If you’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your doctor will prescribe a change in lifestyle and diet, most often with a prescription for medication.
We understand that the word diet and the idea of giving up foods you love can be daunting and cause a kneejerk dash for the nearest chocolate bar. But the good news is that a good diet for type 2 diabetes isn’t as difficult as you may fear. You can enjoy good food while managing your disease, as long as you understand some fundamental principles.
It’s about your body’s response to carbs
RediCare’s Clinical Lead, Nutritional Scientist Andy Sheppard, explains, 'Type 2 Diabetes is best described as carbohydrate intolerance. The main breakthrough in the study of type 2 diabetes over the last four or five years is the knowledge that all dietary carbohydrate is metabolised as blood glucose, he continues If we look at the chemical structure of carbohydrates, we see they are essentially chains of glucose holding hands. So whether you're eating cornflakes, quinoa, white bread or brown, white or brown pasta, it's all going to convert to glucose in the blood.’
It’s about insulin resistance (IR)
When the body becomes insulin-resistant, it can’t effectively use the hormone insulin to transport glucose (sugar) to cells and muscles for energy.
'This causes glucose to accumulate in your blood at higher than normal levels, which is dangerous for your health.' Says Andy, 'Early indicators of insulin resistance are rapid weight gain, the inability to lose weight, cravings for sugary food and increasing hunger levels.'
How your diet can cause type 2 diabetes
What you eat can help or hinder your body’s management of insulin and limiting carbs will help regulate your blood sugar levels.
Andy says: ‘It’s not just about the amount of sugar you eat, but the amount and type of carbohydrates you eat. When you consume higher amounts of refined or processed carbs, your body secretes more insulin.’
How does that work? He explains, ‘We know that increased intake of refined carbohydrates causes spikes in insulin, which leads to weight gain. Regular spikes in insulin leads to insulin resistance, which in turn is connected to a plethora of different insulin-resistant conditions: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnoea, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and studies appear to indicate that insulin resistance may also be involved in many types of cancer.'
He says this correlation is gaining increasing acceptance in the medical field. ‘The American Diabetes Association released a consensus statement last year saying that reducing overall carbohydrate intake achieves optimal glycaemic control. This is a fancy way of saying “dial the carbs right down if you want to reverse diabetes'.
Insulin resistance is not a life sentence
We are either naturally insulin-resistant – it’s in our genes – or we can become insulin-resistant through our lifestyle and eating habits.
It’s important to understand that having the genetic predisposition for insulin resistance does not mean you’re going to be insulin resistant, however, Andy continues. 'It means you're much more likely to become insulin resistantInsulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes occur when your genetic predisposition for these conditions crosses over with your environment (diet and lifestyle). If you believe you are naturally insulin-resistant, you should dial down the processed carbs.'
The guiding principle of our diabetes diet
A smart diabetes diet is basically the healthy diet for all humans, whether they have metabolic health issues or not.
The first principle is simple, vitally important and very effective: ‘Essentially, it’s about eating whole foods - foods as nature presents them, or single-ingredient foods. We don’t want to demonise carbohydrates because carbohydrates are not bad for you, in and of themselves. We should, however, avoid refined carbohydrates and processed food, the so-called “beige” foods like pizza, pasta, biscuits, bread,’ says Andy.
Our handy Master Food Guide to Reverse T2 Diabetes is available FREE to download. It’s an easy guide that shows you which foods are good and may be eaten freely, which should be treated with caution and only eaten moderately, and which are be best avoided - rated in green, amber and red. Stick it on your fridge to help you make good nutritional choices.
The basic idea is to plan your meals around protein, healthy fats, fibre-rich fruit and vegetables, while avoiding processed carbs, or at least keep them to an occasional treat.
NEED TO KNOW: Essential facts about the RediCare diabetes diet
- This diet is designed for diabetics, so it aims to reduce spikes in insulin. Its goal is to reduce blood sugar, which can help reduce diabetic symptoms.
- It will help you attain a healthier weight.
- We don't do calorie counting or portion control. Because if you eat the sort of foods that optimise your appetite hormones, you don't need to control your portions.
CAUTION! If you are an insulin dependant diabetic, you will need to consult with your doctor or consultant before commencing the programme as your medication may need to be adjusted.
But don’t we need carbs for energy?
No, we don’t, says Andy. ‘Our bodies have two default energy sources. They can use carbohydrates for energy, or they can use ketones In a process known as nutritional ketosis.
This is where the body breaks down fats - either dietary or internal fat stores - for fuel. These are actually meant to be our main energy source.'
Why no calorie counting and portion control?
It’s not necessary, Andy explains. ‘In 2017, we ran a trial on our intervention to see how effective it would be. Our strict instructions for trial participants: do not count calories and do not eat less than you think you should. Eat as much as you want of the foods we prescribe you to eat. Eat the stuff that's in the green category, with no caloric restriction at all.'
The results: We achieved a 48 % remission rate in type 2 diabetes – this means the blood sugar levels were reduced to normal levels and there was an average weight loss of about 6 kgs in the first eight weeks alone.'
Actually, calorie restriction can be counterproductive. ‘If you intentionally restrict your caloric intake',’ Andy explains, ‘your body will down-regulate your metabolism to match your energy requirements. So, if you're going to be really strict about eating 1200 calories for six months, you might lose 15 to 20 pounds. However you will likely put it all back on as soon as you change your diet again,’ he points out.
‘What's really interesting about the science behind our low-carb diet is that you do end up eating less calories, but you're not providing your body with fewer calories,’ Andy says. ‘You are shifting your metabolism so that your body learns how to burn body fat for fuel. So You may still end up burning 2000 calories a day, but 600 or 700 of those calories are now coming from body fat, because the appetite signals to the brain are saying “Actually, I don't need glucose. I’m happy to burn ketones.” We have ketones in the form of body fat, so we burn those instead.’
Fat burning equals weight loss and no spike in insulin.
Where do we get our fibre if not from carbohydrates?
‘People assume - because of the way foods are marketed to us - that if we take processed and refined carbs like breads and cereals out of our diet, we will have no fibre. But most people on a low-carb diet will double their fibre intake,’ Andy explains.
When you remove breads and cereals from the menu, you end up eating more things like green vegetables, cucumbers, avocados and certain fruits, and they're full of fibre.
If you are a vegan or a vegetarian and you're getting protein source from legumes and pulses, how do you do this diet?
Low-carb vegan is pretty difficult, because a lot of the meals revolve around eggs, dairy, meat and fish, so it’s easier if you’re vegetarian.
You don’t have to eliminate quinoa, grains, lentils, pulses or things like that, Andy explains, ‘In fact, I've had lots of vegetarians who continue to eat to eat those, but they reduce their overall intake of refined carbohydrates like breads and cereals.’
Why are blueberries, pears and apples on the red list?
These fruits are staples in most traditional diabetic diets, but, Andy explains ‘The reason they're in the red category is because - if you're diabetic - your liver function is poor. Most diabetics have fatty liver or suboptimal liver function.’
The sugar in fruit, called fructose, follows an unusual conversion or metabolic pathway. Most carbohydrate is converted to glucose in the blood, but fructose does something different. It goes directly to the liver and causes insulin resistance and a fatty liver.
‘So, for your average metabolically healthy person, blueberries, apples and pears are great. But if you're a diabetic, those fruits will likely worsen your diabetes,’ he says.
Having said that, if your diet is relatively low in processed foods, and you eat a few apples and blueberries, you’ll be fine, Andy points out. ‘But if you're really trying to dial down and optimise your diabetic markers in a 16-week period, you're better off eating more strawberries and fewer blueberries.’
Are you allowed to snack between meals if you're having an energy dip or feel hungry?
Of course you can, but you should choose snacks that are on the green list, ideally.
‘Snacking itself is not a problem. It's the fact that we usually snack on cereal bars, chocolate and crisps. Having some strawberries, Greek yogurt, dark chocolate or nuts is all fine,’ Andy says.
‘However,’ he points out, ‘Snacking does slow down weight loss, because any time you eat anything at all, It does spike that hormone insulin.'
What if you fall off the wagon?
If you decide to have pizza on a Saturday night and bit of ice cream, once in a while, that’s OK, Andy says. ‘Sure, you’ll have a spike in your blood sugar level, and it will slow your weight-loss progress. However, your intake of processed foods exists on a spectrum, so treating yourself occasionally should not derail your progress once your diet is based on whole foods for the most part.'
Let’s get you started… and no the right path
- Download our Free Master Food Guide to Reverse T2 Diabetes. This FREE master food rating guide is your first step to reversing your Type 2 Diabetes. It shows you which foods are green for good, amber for caution and red to be best avoided. Use it as your ‘North Star’ to guide you. Print it out and stick it on your fridge or a place where it’s permanently on view.
- Watch our 5-minute video on treating and reversing type 2 diabetes.
- Read our story on REVERSING TYPE 2 DIABETES.
- RediCare ControlDTx helps people bring their type 2 diabetes and weight under control quickly - in as little as 16 weeks.
We give you 1-to-1 nutritional counselling and our programme pack includes meal plan suggestions, tasty recipes and tips to keep you on the path to good health.
Bon appetit! To your good health!