For over 70 years, traditional treatment for diabetes was a high fat, low carbohydrate diet with insulin by injection, or pills by mouth. Justification for prescribing the high fat diet was that it keeps the blood sugar from rising too much after a meal, and it prevents too much sugar from spilling into the urine. But the disadvantages of fatty diets far outweigh the advantages. This type of diet does not reduce blood sugar, nor the insulin requirement to handle the excess sugar. In fact, it tends to make the body less sensitive to insulin and induces resistance to it. Elevation of blood fats leads to hardening of the arteries. It promotes the accumulation of ketone bodies in the body tissue and fluids, and accelerates aging.
Other diets that have been used to control diabetes are high protein, high carbohydrate and high fiber diets. Protein diets seem to prevent a significant rise in blood sugar, but are "impractical, monotonous, expensive, promote kidney and liver failure and hardening of the arteries, and are usually high in fat," hence not recommended.
Refined carbohydrate diets (sugar, white flour, white rice, etc.) are rapidly absorbed, elevating the blood sugar after meals, as well as increasing triglycerides. Such a diet is a detriment in treating diabetes, and is no treatment at all. However, when complex carbohydrateswhole grain bread and cereals, brown rice, bran, fruit, vegetables and no refined sugarcompose most of the meal, the disadvantages of a high carbohydrate diet disappear. The body better utilizes the carbohydrate and glucose in the food. When mildly diabetic persons switch from 45% refined carbohydrates to 85% complex carbohydrates, their glucose tolerance test improves.
After a low fiber meal (the typical American diet), blood sugar shoots up rapidly. This stimulates a spurt of insulin into the blood stream. The resulting overabundance of insulin sends the blood sugar down as rapidly as it ascended. With high fiber meals there is less rapid rise in blood sugar. Fiber slows the digestive process so that absorption of glucose proceeds more slowly. A high insulin level itself causes what we might call "irritation" of blood vessels and increases risks of hypertension, stroke, and heart attack.
Most Americans on a high meat diet eat between 14 and 20 grams of plant fiber every day. The ideal vegetarian diet provides 65-70 grams. Insulin must hook up on one side with sugar (glucose), and the other side must slide into insulin "docking sites" (receptors) on cells. For sugar to be properly utilized, the docking sites must be filled with insulin. Here is another advantage of a high fiber diet--the fiber increases the number of docking sites. Obese individuals have fewer insulin receptors, hence fewer sites for sugar-hooked insulin to slide into. Fasting for several days, until the blood glucose returns to normal, multiplies insulin docking sites. This usually takes three to five days, and should be done only in type II (or "adult onset") diabetics. Type I diabetics should never fast. If the person is obese, fasting for a day or two a week, non-consecutively, can be very helpful for diabetic control.
In addition to decreasing the rapid rise of blood sugar after a meal and increasing the number of insulin docking sites on cells, a high fiber diet lowers blood fats, helping to carry cholesterol out of the body. It keeps the blood sugar at a lower level than a fiber-free meal. Triglycerides (blood fats) and cholesterol are also decreased, thus lessening the risk of coronary heart attack.
Exercise along with the diet is important and cannot be overemphasized. Exercise enhances the sensitivity of the tissues to insulin, increasing the number of insulin receptors. It helps decrease body fat, thus making people more sensitive to insulin.
We have found over the years that a total vegetarian diet, high in fiber and the unrefined carbohydrates, low in fats; coupled with a regular exercise program; and weight control is the very best to control diabetes and to prevent the serious complications of this disease. By far the majority of people stay on the program. They enjoy the food, for it is palatable, practical and attractive. The whole family can benefit from eating this food. Most of those who stay on the program never need to take pills or insulin again.
(For much more information, see our book entitled Diabetes and the Hypoglycemic Syndrome, available from Country Life Natural Food Store; phone 706-323-9194.)
The majority of this content is taken from Dr. Agatha Thrash of Uchee Pines Institute, printed with permission by Wildwood Inn Health Retreat.