By Dr Graham Simpson
Four dietary changes that offer hope to UAE diabetes sufferers from Dr Graham Simpson, Euromed Clinic Dubai
According to the International Diabetes Federation, there were over one million cases of diabetes in the UAE last year, out of a total adult population of 7.6 million.
There are 39 million cases of diabetes in the MENA region, a figure that is expected to grow 72 percent by 2045 to 67 million.
That’s a sobering thought, but forget the wider statistics for a moment: what does this really mean for you? While genetics certainly plays a part in the likelihood of succumbing to this disease, by and large our Western diet is the main culprit.
And while medications will help you manage the symptoms, I’m here to tell you they are not your best weapon in the fight against diabetes. The easiest and most effective solution lies in your own hands, simply through what you eat.
Basically, you need to stick to a diet of pure, natural foods and ditch everything else. So what should you include and what should you avoid?
According to Dr Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth about Sugar, Obesity and Disease, sugar is pure poison. Every time you eat sugary food your insulin levels spike, which results in a sharp drop of blood sugar. This triggers cravings for more sugar, leading to another spike in insulin and so on. Over time, your cells lose their sensitivity to insulin and your body becomes insulin resistant which can not only lead to type 2 diabetes but also a number of other problems – think obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke and hypertension.
If all this sounds a little scary, there’s more: high sugar and insulin levels also cause inflammation of the endothelium, the single layer of cells that line the blood vessels – which kickstarts the process that leads to chronic disease. I list over 100 negative effects of sugar in my recent book, ‘The Metabolic Miracle’.
So what can you do? In addition to the obvious culprits such as sweets, chocolate and cakes, you need to cut out all sweeteners and 'liquid carbs' – fruit juices and sweet, carbonated drinks. And beware the 'hidden sugars' found in processed foods. They may be labelled differently – corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, syrup – but they all do the same thing: increase insulin levels. And remember to be careful of fruit, as it’s nature’s candy.
Since the agricultural revolution, grains have become a cheap staple of the Western diet – but the problem actually goes back much, much further than this. As I pointed out in my book, ‘The first mistake in our nutrition occurred over 10,000 years ago (just 400 generations ago) in our 2.5 million-year history when we began growing grains’.
Today, grains are, regrettably, a cheap staple of the Western diet. They can be found in foods you are probably feeding your family on a daily basis, including breads, pasta, cereals, pastries and cakes. However, being high in carbohydrates they are a definite no-no if you want to avoid diabetes.
In basic terms, when you eat anything containing carbohydrates your body breaks the carbs down into simple sugars and releases them into the bloodstream, which again leads to insulin spikes. This causes underlying inflammation throughout the body and triggers a process that can not only result in chronic disease but can actually accelerate ageing as well. Those people you hear about who have supposed ‘good genes’ and look great into their 50s, 60s and beyond – you can bet a high percentage of them follow a low-carb diet, too.
Want more reasons to avoid grains? They also contain phytic acid, which can prevent our bodies from absorbing important minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. And they can contribute to the onset of leaky gut syndrome. This is where gaps occur in the intestinal membrane, allowing undigested food and bacteria to leak from the gut into the bloodstream and react with different tissue to cause autoimmune disorders. Sounds nasty, doesn’t it?
The Paleo eating plan follows the habits of our hunter-gatherer Paleolithic ancestors who stuck to a diet full of natural foods. This eating regime is based on fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and eggs. Essentially you should divide this into a third protein, a third fat and a third carbohydrates per meal. All of this appears to trigger an ideal hormonal response in our bodies that naturally keeps blood glucose levels stable and the insulin response in check.
These types of foods are all easily available in their natural form and can be used to create healthy and tasty meals that contain none of those added chemicals, preservatives and sugars.
And don’t just take my word for it – the idea that following a Paleo diet can actually help control diabetes is not a new one, and it’s had many advocates. To give just one example: back in 2009, a study by Tommy Jönsson and colleagues in the journal Cardiovascular Diabetology stressed the benefits of a Paleo diet for those patients suffering from type 2 diabetes.
There is also Keto diet, which some studies have shown to reverse diabetes. A Keto diet is high fat (70 percent), moderate protein (20 percent) and low carb (10 percent) HFLC diet. In a recent Virta study in January this year, 262 type 2 diabetes followed this diet for over 14 months, and 60 percent of those saw their type 2 diabetes reversed after completing one year of the HFLC diet while taking no glycemic control medications or only metformin.
Finally, I believe intermittent fasting is also key to reversing diabetes. This simply means eating dinner early (8pm) and breakfast late (1 pm). You can have a bulletproof coffee (coffee with butter/ghee and MCT oil) or tea for breakfast. Here you eat in an eight-hour window while your body switches from its usual sugar burning mode to burning your fat.
In addition to eating the right foods, there are a number of supplements that can help you to combat diabetes. Vitamin D is fat-soluble and can help improve the body's sensitivity to insulin and therefore reduce the risk of insulin resistance. It is also important for strengthening the immune system and improving metabolism and sleep (D3 5,000 at bedtime – gel capsules are best).
Type 2 diabetic sufferers are often deficient in magnesium which activates an enzyme called tyrosine kinase used in the metabolism of glucose. If you suffer from diabetes you may often feel tired because glucose can’t enter cells and be converted into energy. Taking a magnesium supplement can help (500mg magnesium citrate). Like Vitamin D3, magnesium should be taken at bedtime.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant that works with enzymes to speed up the process of energy production. ALA helps decrease blood sugar and clear glucose from the blood (100mg daily).
The principle ingredient of the BergaMet supplement is bergamot juice, from a Southern Italian citrus fruit, which contains large amounts of unique polyphenols (micronutrients with antioxidant properties, in case you were wondering) which help control blood sugar. Take two tables a day.
I also recommend Glucophage (500mg in the morning and evening), which studies have shown to extend life and is therefore touted as the new longevity drug.
Most beneficial supplements can be found in a single product called ‘Magnificent 7’ that will be available in Dubai within the next few months. But as always, remember to check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Sticking to a regime high in sugars and grains and full of processed foods will only hurt, not heal. Making a few small changes to your eating and lifestyle habits, based on the Paleo diet, can make a big difference.
When it comes to beating or preventing insulin resistance (diabetes), the most powerful drug you and your family can consume is the food you eat each day. Remember, ‘insulin resistance’ is responsible for most chronic diseases and not just diabetes. It kills 80 percent of us and together with psychological stress shortens the length of our lives.