By Dr. Dennis Clark
| Posted under Diabetes |
Everyone agrees that eating right is vital for the healthy management of diabetes. Indeed, it is vital for good health for everyone. Eating right prevents diabetes and, depending on how far down the spectrum you go, reverses it.
Yes, eating right reverses diabetes. The sooner the better.
This is where general agreement ends and arguments about what ‘eating right’ means. Indeed, the old name of ‘sugar diabetes’ for type 2 diabetes has long been called into question. Long-term consumption of sugar is still associated with development of the disease. However, it is the production and function of insulin that seems to explain more about what goes wrong leading up to diabetes. It also explains several other diseases of modern civilization.
Fueling the Fire
As most people already know, insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, enables the body’s cells to absorb glucose (blood sugar). On the road to diabetes, however, cells start losing their ability to respond properly to insulin. This is called insulin resistance.
In response to insulin resistance, the body produces even more insulin to deal with excess blood sugar. Blood sugar and insulin levels both increase. The end point is an overtaxed pancreas that finally gives out and fails to produce any insulin at all.
As this end point is approached, insulin and blood sugar increasingly cause serious damage to many tissues. And it all began with too much dietary carbohydrate that induced overproduction of insulin.
Insulin is a crucial hormone for good health. Too much insulin, however, is highly inflammatory. It will ruin your health in many ways.
The Insulin Connection to Disease
Abnormal metabolism of insulin lies at the root of diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, heart disease, and obesity. The greater intake of carbohydrates that stimulate insulin, the greater the levels of insulin, the greater the occurrence of these diseases. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this is what insulin production looks like with and without insulin resistance.
The pancreas responds to a meal by producing a spike of insulin, after which insulin to returns a between-meal level. Notice that the spike is much higher, and stays high even between meals, when cells are insulin resistant (such as in obesity).
To limit damage by excess insulin, it is beneficial for a diabetic (and everyone else) to limit carbohydrate intake. This is how to lessen the amount of blood sugar that leads to too much insulin and the development of insulin resistance.
Now for Some Bad Advice
Let’s just pick on one doctor who exemplifies the bad advice handed out to diabetics regarding diet. The only reason for singling out this particular doctor is because he and his advice for diabetics were prominently featured in a recent issue of the AARP magazine, Special Health Issue (Oct/Nov 2014). However, it represents the party line for mainstream medicine that comes from many, many other doctors.
The doctor of note is George King, MD, who is the Director of Research and Head of the Section on Vascular Cell Biology at the Joslin Diabetic Center in Boston, as well as a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Seems like a super-qualified source for health advice, right? Let’s see. In the article mentioned here, Dr. King offered the following 7 steps as the ‘best tactics for fighting the blood sugar disease’.
Step 1: Cut the fat, up the fiber. Specifically, the ideal diet consists of 15 percent fat, 15 percent protein, and 70 percent carbohydrates.
Hold that thought for a moment. Overproduction of insulin is at the root of diabetes and several related inflammatory diseases. Carbohydrates become blood sugar that stimulates insulin production. Hmm. Houston, we have a problem.
The challenge for diabetics and everyone else is to keep insulin levels under control. Let’s take a look at a relatively simple study published way back in 1996 that shows how to do that. This is a rare study in that it involved patients in a hospital setting where every last smidgeon of food was controlled and kept track of. Here is what the summary graph of food intake looks like:
The ‘Energy’ component translates into about 1,000 Calories per day, so this represents a low-calorie diet. It is a variable that confounds certain interpretations of the results, but we are stuck with it. Nevertheless, the two groups of experimental subjects represent ‘low’ carbohydrate (15 percent) and ‘high’ carbohydrate (45 percent) diets.
Although the study focused on changes in weight and body composition after 6 weeks, the most telling result was the comparative influence of each diet on insulin levels. The graph of this result (indicated by the added red arrows) showed the following:
Although this table looks a little fuzzy due to technical issues with image reproduction, it shows a drop in insulin of about 8 percent with the high-carb diet vs. about 46 percent on the low-carb diet.
Low-carb eating controls insulin levels better than high-carb eating, by a factor of almost 6-fold! Wow!
Keep in mind that the ‘high’ carbohydrate diet is 45 percent of intake in this study and that Dr. King recommends this to be 70 percent for diabetics.
We can debate the merits of this study all day long, and even throw in a bunch of other studies that compare changes in weight and body composition in response to different diets. The bottom line, though, is that low-carb eating controls insulin levels and high-carb eating is like adding gasoline to a fire.
Note also that Dr. King’s advice is low-fat, even though fat is the only food group that has no impact on insulin levels.
The advice about fiber is a little better, although the reason is that ‘fiber makes you feel full more quickly and helps you absorb calories more slowly’. This comment ignores the observations by others that satiety depends more on eating protein and fat. Oh, and absorbing calories at all is a biochemical and physical misconception. Almost everyone gets this wrong. Measuring food intake based on its calorie potential is simply idiotic.
What About the Other 6 Steps?
Here they are in a nutshell, with a bit of added commentary.
Step 2. Don’t rely on supplements. “…food works and supplements don’t.” This is typical medical arrogance. Don’t get me started.
Step 3. Get 6-8 hours of sleep nightly. Finally, a piece of good advice!
Step 4. Calm yourself. Great idea for everyone, although exactly how to do so is not included.
Step 5. Stop being a weekend warrior. The explanation here advocates exercise. It is another great idea with mostly missing ‘how-to’.
Step 6. Exercise in a cold gym. Good luck with that. The concept behind this advice is based on activating so-called brown fat. Experiments to do so suggest that any significant change in brown fat activity requires ice and lots of it. Merely exercising in a cold gym is inadequate.
Step 7. Ask about new meds. This is, of course, the mainstream medical party line. In this case, the Avandia ‘scandal’ may also be behind this advice. Avandia and similar insulin sensitizers (Rezulin, Actos) have serious side effects, including liver damage, heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Rezulin was recalled in 2000, Avandia was placed under severe restriction in 2010 (since lifted by the FDA!), and Actos has been repeatedly linked to heart failure and bladder cancer. Go ahead and ask about new meds if you wish, but the track record on old meds does not bode well for new replacements.
All in all, Dr. King’s advice is either just plain bad or falls short of being helpful.
All the best,
By Dr. Dennis Clark
| Posted under Probiotics |
Although your digestive system may seem to be simply a tube, with the mouth as its entrance the anus as its exit, the wide variety of jobs that it has says more about how complex it really is and why the good bacteria that live there are so important. The main tasks of the digestive system, of course, are to break down bulk food, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste. It also plays a major role in the immune system. The lining of the small intestine, in fact, houses an astonishing 70% of the immune-producing cells in your body. Furthermore, scientists have found that, when digestion is working well and the immune system is strong, the intestines host more than 400 kinds of bacteria, amounting to several billion cells whose combined weight can reach about 3-4 pounds! Read more… »
By Dr. Dennis Clark
| Posted under Eating Right, Herb Research |
Is a daily green smoothie all that good for you? Maybe. It depends on the recipe, of course, plus several other factors. Books such as ‘The Simple Green Smoothie Solution’ provide wonderful food for thought. Such books are way overpriced, though. Some recommendations from free sources of information across the Web are pretty good and some are not. Here is what you should know to get the most out of your green smoothies.
I advocate the consumption of green smoothies. The main purpose of this article is just to help you think more critically about them, especially when different sources offer contradictory recommendations.
The Simple Green Smoothie Solution
Jadah Sellner and Jen Howard, authors of ‘The Simple Green Smoothie Solution’, are to be commended for creating a huge stir around green smoothies. Everyone has probably heard about green smoothies by now, and many folks have made a regular habit of making their own. Green smoothies are nothing new.
The main reason for this post is to direct you to good information that doesn’t cost anything. At the very least, certainly don’t fall for the ads that I’ve seen for the Sellner-Howard book, asking for only $39.95. You can get this same book, like I did, on Amazon, new for $9.98. It really isn’t even worth that much, though.
By the way, if you search at Amazon for books on ‘green smoothies’, you will get a list of more than 1200 results. This just goes to show you how popular this topic is. Fortunately for you, plenty of blogs and other websites provide lots of advice for free.
The key, as always, is to figure out which advice is the best, especially when different sources contradict one another.
General health advice is hard to argue, and most of what you will find seems rational. Of course, green smoothies are a way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. In fact, drinking finely blended plant material is an improvement over eating it whole and raw. The main reason is that blending effectively destroys more cell walls than you can by chewing. The result is that you actually get more out of the plant cells from smoothies than you can by eating raw plant material.
Of course, cooking can do the same. The issue with cooking is whether it destroys any beneficial ingredients. Broccoli is a good example of a veggie that is almost useless raw or overcooked. It has to be cooked just right to get the optimum amount of glucosinolates (e.g., sulphorophane) out of the cells without destroying their biological activity.
How About Smoothie Research?
Ideally, we would like to see some research in support of the green smoothie revolution, right? The nearly breathless subtitles in Chapter 3 of the Sellner-Howard book, for example, cry out for scientific support, regardless of how good or how rational they sound. First, let’s take a look a few of the more exciting health benefits in these subtitles:
- Reverse Aging – Look And Feel Young Again! And Stay That Way!
- Decrease Or Eliminate Your Risk Of Cancer!
- Protect Your Heart!
- Turbo-Charge Your Immune System*
- Boost Your Energy And Improve Your Mental Alertness
- Easily Increase Your Fiber Intake
- Prevent, Manage, Or Even Reverse High Blood Sugar And Diabetes!
- Shed Unwanted Pounds And Lose Weight Naturally*
*Curiously, these subtitles were the only ones without exclamation points.
Now let’s see what PubMed, our national medical research database has to offer on smoothies for health.
In a search on ‘smoothie’ as the keyword, PubMed lists 31 articles at this time. Several have to do with tooth enamel erosion, since this is a big worry with commercial products that are called smoothies. Several other articles entail research on similar commercial smoothies. These articles are irrelevant to those of us who want to make our own smoothies.
The only three articles that come close to evaluating the health benefits of homemade smoothies, as follows:
1) Colonic availability of polyphenols and D-(-)-quinic acid after apple smoothie consumption. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Mar;55(3):368-77.
The main conclusion of this article, as stated in the abstract is: These results suggest that the food matrix might affect the colonic availability of polyphenols, and apple smoothies could be more effective in the prevention of chronic colon diseases than both cloudy apple juice and apple cider.
2) Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jul 11;9(1):19.
Now we are getting somewhere. The article concludes: This study demonstrates that the ingestion of a blueberry smoothie prior to and after EIMD [exercise-induced muscle damage] accelerates recovery of muscle peak isometric strength. This effect, although independent of the beverage’s inherent antioxidant capacity, appears to involve an up-regulation of adaptive processes, i.e. endogenous antioxidant processes, activated by the combined actions of the eccentric exercise and blueberry consumption. These findings may benefit the sporting community who should consider dietary interventions that specifically target health and performance adaptation.
3) Bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese, insulin-resistant men and women. J Nutr. 2010 Oct;140(10):1764-8.
Aha! Now we are getting somewhere! This study provided daily smoothies to two groups of people for 6 weeks. One group got smoothies that included ‘bioactives’ from the equivalent of about 2 cups of blueberries and the other group got smoothies without blueberries. Here is what they found: Insulin sensitivity was enhanced in the blueberry group at the end of the study without significant changes in adiposity, energy intake, and inflammatory biomarkers. In conclusion, daily dietary supplementation with bioactives from whole blueberries improved insulin sensitivity in obese, nondiabetic, and insulin-resistant participants.
This is outstanding! If a picture is worth a thousand words, this is the graph that highlights the most important result of this study:
That’s pretty good, isn’t it?
If that is all we knew for sure, it would certainly be good enough incentive to consume smoothies that contain blueberries. Unfortunately, that is just about all that we know for sure.
Yes, I agree that many other health benefits probably accrue from consuming green smoothies. If anything, daily smoothies at least boost your consumption of fruits and vegetables.
You will find that two main issues often crop up when you bounce around different websites that recommend green smoothies. These are:
1) How Much Fruit?
Fruit smoothies contain too much sugar, that’s for sure. That junk that you get at smoothie shops is typical. What is best for making your own smoothies? Different advocates recommend various proportions of greens to fruits, anywhere from all greens to half greens/half fruits.
How about the research on this issue? Completely lacking.
It all depends on the type of fruit. Blueberries are great, as we can see from the research cited above. The combination of ingredients in fruits is a good indicator of which fruits to include, beginning with sugar content. Here is a brief guide from one source:
The ideal fruit should offer low sugar content, high nutrient content (antioxidants, etc.), and some fiber. It sure isn’t simple, is it? All things considered, blueberries and watermelon are at the top of my list.
The main point is: Above all else, keep the sugar content down.
2) Adding Oil
The logic behind the advice to add oil to your smoothies is that it will enhance the bioavailability of oil-soluble/fat-soluble nutrients from the plant material. This is, again, a reasonable suggestion.
How about the research on this issue? Almost completely lacking.
On the scale of solubility, beta-carotene and vitamin E are examples of nutrients that are known to be more bioavailable when consumed with fats and oils. This observation would probably extend to many other oil-soluble/fat-soluble nutrients, too. They include vitamins A, D, and K. Many antioxidant phytonutrients are also more oil-soluble than they are water-soluble.
The benefit of adding oils to smoothies is that certain oils have health benefits of their own. Fish oils, flax oil, and coconut oil are the best and most cost-effective. You can get a wonderful dose of omega-3 oils from just a couple of teaspoons of the right fish oil. This is the simplest way to reap the benefits of DHA without having to take any large fish oil capsules.
My choice is to alternate days with fish oil vs. days with coconut oil in my smoothies. The health benefits of coconut oil are becoming more well-known, in spite of fear-mongering by thoughtless medical folks about this excellent mixture.
If you are adding oil to your smoothie, which seems to be the best way to boost its value, be absolutely sure to avoid any of the common vegetable oils on the market. They are bad in so many ways that it is best to just avoid them.
Making Smoothies Easily – A Hint
Frozen ingredients are the easiest to blend into a fine consistency. Frozen foods in general are easier for blending because they are so brittle.
My two favorite greens are spinach and kale. Frozen chopped spinach, with no additive of any kind, is easy to find in the frozen food section of your supermarket. As for kale, buy fresh baby kale and stick it in the freezer.
I have successfully frozen beets that I cut up fresh.
Freeze fresh blueberries when they are in season. Otherwise just get frozen blueberries. They are always easy easy to find.
What about the best combinations?
Once I got past the notion that I had to measure everything precisely, I simply grabbed ingredients in what looked to be the right amounts. This means about 1-2 cups of spinach, 1-2 cups of kale, a cup of blueberries, 2 tablespoons of oil, and 16 ounces of water. I may also substitute a cup of frozen beets, which I cut up fresh and stash in the freezer, for a portion of either the spinach or the kale.
None of these are what you would call gourmet flavors. They all taste like extract of lawn, with a hint of blueberries or beets or maybe a banana now and again. Sometimes I add sea salt, which provides a small improvement. Sometimes I add a few drops of flavored Stevia.
Generally I like these things, although my wife mostly does not. I encourage you to simply experiment a bit until you hit on a few combinations that tickle your fancy…and that are probably very good for your health, too!
There, now that was a simple set of recommendations, with a little dose of science. And it didn’t cost you anything except your time to read this post. What a deal!
A new green smoothie aficionado,