This month we review a book that presents a dietary approach to managing and reversing diabetes.
Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes:
The Scientifically Proven System
For Reversing Diabetes Without Drugs
By Neal D. Barnard, MD
Dr. Neal Barnard and the Greek physician Hippocrates don't have the same DNA, but when it comes to food the two doctors' ideas are clearly in sync. They both emphasize the important role of diet in illness prevention and treatment.
Hippocrates is noted for his oft-quoted statement, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Barnard, the author of Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes, is not advocating any medicine or exercise routine--his solution to battling disease, especially diabetes, is a low-fat vegan diet.
Barnard describes how he put this diet to the test in scientific studies with real people to prove that the low-fat vegan regimen can reverse diabetes. In a series of studies researchers proved the participants could improve their health by lowering blood sugar, increasing insulin sensitivity, and reducing or eliminating medications. These benefits were achieved in a dietary program with no side effects.
His dietary plan differs markedly from the traditional program offered by the American Diabetes Association that cuts way back on sugar and starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, and sugar. The ADA diet was designed to reduce weight and cholesterol and includes the use of medications. The goal was to keep calorie and carbohydrate intake stable throughout the day. Diabetics also consulted "exchange lists" to manage their food choices.
Barnard is referring to the ADA diet when he cites a 1993 article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that states, "Diabetes diets are challenging and most people do not follow them." By contrast he says, "The diet you read about in this book is completely different. For many people it is much easier as well as much more effective and up-to-date."
He reduces his plan to three principles:
In the studies described by Barnard, the participants ate a diet very low in fat and devoid of any animal products. Surprisingly, no limit was placed on the amount of carbohydrates ingested. Those carbohydrates had to be whole grain, high fiber, and low glycemic index.
The glycemic index is a numerical value that shows how rapidly a food releases sugar into the bloodstream. The higher the glycemic index, the more rapidly that food releases sugar into the bloodstream. In addition to presenting a chart showing the glycemic index of some common foods, the book discusses categories of foods with a low GI (glycemic index).
In one of the studies one group was assigned a diet following guidelines of the American Diabetes Association while the second group received a low-fat vegan diet. The vegan group found their blood sugar dropping so dramatically they had to cut back on their diabetes medication. They were three times more effective than the ADA group in reducing their A1c (the principal gauge of blood glucose control). In addition, the vegan group showed reductions in body weight and cholesterol.
At the conclusion of the study, Barnard interviewed members of both groups. He was surprised to find that they preferred the vegan diet by a 2 to 1 ratio. "The reason, I learned, was that many of them had already been on the ADA diet and found it dull and not very effective. Many of them had heard about the advantages of a vegan diet," says Barnard. The beauty of Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes is the simplicity one finds in following it. By just reading the Nutrition Guidelines on pages 46 and 47, anyone can embark on the program. Those pages present "a powerful new menu" that details Overall Principles, Focus on the New Four Food Groups, Other Permitted Foods, Foods to Avoid, and A Daily Multivitamin.
To make life easier for those beginning the diabetes reversal diet, Barnard has enlisted the culinary skills of noted cookbook author Bryanna Clark Grogan who has developed a number of recipes "tapping into the so-called fifth flavor" while following his guidelines. She adds a fifth flavor, "savory taste," to the familiar sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. All the recipes are incorporated into 7 Days of Healthful Menus.
The book is essential reading for diabetics and their families because it offers hope by providing them with a sensible way to manage their disease and to avoid its debilitating consequences. In addition to explaining the nature of diabetes in layman's language, Barnard offers many practical tips and suggestions to the diabetic. Even non-diabetics will find invaluable information for improving personal health, especially the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular problems.
Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes is a departure from the usual literature designed to manage this dreaded disease. As Barnard says in the conclusion, "We know that it is possible to lose weight effectively and permanently, reduce or eliminate medications, reverse heart disease, and even improve the symptoms of neuropathy," he says. "If you thought you had to surrender to advancing symptoms, think again. You are now in the driver's seat."
Reviewed July 2007