they were not diabetic anymore and most had already stopped taking their medications.
In another study, after just sixteen days of eating a healthy plant-based diet the diabetic subjects saw their insulin requirements drop by 60% and half of them were able to get off insulin altogether.
Statistics show that 90% of those who develop Type 2 diabetes are overweight. We know that saturated fats interfere with the body’s ability to produce and utilize insulin to control blood sugar. We also know that saturated fats come primarily from animal-source foods. But there is a significant second major source of saturated fats—highly processed foods. Almost any food in a box is highly processed. Even if it is labeled as “low-fat” it is likely to have a host of other unhealthy ingredients, like added sugar. So, you may skip the intermediate cause of higher blood-sugar, the fat, but you are then usually increasing the direct cause of higher blood sugar, sugar itself. Not good.
Do you need to lose weight and change your diet? There are two calculations you can do to help you determine whether you should or not. One is the Body Mass Index or BMI. To calculate your BMI just take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 703. Then take the result and divide it by your height in inches. Then take that result and divide it by your height in inches again. The final number should be below 25. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI over 30 is considered obese.
But how your weight is distributed on your body is also very important, so the WHtR or Waist-to-Height Ratio can help assess that. This is a simple ratio of your waist measurement in inches compared to your height measurement in inches. If the ratio is .5 or less you are in good shape, literally. If your measurement is above .5 your abdominal fat is too great, and a high amount of abdominal fat is a strong predictor of premature death.
Type 2 diabetes and obesity are becoming epidemics in our country, largely because of our diets which are too high in saturated fats and sugars. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 37% of all adults in the U.S. (86 million Americans) are prediabetic. More than 20 million Americans have already been diagnosed with diabetes (three times the number in 1990). Currently, diabetes causes 50,000 cases of kidney failure per year, 75,000 lower extremity amputations, 75,000 deaths, and 650,000 cases of vision loss per year.
If your BMI or WHtR are not low enough, doesn’t it seem prudent to do what you can to avoid these outcomes? And doing what you can means reducing your consumption of saturated fats and sugars (primarily from animal-sourced foods and processed foods) and switching to a more natural, plant-sourced diet.
In a study just published by Stanford University researchers, and therefore not included in Greger’s book, the scientists tested 600 overweight adults through genetic and insulin testing before being randomly assigned to reduce fat or carbohydrate intake. The scientists thought that variations linked to how the body processes fats and carbohydrates would make some people more or less likely to lose weight on the low-fat or low-carb diet. The results of the study confounded the researchers. It turned out that regardless of genes, insulin levels or diet type, weight loss averaged about 13 pounds over a year. What did seem to matter was a healthy diet. Participants on both diets who consumed the fewest processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy fats, and who ate the most vegetables, lost the most weight.
I think the results are clear. If you want to reduce your chances of getting diabetes and the various life altering consequences of the disease, eat a more healthy diet. You will look better and feel better. And live longer. And if you think that Juice Plus whole-plant-food nutrition can help you reach your goals, come in to Objects of Desire Artful Living and let’s talk. Because Artful Living is Healthy Living.