Diabetes – The Diet Connection

By Melissa Coats, ND

There are two types of diabetes: Type I and Type II. Both involve your body’s production of or sensitivity to insulin. Type I diabetes is usually diagnosed earlier in life; it occurs as a result of the body’s inability to produce insulin. Type II diabetes is usually diagnosed after the age of 40 and is characterized by the body’s insensitivity to insulin. It is often associated with obesity, high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, and hypertension.

Insulin carries sugar (glucose) through the blood stream and into cells to be used as fuel, plays a role in storing excess glucose as fat, and influences appetite receptors in the brain. People with both Type I and Type II suffer from blood glucose abnormalities. A lack of insulin or insulin insensitivity can cause high blood glucose (hyperglycemia). Conversely, a surge in insulin via injection or from the pancreas secreting too much insulin to try to override insulin insensitivity can cause low blood glucose (hypoglycemia).

Recurrent periods of hyperglycemia damage the heart, liver, and kidneys, affect nerve signals and sensation in the limbs, cause cell degeneration and can eventually lead to death. Episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) cause irritability, irrational behavior, and can result in unconsciousness, a.k.a the “diabetic coma.”

Diet plays a critical role in the management of diabetes since food is our body’s source of glucose. Dietary recommendations to control diabetes have changed recently. Because dietary fats were considered to be the primary cause of heart and kidney problems doctors prescribed low-fat, high complexcarbohydrate diets to ward off problems. However, it’s difficult to control blood glucose levels on this type of diet, resulting in a daily rollercoaster of too high and too low blood glucose levels. To alleviate these symptoms and control blood glucose levels, current recommendations involve high protein and very little carbohydrate intake (think “Paleo diet”). On a high protein/low carb diet, some peoplwith Type II diabetes have been able to completely reverse their symptoms and eliminate the need for insulin or other medication. While on this diet, people with Type I diabetes, who will always need insulin, can exert much greater control over the amounts of insulin they inject and can control their blood glucose levels at all times, improving their health and quality of life.

Diabetes treatment may include insulin, hyperglycemic medications, diet and exercise. Weight loss and exercise can and usually do increase insulin sensitivity. Here’s a short list of food suggestions to help get you on your way:


  • Sugar: artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, agave, and honey, cookies, ice cream, pastries;
  • Starches: beans, beets, carrots, corn, potatoes;
  • Fruits and fruit juices;
  • Dairy products: milk, low-fat yogurts, or sweetened yogurts;
  • Grains: bread, pasta, cereal, pancakes, waffles, rice (white and brown), crackers, foods made from white flour;
  • Pre-packaged foods: microwave meals, snack foods, commercially prepared soups.

Eat More:

  • Organic veggies: asparagus, avocadoes, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, spinach, peppers, mushrooms, summer squash, zucchini, lettuce, spring mix, cauliflower, eggplant, cabbage;
  • Homemade soups, plain yogurt, cheese in moderation, whole cream, unsweetened milk alternatives like coconut, almond, soy;
  • Protein: lean meats, grass-fed and finished beef in moderation, wildcaught fish;
  • Raw nuts.
  • Use stevia as sweetener.

Reducing or eliminating foods that spike blood glucose will help prevent long-term damage to your organs and may reduce your need for medication. As always, consult with your physician before making any changes.

Sources and references available by emailing questions@vitalmagonline.com. Dr. Melissa Coats is a licensed naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, AZ at Naturopathic Specialists, LLC (www.listenandcare.com). If you have a question for Dr. Coats, email her at questions@vitalmagonline.com.

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