Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I picked this book up. It's been far too long since I've read diabetes-related books, and I know that knowledge is power, and I've been wanting to read some d-advice books for awhile now, but I've held off because I was worried that they'd end up telling me to go on the Atkins diet or something similar, and that has never seemed like an option for me, especially since dairy makes me ill.

I therefore checked this book out with some trepidation, hoping that at least I could find some helpful nugget even if the major portion turned out to be something I couldn't do....and I was heartily and happily surprised to discover that this guy suggests that diabetics do quite well on vegan diets!

I had certainly never made a strong connection between the two before, or heard of any other diabetic on the planet who followed a vegan diet, although I know I really felt my best when I was avoiding meat and dairy for that year and a half or so before I got pregnant with James. And I had already begun to re-eliminate dairy from my plate before I picked this up, so it came at the perfect time, helping me to understand why I should really go more cold turkey than I had been (or, I should say, less cold turkey, since meats are supposed to be out).

So, I really enjoyed this book, and the recipes in the back that I have tried so far have all been good. My only major criticism is that Dr. Barnard talks a LOT about meat substitutes like Morningstar Farms "meats" and such, and his recipes include a lot of that, and that really turns me off. Veggie bacon and veggie hot dogs--uck! However, I know that some people crave meats and those products will help them feel like they've gotten a full meal without having real meat. But for me, gimme veggies and grains and delicious fruits and leave all that weird processed junk out!

Anyway. The "program" consists of three guidelines (p.40):

1. Set aside animal products.

2. Keep vegetable oils to a minimum

3. Favor foods with a low glycemic index.

This will supposedly help you have better blood sugar control, lose weight, keep cholesterol down, and so on and so forth. The theory behind animal product avoidance is basically that animal products have a different kind of fat that not only raises bad cholesterol levels and makes you store fat, it also increases your insulin resistance over time. Also, the protein from animal products is more difficult for your kidneys to process, so since diabetics should be very gentle with their kidneys, it makes sense to stay away from steaks, or at the very least, not have them for dinner every night. This guideline includes all dairy products as well as meats and eggs.

I had not heard this argument before but I can't really find too much fault in it. It makes sense that our bodies wouldn't really be made to support the amount of meat and dairy that we eat today. If you think about human history, you can see that we eat a diet that is drastically different from that which our bodies was probably made for. That being said...our bodies probably were made to have meat VERY OCCASIONALLY...you know, less than once a month or so...so if I could keep it down to that, I'd be happy. I don't know about keeping away from cheese, though...

Which brings me to another excellent point made in the book. Dr. Barnard talks about how certain foods actually cause chemical reactions in our brains that are similar to the reactions caused by drugs and alcohol. It's more complicated than that, but his argument basically boils down to this: We all know it's easier for an recovering alcohol to simply abstain than to have a casual drink or two with dinner...so we should treat meat and dairy products in the same way--stay completely away from them and you won't be so tempted to gorge on them.

The book says to keep vegetable oils to a minimum simply because this will help you lose more weight, which will of course help with blood sugars and your general health. Dr. Barnard is right to point out that we think of things like olive oil as "healthy," but that doesn't mean we should use them quite so often! We do use veg oils quite a lot and it can easily add a significant amount of calories to a day's worth of food. That being said, I'm not really that worried about this part.

The low glycemic index part is what I really want to learn ALL about. I know a lot, but I need to figure out ALL the foods I eat and take that into account on a regular basis. For that, I need a different book, because this just had a very short outline or, from p. 54, "glycemic index at a glance." He says: beans, green leafy veggies, fruits except for watermelon and pineapple, pasta, barley, bulgur, parboiled rice, pumpernickel and rye breads, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal and bran cereals are the lower-GI foods that I should be aiming for.

So, yeah, I'll be checking out a book all about glycemic index at some point in the near future. Actually, just remembered that the book recommends the website www.glycemicindex.com. Sweet! (Or...not...)

Another valuable point I'd like to remember from this book is the idea of the New Four Food Groups. Instead of having a meat, a grain, and maybe some veggies on your plate with a roll, you should aim for half your plate to be filled with veggies, 1/4 with whole grains, 1/4 with legumes, and then any fruit for dessert. Wait, actually, I can't find the plate-fraction idea in the book, but I'm pretty sure that's where it came from. Definitely the veggies/grains/legumes/fruit is in here, though. Also, if you want to lose weight, stay high fiber.

The rest of the book after the weight-loss chapter basically discusses things that I already understand, such as how you ARE in fact getting complete nutrition if you follow this diet, and all about healthy A1C levels and checking your eyes, feet, etc. etc. So, good info, but not something new to me.

And that's that! The first diabetes book I've gone for this year was definitely a winner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and helpful. So much more is known nowadays about how specific foods affect blood sugar levels and digestion than was known when I was learning about nutrition. I'm happy about that, but sorry that there is so much to digest and absorb, if you'll pardon the nutrition metaphor. I'm pretty sure that all your knowledge will lead to better health not only for you, but also for your family. I am fascinated.