Health & Wellness

The Best Diet for Diabetics (+ The Surprising Connection Your Doctor May Be Missing)

“What’s the best diet for diabetics?” I hear this question a lot. After all, despite medical intervention, the number of people with diabetes is growing with each passing year.

Unfortunately, the disease itself is just the beginning, as this diagnosis comes with multiple complications that affect your entire body, including everything from cardiovascular to neurological issues. It’s no wonder people are looking to keep their blood sugar under control!

Standard treatment involves lowering the patient’s blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity through diet and possibly medication, with the goal of preventing further damage. But what if we could not only prevent further development but also reverse diabetes altogether? Despite what you may have heard about the disease, this is not an impossible goal. Your body is powerful, and you have the power to change your health and your future.

 

The Adrenal-Diabetes Connection

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, 30.3 million Americans had type 2 diabetes and over 84 million had prediabetes. [1] This is an epidemic that is not improving with modern medicine. Despite the efforts of most doctors to treat this epidemic, the incidence is rising. In my experience, most patients who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are told that the disease is irreversible. But I find that this simply isn’t true. How can I be so sure? Because I have seen this disease reverse.

The key to reversing type 2 diabetes lies in the physician and patient both looking at all of the presenting symptoms when developing a treatment plan.

Why? Well, diabetes rarely occurs alone and is typically coupled with other symptoms. It’s common for someone to have a variety of doctors managing each symptom independently, but in the case of diabetes, the presenting symptoms are almost always related. As a result, a holistic viewpoint is essential for recovery.

In fact, I’ve seen many cases of diabetes that were actually a result of adrenal fatigue! So often, the commonly co-diagnosed conditions of diabetes—fatigue, insomnia, myalgias, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, gastroesophageal reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome—are part of the process that occurs as blood sugar levels are constantly challenged.

Believe it or not, your adrenal hormones play a critical role in regulating your blood sugar regulation—and they actually directly impact the development of type 2 diabetes and its related conditions. With this in mind, let’s review exactly how your adrenal hormones impact diabetes.

How Stress Impacts Your Blood Sugar

So, why are people developing diabetes at such an alarming rate? Is it due to diet alone? Does eating too much sugar give you diabetes? The simple answer is no. After all, if it were that easy, everyone would just follow a certain diet all would be well, right?

Let’s consider how diabetes begins in your body. Your blood sugar is ultimately controlled by the hormone insulin, which regulates glucose levels. Perhaps you didn’t realize that blood sugar regulation is actually controlled by your hormones.

Most people hear the word hormone and think of estrogen, testosterone, and possibly thyroid hormones. But it is important to realize that regulation of blood sugar is part of your hormonal system, also known as your endocrine system. This is why diabetes is typically treated by endocrinologists.

Diabetes is not simply the result of dietary sugar intake. Your body runs off basically three molecules to provide energy for you to live: glucose (sugar), protein, and fats. Glucose is the fastest responder, so when your body needs energy in a hurry, it is essential.

Given this, think of my bear scenario again. You are faced with a threat, so you need two things. First, you need to get energy to your muscles so you can run. Second, you need to focus your mind on your target (in this case, a place far away from the bear). Glucose can be released quickly to accomplish this task. The problem is that glucose is only a short-term energy provider.

Blood sugar regulation is a physiological process of survival. Without it, we would not survive. However, if the sugars are too abundant or the threats are too constant (for example, if cortisol release is constant), it will cause an imbalance between glucose and insulin.

Balancing the Scale

Think of it like a scale: When one side is depressed with a weight, the other side has to carry more weight in order to achieve balance. Your body acts in the same manner. If you have too much sugar (glucose) and/or insulin, or too much cortisol, then all of the other endocrine hormones (such as thyroid, sex, and adrenal hormones) will adapt in an effort to become balanced. This imbalance in your endocrine system is the process of developing type 2 diabetes that results from adrenal gland malfunction, or adrenal fatigue.

Now that we’ve reviewed how adrenal fatigue is connected to the development of diabetes, let’s answer some of your most pressing questions, including: on what diabetes is, the top symptoms to look for, and the best diet for diabetics—especially those who may be struggling with adrenal fatigue.

 

7 FAQs About Diabetes

1. What is diabetes?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, diabetes is a disease that occurs when the amount of glucose (or sugar) is too high in your blood. [2]

2. What are the early symptoms of diabetes?

The earliest symptoms of diabetes include increased hunger, thirst, and urination; blurry vision; fatigue; numbness and/or tingling in your hands or feet; wounds that take longer to heal; and unexplained/unintended weight loss. While type 1 diabetes symptoms may appear and grow rapidly over a matter of days or weeks, type 2 diabetes symptoms tend to appear more slowly and may even be missed completely.

3. What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is the foundation of the development of type 2 diabetes, or metabolic syndrome—and often the major driving factor in developing prediabetes. When you have insulin resistance, you end up with lots of insulin (a hormone made by the pancreas that helps your cells absorb the glucose for energy), yet minimal uptake of glucose—meaning the insulin simply does not work as its intended. As a result, there’s excess glucose in your blood, which impacts your cells’ ability to use insulin to help absorb the glucose for energy.

This can result in symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal weight gain, abnormal periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), muscle aches, dark skin patches or tags, and changes in other metabolic blood markers such as cholesterol and electrolytes. If you have any of these symptoms, but your glucose reading is normal, ask for your doctor to also check your insulin levels.

4. What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Both conditions result in hyperglycemia, also known as “high blood sugar.” The difference comes down to the insulin and whether it is being produced or simply being mishandled.

According to the American Diabetes Association, roughly 5 percent of all diabetics have type 1 diabetes. [3] And while it’s often associated with childhood, type 1 diabetes can actually occur at any point in a person’s life. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system attacks your pancreas and the cells that produce the hormone insulin. As a result, your body stops producing insulin, which inhibits your blood glucose from making it to your cells, ultimately raising sugar in the bloodstream.

Conversely, type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It occurs when your blood glucose levels are too high due to improper use of insulin. [4] Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity, lifestyle, family history, and other impacts on your endocrine system, such as adrenal fatigue.

5. What’s more dangerous for diabetics—prolonged stress levels or a poor diet?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer here. It’s likely that a combination of the two is the most dangerous of all. Both diet and prolonged stress will ultimately raise your blood sugar.

Interestingly, studies have shown that stress indirectly influences the development of type 2 diabetes due to its ability to impact obesity and metabolic syndrome. [5] And both human and animal studies have shown that stress can even simulate both hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). [6]

Accordingly, I believe the stress component has to be addressed in addition to diet modifications, or the progress of stress-induced diabetes will continue.

6. How can a diabetic patient remain healthy?

I believe that unless you restore normal cell function, you cannot reverse a disease. Diabetes is not simply about avoiding bad food. It is not simply about sugar consumption—it is rooted in malnourishment. It is rooted in dehydrated cells and poor mineral status due to adrenal fatigue. [7] And until you restore the way your body takes in and processes nutrients, a diet will not make much of a difference unless it focuses on replenishing those lost nutrients.

7. What’s the best diet for diabetics?

The best diet for diabetics is one that will restore nutrients to your cells. And while many diets offer a variety of nutrients, studies have shown that some are better than others for fighting some of the major risk factors for diabetes. Read on for more information on the best diet for diabetics.

 

The Best Diet for Diabetics

If you have diabetes, you have probably felt so bad for so long that you may not remember what it feels like to have proper nutrition. As a result, you may feel lost, hopeless, and even have a desire to give up. Many of my patients with diabetes admit that they don’t play golf as much as they’d like to, due to joint pain, or they find themselves taking naps in the afternoon. They cannot play with their children or grandchildren or walk long distances with them at the zoo.

If you have developed these symptoms over time, it is likely that you don’t fully remember what it feels like to be your normal self. These aches and pains have been attributed to “normal aging” for so long that it’s hard to associate lifestyle as a cause. It’s amazing to see how much proper nutrition can change your health for the better.

So, what diet works best to manage diabetes? I’ve found that the best diet for diabetics is what I call a modified Mediterranean diet.

The Benefits of a Modified Mediterranean Diet

Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet features key nutritional elements that are recommended to treat certain risk factors of diabetes. It’s even been linked to preventing diabetes—by as much as 83 percent! [8]

In addition, a meta-analysis of 17 studies revealed that a Mediterranean diet improved both fasting glucose and A1C levels in people type 2 diabetes. [9] And in other studies, the Mediterranean diet was more effective than low-fat diets at lowering fasting glucose levels in diabetics and even promoted greater weight loss. [10, 11]

Moreover, a meta-analysis of nine studies covering over 300,000 participants was just published in July 2019, revealing that people who adhere to a plant-based diet have a 23 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than those who don’t. [12]

Another benefit? Plant-based diets have even been shown to reduce stress! In fact, a 2009 study showed that participants who reduced their animal food intake experience elevated moods and felt less stress and anxiety. [13]

This brings us to what I call the best diet for diabetics: a modified (i.e., plant-based) Mediterranean diet.

How to Follow a Modified Mediterranean Diet

Following a modified Mediterranean diet is actually pretty simple—and delicious! Here’s an overview of what you’ll be eating. Note that plant-based foods should make up at least 70 percent of your diet.

Eat large amounts of:

Fresh, colorful fruits: Apples, berries, and citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges are lower in sugar and should top the list. But don’t be afraid to eat a large variety of fruits, including kiwi, bananas, pineapple, and more!

Variety of vegetables: Dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, broccolini, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), cucumbers, sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and other highly-nutritious veggies will help to provide the vitamins and minerals your cells need to return to optimal function.

Nuts and seeds: Hemp seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds are high in fiber, while nuts such as almond, cashew, hazelnut, and macadamia will provide the protein you need to keep you energized.

Healthy oils: Olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil all offer great metabolic benefits.

Eat small to moderate amounts of:

Wild-caught fish

Organic, pasture-raised poultry

Ancient, sprouted, gluten-free grains

Pasture-raised eggs

Dairy-free, nut-based cheese

Dairy-free, unsweetened yogurt

Nut milks

Eat very small amounts or none:*

Red meat

Sugar and artificial sweeteners

*Note: Ideally, you should avoid these foods altogether. However, at the very least, try to limit your red meat intake to three-ounce servings once or twice a month. And if you find you’re craving sweets, stick to natural sugars, such as this amazing chocolate tart recipe!

Best diet for diabetics - Dr. Pingel

So, what’s next? Well, once you’ve achieved a feeling of wellness through nutrition, the next step is to address your adrenal function. If your cortisol levels continue to fluctuate, so will your insulin and glucose.

Not only will adrenal support provide even more energy and motivation, it will actually assist in lowering your insulin levels and, therefore, reducing the demand on glucose to maintain balance. If the demand on insulin is reduced by regulating cortisol, your insulin resistance will halt. And if a proper diet is maintained, the glucose in your bloodstream will be controlled. In short, the massive domino effect started by the adrenal glands will be slowly halted and reversed.

Key Takeaways

  • While the rate of diabetes is growing, it is possible to reverse the disease and regain your health by focusing on a much-overlooked link: the diabetes-adrenal connection.
  • Your adrenal hormones play a critical role in regulating your blood sugar regulation—and they actually directly impact the development of type 2 diabetes and its related conditions.
  • Both stress and poor diet play important roles in the development of diabetes. Accordingly, both need to be addressed.
  • The best diet for diabetics is a modified Mediterranean diet—high in fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins, and healthy oils.

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