For several decades, dietary fat seems to have been demonised by just about every health profession, whether leaning towards natural therapies or pharmaceuticals, holism or reductionism. From our Life Education days in primary school to the first year of my naturopathy degree, we were taught to follow a low-fat diet, until my second year when things gradually began to change. This was not as science-based as we were led to believe, however. In the 1960s, cherry-picked research convinced the world that saturated fats were the nutritional devil, but sugar and heated vegetable oils were “safe”. Excessive or added sugar is not harmless, as the number of cardiovascular and diabetes-related deaths directly caused by high blood glucose was estimated to be 3.2 million worldwide in 2016. “Directly” does not include cases where excess sugar was a contributing factor.
What Has Changed?
In a jointly released statement, published online on the 4th of October, 2018 ahead of print, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) stated that they now approve of the low-carbohydrate, high (healthy) fat diet for adults with type II diabetes. Around this time, Diabetes Australia had changed their own position on the low-carbohydrate diet to a more positive tone too.
Here, it is now made clear that there is no single best ratio of carbohydrates, fats and protein for everyone with diabetes. Individualised care is recommended, depending on the patient’s own needs and preferences, much like we naturopaths. The list of healthy diets now includes the Mediterranean, DASH, vegetarian and low-carbohydrate diets. It is the low-carbohydrate interventions, which can be in combination with other eating patterns, which have the most effect on average. When carbohydrate intake is limited to less than 26% of energy consumption, levels of HbA1c drop significantly for over a year before stabilising. The percentage of HBA1c is an important marker to measure in diabetic patients, and possibly everyone else. This is the percentage of haemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein on red blood cells) that has been tangled up in unabsorbed sugar. When sugar isn’t absorbed, it gets tangled in our cells and tissues, which is a major driver of the damage seen in diabetes and aging. A lower HbA1c level means a lower percentage of damaged red blood cells.
What Low-Carb Diets Are Not
Many people believe that a diet low in carbohydrates must be high in meat. This is not the case, as there are plenty of recipes and meal plans available that are entirely vegetarian or even vegan! Non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds (including hemp and chia), avocados, lower-sugar fruits such as berries, as well as eggs and dairy for non-vegans, are all allowed. Small amounts of grains, pulses and higher-carb fruits and vegetables can be permitted as long as carbohydrate ratios are kept. I do not recommend diets high in red meat, which should be used sparingly if necessary for iron intake. Beef requires many times more land than plant foods, and even other animal products, and several times more water than both. As for our individual health, red meat contains a protein that isn’t found in humans, but can be incorporated into our tissues and is linked to increased inflammation. So, in conclusion, low-carbohydrate diets can be the best option for many people with or at risk of diabetes, but it is best to consult a qualified holistic health professional. Unqualified bloggers following a high-meat diet are best avoided.