My friend Phil is a member of the diabetes support group that has been meeting every month in my apartment for the past couple of years. We are a group of people dedicated to tight control of our diabetes. Most of us follow a very low-carb diet and that way have found much better health.
For the past half year or so I have been following a type of low-carb diet that I learned from Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University, which is about an hour north of where we live in Boulder. Dr. Cordain’s book, the Paleo Diet, overlaps considerably with the standard low-carb diet for people with diabetes, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. Dr. Cordain graciously waived his usual speaking fee when I asked him to speak to our diabetes support group and other local groups at the local hospital.
Besides myself since then several members of our diabetes support group, including my primary care physician, have begun to follow both then low-carb and paleo way of eating. Another member of the group asked each of us to write about what we eat. Phil’s response was so good that I’m forwarding it here with his permission.
Phil writes: Like several of us, I saw Loren Cordain give his presentation on the “paleo diet” at Boulder Community Hospital in late September. I for one immediately recognized it as a scientific paradigm I could “believe” in — after decades of dietary experimentation and uncertainty. I promptly bought the Paleo Diet book, and it was also immediately obvious how I could implement it.
If you are not familiar with that diet, it basically eliminates dairy, grains, and legumes — foodstuffs that arrived only with the neolithic “agricultural revolution.” It is based on what hunter-gatherers, both ancient and modern, ate for 2.5 millions years, plus modern nutritional research that confirms it. I tweaked it toward higher fat and lower carb to control my diabetes by eating only the high-fiber, low-starch vegetables, and eating only a little low glycemic-load fruit. I started out with the following simple and straightforward program:
1) Per the paleo diet, I eat some animal flesh every meal. Currently I do shrimp at breakfast, some kind of fish at lunch, and chicken at supper. Generally I eat no red meat, and I do eat one egg per day. I am age 63 now, and during my fifties I was basically a lacto-ovo vegetarian for the sake of the planet and in accordance with the vegetarian belief system. I still see value in that lifestyle and expect to move toward minimizing flesh-eating as I find reasonable ways to increase fat intake in order to get the calories I need to maintain my weight and substitute plant protein for animal.
2) I eat a bowl of three cooked low-glycemic-load vegetables at each meal that I buy frozen. Currently this is a random mixture of artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans, okra, spinach, and stir fry. It is very convenient for a bachelor who does not like to cook to pour these out of a plastic bag and nuke them in the microwave. Eventually I will probably find ways to increase the types of vegetables because this list seems rather limited.
3) I eat a bowl of “salad” — raw foodstuffs — at each meal. I prepare enough at one time to last five or six meals. Currently this consists of (in descending order of quantity) vegetables, nuts, fruits, and oil: namely avocado, bell pepper, berry medley, celery, clementine orange, cucumber, flax seed oil, macadamia nut, walnut, and yellow squash. Here again this seems limited in types, and I expect to find additional ingredients as time goes on.
Right after I started this diet, I used the USDA “Nutritive Value of Foods” handbook to calculate that I was getting about 100 grams of carbs, 50 grams of fiber, 150 grams of fat (only 25 grams of which was saturated), and 150 grams of protein per day. This was within parameters of the paleo diet for protein, but higher in fat and lower in carb, which was exactly what I wanted to help control blood sugar. I learned later that I do not need to fear saturated fat as much as Dr. Cordain seems to think, but what the heck, why seek it. I hope to tweak this macro-nutrient profile toward more fat and less protein while holding calories even.
There are a couple of things I learned from Dr. Cordain’s book that I would like to share here. First, the paleo diet is much more nutrient-dense per calorie than the “standard American diet” — which includes a lot of dairy, grains, and legumes. This makes it an excellent diet for both weight loss and health maintenance. Second, the paleo diet recommendation (in spite of the fact that I tweaked it to be high-fat) provides a good balance of omega 9, 6, and 3 fats: omega 6 should be no more than double omega 3. Only walnuts and macadamia nuts fall within that parameter, so that is why I put them in my salad and not something else. Also, flax seed oil is allegedly the best omega 3-heavy vegetable oil to put on the salad to balance the saturated animal fat in the paleo diet. More research will tell me if I can stop my fish-oil supplement if my body can convert the ALA in flax seed to the more bio-available DHA and EPA omega 3.
Speaking of food supplements, I take a vitamin and mineral formulation called EmpowerPlus from TrueHope. Six years ago this completely cured my bipolar affective disorder (for which I had been medicated for 17 years) exactly as if it were a nutritional deficiency. I also take daily 4000 IU of vitamin D3, Ubiquinol (bio-available form of CoQ10), and a digestive enzyme aid plus a “pro-biotic” because I seem to have a weak digestive system.
A few weeks after reading the Paleo Diet book, I read Jonny Bowden’s book, Living Low Carb. From it I learned about three dozen versions of the low-carb diet, including Atkins, Bernstein, and Rosedale — all familiar to our group. I also learned that protein has a glycemic load, but fat does not. I also learned that one can subtract the number of grams of fiber from the number of grams of carb to get “net” or “effective” carbs. On that basis, I am eating about 50 (net) grams of carb per day — low-carb for sure. Soon I will get another A1C test to see how I am doing on this diet (plus exercise and metformin), and maybe tweak it all accordingly.
Like Phil, I am much healthier and feel a lot better on the paleo diet. I have completely eliminated grain and grain products — including all bread, bagels, pasta, etc. At first that was hard, because wheat in particular is addicting, as I have written here. But now that I’ve broken my addiction I don’t miss grain and grain products at all.
Because grains are full of starch, those of us who have diabetes have another reason to shun them. Wheat products in particular, but also rice and corn, spike our blood glucose levels.
While our paleolithic ancestors could not have been milking cows or goats or any other animals because they hadn’t domesticated them yet, dairy products are low glycemic. From time to time I still make exceptions for some of those cheese that have no carbohydrates.
Our paleolithic ancestors certainly didn’t tend to crops of legumes either, since nomads don’t farm. Uncooked legumes are loaded with anti-nutrients, and even cooking them doesn’t destroy all of them. But legumes, like dairy products, are low glycemic, and I can’t resist an occasional bowl of beef or buffalo chili with beans.
So I’m not a paleo purist. Even Dr. Cordain admits that we can’t eat a pure paleo diet now, since we’ve modified all the plants and meat (except wild fish) that we eat.
But I don’t question for a moment that, as he writes, “Just 500 generations ago — and for 2.5 million years before that — every human on Earth ate this way.” He’s surely right that our genetic makeup is basically the same as that of our Paleolithic ancestors and by moving back to the diet that we are genetically programmed to eat, “we can not only lose weight, but also restore our health and well-being.”
Our DNA has changed less than 0.02 percent in the past 40,000 years, as Dr. Cordain points out. This means that “literally, we are Stone Agers living in the Space Age.”
Now, we need to relearn how our Stone Age ancestors ate. We can.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.