All of us who has diabetes have five persuasive reasons to eat very few carbohydrates. For years, however, we have been misled.
1. Managing Our Metabolism
One of the strangest things about diabetes is that some people still consider a low-carb diet to be controversial. This is in spite of the obvious fact that diabetes is a disturbance of our carbohydrate metabolism. If you have type 1 diabetes, your body produces essentially no insulin; if you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use the insulin that your body produces well enough.
Consequently, it should be clear that the first thing that we should know about managing our diabetes is how much carbohydrates we can eat. Based on the experiences and testing of Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who lived for 11 years among the Eskimos in Northern Canada, we have known since 1930 that we can thrive on a diet that includes no carbohydrates.
We don’t have to go that far. “There are essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, but there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate,” writes Dr. Richard K. Bernstein in Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars. Still, he refrains from avoiding all carbohydrates.
He concluded that since our prehistoric ancestors consumed some vegetables, “plant foods might well contain essential nutrients that were not yet present in vitamin supplements and had not even been discovered.” So he and his patients eat “small amounts of low-carbohydrate vegetables.”
2. Managing Our Weight
Almost all of us who have type 2 diabetes and even some people who have type 1 diabetes have to struggle with their weight. If we weigh too much, managing our blood sugar is harder.
The most famous weight loss diet started with the book that Dr. Robert Atkins published in 1972. Recently updated as The New Atkins for a New You by Drs. Eric C. Westman, Stephen D. Phinney, and Jeff S. Volek, the Atkins Diet helped so many people to lose weight that Dr. Robert Atkins is often considered the father of low-carb weight loss dieting.
However, way back in 1884 a German physician named Wilhelm Ebstein set out the scientific and clinical case for using a low-carb high-fat diet for successful weight loss. The so-called Banting Diet that Dr. William Harvey had prescribed may have been the first low-carb diet and it certainly began to sweep England and the rest of Europe after publication of William Banting’s 1864 book, Letter on Corpulence. But Dr. Ebstein recognized that it didn’t provide enough energy for sustained success because it was too low in fat. Dr. Ebstein’s diet — low-carb, high-fat, and moderate protein — is today’s state of the art diet for weight loss.
3. Eliminating the Prescriptions
All drugs can have side effects, and this is especially true with the pills that our doctors prescribe for us to manage type 2 diabetes. The systems and the organs of our bodies are so interconnected that no pill can target just one part of it without having some effect elsewhere. Sometimes the side effects are subtle and affect only a few people, but sometimes they are serious. All of the pills that we take to manage our diabetes are known to or are suspected of having some serious side effects in some people.
That’s the price we have to pay. Unless, that is, we follow a low-carb diet or have last resort bariatric surgery or go on a starvation diet.
People who have type 1 diabetes have to take insulin shots, of course. But all of us manage the disease better when we limit the carbs in our diet, and those people who have type 1 won’t need to take as much insulin.
4. Breaking the Addiction
When we cut back on carbohydrates we can break our addictions to food. Sugar has been a suspected drug ever since William Dufty wrote Sugar Blues in 1975. We now know that other carbohydrates, particularly wheat and other grains, are also addicting. Being addicted is being in a form of slavery, and we gain our freedom on a low-carb diet.
5. Feeling Better
I know from my own experience of following a low-carb diet continuously since 2007 that it makes me feel better than ever. But fortunately you don’t have to believe any diet advice that you haven’t tested yourselves. When you give low-carb eating a chance, you will not only feel better but you will also manage your metabolism and your weight better than ever. With better blood sugar your doctor will be glad to stop prescribing diabetes pills. You will be free at last.
For years the experts have endangered our health. But that’s not unusual.
In the 1942 classic film “Casablanca” Captain Louis Renault, played by Claude Rains asked Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, “What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?”
“My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.”
“The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.”
“I was misinformed.”
We too were misinformed.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.
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Since carbs aren’t ‘essential,’ unlike essential fatty acids and essential amino acids, are there any vitamin supplements necessary when following low-carb, hi-fat, medium-protein eating?
This is an interesting question, Arlen. My take on it is that some vitamins — and minerals — are essential for us, but not because of the diet we follow. But rather because just about everybody needs them and can’t get them in a reasonable diet. Vitamin D and iodine are probably required by essentially all of us.
Maybe you can answer my concerns. I’m a diabetic with stage 3 kidney disease would going on a Akins diet be safe for me. I’m a carb addict! Thanks for any adice.
My understanding, Helen, is that people with advanced kidney disease need to be quite moderate with their protein intake. While some people say that a very low-carb diet (like the Atkins diet) is high in protein, that’s not necessarily correct. A very low-carb diet is high in fat and need not be high in protein. So I think that a very low-carb diet CAN be safe for you, but you absolutely have to work with your doctor on this.
Not just grains, but avoiding potatoes for the most part is tough. I read something interesting in Jo Robinson’s book Eating on the Wild Side. She said that if you cook any variety of potato and wait 24 hours to eat it, the glycemic index drops to low. Do you know if this is true? I think it’s probably too good to be true!
This is actually one thing that isn’t too good to be true, Gini! I wrote about it back in 2006 at “Cold Potatoes.”
It should be mandatory to read Gary Taube’s Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It. He explains the pathology of low carb hi fat diets beautifully for the layman, something that so few authors can do.
He also provides full explanations of every suggestion he makes to support this eating style, so relevant to people living with diabetes.
In South Africa we have Dr Tim Noakes, a scientist and author who puts Gary Taube’s thoughts into real life scenarios, especially focussed on diabetes.
Pls list which “grains” are addictive?
Thanks – Pam
I know that wheat is, Pam. Not sure about the others.
I thought Atkins was not an MD. ?
I wonder why you thought that, Dot. Robert Atkins, whose name will always be associated with the low-carb Atkins Diet, received a medical degree at Cornell University Medical College (now known as Weill Cornell Medical College) in 1955. After completing an internship at Strong Hospital in Rochester, New York and finishing his residency in cardiology and internal medicine at hospitals affiliated with Columbia University, Dr. Atkins specialized in cardiology and complementary medicine, and went on to open a private practice on the Upper East Side of New York City in 1959.
What is your view on the theory that diabetes is a FAT metabolism problem, not carbohydrates?
Who would ever suggest THAT, Phyllis? My view is that that theory is not supported by the facts.
I agree carbs are addictive. More so than liquor and cigarettes. I would say, presently, the the whole world’s populace is addicted to grains.
But grains address the food security of the poorer nations. I wonder what could be the solution for them
You and I have the same concerns for the poor, Arun. In the very short term grains are a necessity of life for many people. In the medium term we can achieve better and more equitable food distribution. In the long term the solution has to be birth control, because otherwise the result will be widespread famine, plagues, and so much global warming that our home will be uninhabitable for all humans.