Can you beat diabetes with a high fat diet?

The simple answer is maybe but unlikely. Adherents of the Keto Diet, a high-fat, low-carb diet, claim that it helps you reduce weight and can reverse your diabetes among many other health benefits. Is there much truth behind this contention?

As anybody who has read my book Beating Diabetes, or who follows this blog, knows: a sure-fire way to get your blood glucose down to manageable levels is to follow a diet that is low in sugar, low in fat, low in salt, high in fibre, made up of mainly natural foods with low GIs, while avoiding eggs and dairy products, washed down with plenty of water.  

The Beating Diabetes diet does not specify low carbs, only low sugar. Other carbohydrates, such as starch and dietary fibre are part of this diet.

The alternate diet, the keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet.

What exactly is it and how does it work?

What is a Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet (or keto diet for short) is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. It involves reducing carbohydrate intake drastically and replacing the carbs with fat.

This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis, a in which fat provides most of the fuel for the body. It occurs when there is limited access to glucose (blood sugar), which is the preferred fuel source for many cells in the body.

To achieve ketosis, you need, as a general rule to eat less than 50 grams of carbs a day perhaps as little as 20 grams a day. To do this you must remove carb-heavy foods from your diet, such as grains, candy (sweets) and sugary drinks. You also have to cut back on legumes, potatoes and fruit.

When you eat a very low-carb diet, your insulin levels go down and fatty acids are released from your stores of body fat stores in large amounts. Much of these fatty acids are transferred to the liver, where they are oxidized and turned into molecules called ketones (or ketone bodies).

These molecules can provide energy for the body. Unlike fatty acids, ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and provide energy for the brain in the absence of glucose. They can deliver numerous other health benefits, besides reduced insulin and blood glucose levels, as well as weight loss.

Different types of ketogenic diet

There are several versions of the ketogenic diet. These include:

  • The standard ketogenic diet … a very high-fat, moderate-protein, and very low-carb diet … typically 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs
  • High-protein ketogenic diet … this is similar to the standard diet but includes more protein … usually 60% fat, 35% protein and just 5% carbs
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet … this diet alternates low-carb and high carb periods … such as 5 very low-fat days followed by 2 high-carb days
  • Targeted ketogenic diet … this version of the keto diet allows you to add carbs around workouts

Only the standard and high-protein keto diets have been studied scientifically. The other two versions are mainly used by athletes and body builders.

But which foods exactly do you need to avoid, and which do you need to eat if you are following this diet?

Foods to avoid

You need to limit any foods that are high in carbohydrates.

This means that you should avoid carb-based foods such as:

  • grains … wheat products, rice, pasta, cereal, etc
  • sugary foods … sodas, fruit juices, ice cream, smoothies and sweets (candy)
  • legumes … beans, peas, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and so on
  • root vegetables and tubers … potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips etc
  • most fruits … with the exception of berries

You also need to avoid low-fat or dietary products which are usually highly processed and are high in carbohydrates. In addition, you should ignore condiments and sauces that contain sugar and unhealthy fats. And you should eat very little processed vegetable oil, mayonnaise and similar foods which are choc-a-bloc with unhealthy fats.

Alcoholic beverages are also a no-no as they can throw you out of ketosis. Sugar-free diet foods can also affect your ketone levels especially when they are high in sugar alcohols … these foods tend to be highly-processed also.

Foods to eat

A ketogenic diet should be based on whole, single-ingredient foods that are high in fats and/or low in carbohydrates. Ketogenic experts recommend the following:

  • meat … red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken and turkey
  • fatty fish … such as salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel
  • nuts and seeds … almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc
  • eggs … from free-range chickens
  • butter and cream … from grass-fed cows
  • cheese … unprocessed cheese such as cheddar, goat’s cheese, cream cheese, blue cheeses, mozzarella
  • avocados … whole avocados or freshly made guacamole
  • healthy oils … extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil
  • low-carb veggies … most green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc
  • condiments … you can use salt, pepper and various healthy herbs and spices
Ketogenic diet and weight loss

Several studies over the last 15 years indicate that the ketogenic diet is effective in helping you lose weight. In addition, you lose weight without having to count carbs or track your intake of food.

One such study of 42 healthy but obese women, published in the Journal of endocrinology and metabolism in April 2003, found that people on a ketogenic diet lost more than twice as much weight as persons on a low-fat calorie-restricted diet. Their triglycerides and HDL levels also improved significantly.

Another study, published in Diabetic Medicine, a journal of the British Diabetic Association, in December 1007, of 13 subjects with type 2 diabetes and 13 healthy subjects found that those on a ketogenic diet lost three times more weight than those following the diet recommended by Diabetes UK. But there were no differences between the two groups in changes in their levels of HbA1c, ketones or lipids.

Being overweight or obese is an important factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. The fact that following a ketogenic diet is an effective way to lose weight suggests that this diet might be helpful in reversing diabetes.

Ketogenic diet and diabetes

A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, published in March 2005 found that a ketogenic diet improved insulin sensitivity by 75%.

In another study published in Nutrition & Metabolism in December 2008, 84 volunteers with obesity and type 2 diabetes followed either (a) a ketogenic diet (ie <20g of carbs a day) or (b) a low-glycemic, reduced-calorie diet (ie 500 kcal/day less than a diet calculated to maintain their current weight) for 24 weeks.

Both diets led to improvements in HbA1c, fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and weight loss. Group (a) on the ketogenic diet had greater improvements in HbA1c, body weight), and HDL cholesterol compared to group (b) on reduced calories. Furthermore, diabetes medications were reduced or eliminated in 95.2% of those in group (a) against 62% of the participants in group (b).   

How the high-fat, low-carb diet works

Persons eating the standard Western diet obtain their energy from glucose. When they digest their food, glucose (which comes mainly from the carbohydrates in their diet) is released into the blood stream where it travels to the muscle cells. At the same time the pancreas releases insulin into the blood stream. The purpose of insulin is to open the receptors in the muscle cells so that the glucose can enter the cells to provide energy.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your basic problem is that these receptors are blocked with fat and the insulin cannot open the cell doors. Hence the glucose cannot enter the muscle cells and you end up with too much fat and insulin floating around your body and causing severe damage to your health over time.  

The trick to reversing your type 2 diabetes is simple. If you follow the Beating-Diabetes (low-sugar, low-fat) diet you will starve your body of fat and after a few weeks the receptors in your muscle cells will unblock, enabling glucose to enter the cells thereby ‘reversing’ your diabetes.

The effects of the high-fat, low-carb ketonic diet are entirely different. When you follow the keto diet, your body switches to using fat as its source of energy rather than carbs. This is known as ketosis, which involves the liver producing ketone bodies (aka ketones) out of fat and using these for energy instead of carbohydrates.

Ketone bodies or ketones (acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone) are used in healthy individuals to provide energy to the cells of the body when glucose is low or absent in the diet.

Should you make the switch?

Though it is obviously effective in helping you lose weight and in all probability can enable you to reverse your diabetes, a ketogenic diet can have negative side effects.

Keto flu … is an unpleasant side effect that you may experience as you transition to a ketogenic diet. You may experience fatigue, dizziness, brain fog and insomnia. But those you have made the transition say that it passes after some time.

Nutritional deficiencies … the keto diet limits the kinds of food you can eat and entire food groups, such as beans, legumes, whole grains, as well as many fruits and vegetables are eliminated from your diet … many of these foods contain vitamins and minerals which you cannot get from any other sources. The keto dies is not a balanced diet so if you go this route on a long-term basis you need to take a wide range of supplements to make up for the loss of micro-nutrients.

Constipation … when you eliminate most fruits and vegetables from you diet you run the risk of becoming deficient in dietary fibre with the result that you become constipated. The solution is to add some low-carb, fibre-rich vegetables to your diet, such as asparagus (2% carbs), Broccoli (7%), Tomatoes (4%), Cucumber (4%), Cauliflower (5%), Eggplant (6%), Bell Peppers (6%) and Green Beans (7%).

Loss of electrolytes … as you enter ketosis, your body will start dumping its stores of glycogen (the main form in which glucose is stored in your body) through urination. An increase in how often you urinate will inevitably lead to a loss of electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium and potassium. These electrolytes are essential for cardiac function and a normal heart beat, and that loss can put you at risk of cardiac arrhythmia. To avoid this you should eat avocados, leafy green vegetables, asparagus and cruciferous vegetables which are natural sources of this electrolytes. Add a pinch of sea-salt to your meals to up your sodium levels. You can also take an over-the-counter supplement.

Dehydration … a keto diet is known as a ‘water flushing’ diet because the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver are reduced through urination. Thus, along with loss of electrolytes, dehydration is thus a real threat in the early stages of the diet. The solution is to drink copious amounts of water, at least 2.5 litres a day. The requirement to drink water is also a feature of the Beating-Diabetes diet.

Kidney damage … untreated dehydration can lead to acute kidney damage. In addition, high levels of nitrogen created by excess protein can also increase pressure on your kidneys, damaging the cells and leading to the formation of kidney stones. Thus, it is only sensible to seek medical advice before you embark on the keto diet, especially if you already have issues with your kidneys and liver.

Muscle loss … is a real possibility when you are in ketosis for a long time. While protein is the basic muscle builder, you muscles also need carbs for their formation and maintenance. Without those carbs your body starts to break down muscle. In itself this would not be dangerous for most of your muscle mass. Unfortunately, your heart is also a muscle, so it too could get damaged.

Low blood pressure … one of benefits of the ketogenic diet is that it can help reduce elevated levels of blood pressure. Thus, if you are already taking prescription medicines to control hypertension, it can cause abnormally low blood pressure levels, taking them so low that it can be dangerous, even deadly. The solution is to discuss whether you should reduce or stop your medications with your doctor and follow his or her advice.

When you consider the risks involved, the answer to the question is you probably should not switch … especially if the Beating Diabetes diet is working for you.

Why you should eat cruciferous vegetables

As we diabetics well know, to beat our diabetes we should make plants, such as vegetables, the main focus of our diet. But not all vegetables are equally beneficial. Some of most healthful are in the group known as cruciferous vegetables. But what are they and what are the benefits of eating cruciferous vegetables?

The Cruciferae family of vegetables are cool-weather vegetables. They are so called because they have four petals so that (with a bit of imagination) they seem to resemble a cross.

Cruciferous vegetables are high in several vitamins and soluble fibre. They also contain multiple nutrients and phytochemicals.

As one of the dominant food crops worldwide, cruciferous vegetables come in a wide variety of forms. A very restricted list includes:

  • bpak choi (aka bok choy)
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • kale
  • radish
  • sprouts (Brussels)
  • turnip

And many, many more.

Health benefits of cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are low in calories but rich in folate, vitamins C, E and K and soluble fibre.

These vegetables are also good sources of phytonutrients … plant-based compounds that may help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Cruciferous vegetables also contain glucosinolates, chemicals that are responsible for the aroma and flavour of these plants. These chemicals have been shown to have anti-cancer effects.

According to the National Cancer Institute in the USA, studies in rats and mice have shown that indoles and isothiocyanates (compounds that are formed when glucosinolates are broken down) provide cells with protection against damage to their DNA, inactivate carcinogens, and have anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects.

But the evidence that this also happens when humans consume cruciferous vegetables is underwhelming. Studies of cancers such as of the prostate, colon, lung and breast, show little or no association between eating these vegetables and the risk of developing these specific cancers.

However, cruciferous vegetables may help to protect against cancer by reducing oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is an overload of oxygen-free radicals, harmful molecules generated by the body. Reducing free radicals probably reduces the risk of various cancers such as colon, lung, breast and prostate.

In a study funded by the US National Cancer Institute, 20 participants ate two cups of cruciferous vegetables a day for three weeks after which they reverted to their normal eating habits. When their oxidative stress was measured at the end of the three weeks, it was found that it had dropped 22% when they were eating lots of cruciferous vegetables.

Diets rich in fish and cruciferous vegetables may help to protect against cardiovascular disease. A recent study found that this kind of diet was linked to lower levels of markers for inflammation in the body … markers that signal an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cooking and consuming cruciferous vegetables

Eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables will not harm you. However, they are likely to improve your health and reduce your risk of various chronic diseases. So, eating them is highly recommended.

Here are some general tips:

  • Eat these vegetables raw or only lightly steamed. If you overcook them they can have a strong sulphurous smell and taste.
  • You will find cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower ready-to-go in the fresh food or frozen foods section of your supermarket.
  • Only buy fresh broccoli … it has firm florets with a purple, dark green or bluish hue at the top. These will have more beta-carotene and vitamin C than florets with light green tops. If broccoli is yellow or limp don’t buy it … it is old.
  • Snowy white broccoli florets or dark green broccoli is a must for any raw vegetable platter.
  • Adding raw broccoli or cauliflower florets to a green salad greatly boosts the nutrients in the dish
  • You can add chopped cruciferous vegetables to soups, stews and casseroles during a final few minutes of cooking (to avoid over-cooking them).

Now for the specifics:

Bpak choi ….. is a kind of Chinese cabbage that looks like a hybrid of celery and lettuce. It has a mild flavour and fits well in stir-fries or soups. If you make a noodle soup with bpak choi, chuck in a little bit of chopped ginger to give it a kick.

Broccoli ….. can be eaten raw on its own, in a salad or with a dip as a quick snack. Try steaming it (but don’t overdo it) and topping it with a low-fat sauce. You could also roast it in the oven. If you don’t care for the taste but want the nutrients, drop it into a strongly-flavoured casserole.

Brussels sprouts ….. the bane of generations of school children, are usually eaten in winter especially during Yuletide. They have a very distinctive taste. They are usually boiled but try roasting them in the oven.

Cabbage ….. is usually overcooked so be careful. Another cruciferous vegetable with a distinctive but mild taste, cabbage goes well with most main courses. Or it can be shredded and mixed with beans and sweet potatoes to make a potent side-dish.

Kale ….. is slightly more bitter than spinach or lettuce but is highly nutritious. You can sauté it with a drop of olive oil, garlic and pepper for a quick side-dish or bake it in the oven with some seasoning as a substitute for potato. Or drop a few raw leaves into a smoothie to boost your drink’s vitamin and mineral content.   

Radishes ….. are the perfect garnish for a fresh salad. Unlike the other cruciferous vegetables above the roots, rather than the leaves, are eaten. Radishes have a peppery taste and besides giving a plain old salad a pleasant lift, they can be eaten glazed with mint and onion, or glazed and roasted with fresh herbs.

Turnips ….. are another root vegetable. They have a purple skin. Their texture is similar to that of potatoes, but they have a much more distinctive, slightly peppery, flavour. In fact, once boiled they can be mashed and used as a substitute for potatoes in a main course ….. or mashed and mixed with boiled mashed carrots with a little added black pepper.

How to control COPD

COPD is an incurable disease that, like diabetes, gets progressively worse over time. If you are diabetic your chances of developing COPD are at least 50% greater than those of a healthy person. Here’s what you can do about it. Continue reading “How to control COPD”

Why you should eat a plant-focused diet

The evidence is mounting that a plant-focused diet is best for managing diabetes. But there are a huge variety of diets in this category. Here’s the rundown, along with the proven benefits and a few practical pointers on switching to a plant-based diet. Continue reading “Why you should eat a plant-focused diet”

How to avoid the dangers of blue light

The ubiquitous use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs at work and at home is exposing us to more and more blue light. But what exactly is blue light? Does it really harm our eyes? And what can we do to prevent its pernicious effects? Continue reading “How to avoid the dangers of blue light”

Diabetic Retinopathy – the Hard Facts

Diabetic retinopathy affects 80% of people who have been diabetic for 20 years or more. The disease accounts for 12% of all new cases of blindness each year in the West and is the leading cause for blindness in persons aged 20 to 64 years. Here are the symptoms, causes and treatments for diabetic retinopathy and how you can avoid going blind. Continue reading “Diabetic Retinopathy – the Hard Facts”

How to eat on-the-go

Is it possible to follow the Beating Diabetes diet when you are so rushed that you don’t have time to eat breakfast at home while lunch and dinner are ingested in a local eatery? Here are a few suggestions for staying on diet. Continue reading “How to eat on-the-go”

Can chia seeds reverse diabetes?

The health and nutrition industry has been all agog for some years now about chia seeds, one of the so-called superfoods. But can they really reverse type 2 diabetes? Are they as healthy as they are hyped up to be? Do they have any negative side-effects? How should you eat them? Continue reading “Can chia seeds reverse diabetes?”

Why your metabolic age matters

Metabolic age is a word that is bandied about a lot by fitness gurus. But what is metabolic age and what does it signify? If it is too high, how can you improve it? And is it relevant when you are trying to beat your diabetes? Continue reading “Why your metabolic age matters”

How to monitor your weight (and why you should do so)

You need some fat if you body is to function properly. But too much fat will harm your health. Most diabetics are overweight when they are diagnosed. So you need to monitor your fatness and take corrective action. Here are eight ways you can check your adiposity. Continue reading “How to monitor your weight (and why you should do so)”