Part 4: Why carbs are the wrong foods for diabetics
Obviously something has gone very wrong with the conventional treatment of Type-2 diabetes and a growing number of nutritionists and nutritionally oriented doctors are beginning to question the conventional wisdom behind the standard diabetic diet. In this part we discuss what that might be.
What Is Diabetes?
I believe we need another definition of Type-2 diabetes. And that is:
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disorder of carbohydrate metabolism .
The chief substance in the body responsible for keeping blood-sugar levels in check is the hormone insulin. In diabetes, either there is insufficient insulin or the insulin simply doesn’t do its job. Between 5% and 10% of diabetics has what is known as type 1 diabetes, where the body fails to make sufficient quantities of insulin. In the more common type 2 diabetes, there is usually plenty of insulin around – the problem is that the body has become resistant to its effects.
Whatever the precise nature of the diabetes, eating a diet that helps to keep blood-sugar levels on an even keel is of obvious importance. Until recently, the traditional view has been that sugar, because it causes surges in blood-sugar levels, should be limited in the diet. On the other hand, starches such as bread, potato, rice and pasta are recommended by doctors and dieticians because of the long-held belief that they give slow, sustained releases of sugar into the bloodstream. Fruit is also recommended because it is believed the sugar fruit contains – fructose – also does not raise insulin levels.
And this approach shows better than anything just how little the diabetes establishment understands about diabetes – because, biochemically, it makes no sense whatsoever.
Let me give you a short chemistry lesson.
The first and most important point to make is that all carbohydrates are sugars , although we do not normally call them that, but differentiate between those that taste sweet, which we call ‘sugar’, and those that don’t, which we call ‘starch’.
The simple sugars in foods that are most important to human nutrition are called sucrose, fructose, lactose, and maltose. But the body is only interested in the simple sugar called glucose, so these other simple sugars break apart in the digestion to become glucose.
Sucrose is the white granulated stuff we call ‘sugar’ and put in bowls on the table. Sucrose is the form of sugar we are most familiar with. It is obtained from sugar cane, sugar beets, and the syrup from sugar maple trees. It is also naturally present in some amounts in most fruits and vegetables, along with higher amounts of other sugars. Whenever the word ‘sugar’ is used in common conversation, it is usually sucrose that is being referred to. Sucrose is a disaccharide (meaning ‘two sugars’) which hydrolyses to glucose and fructose.
Fructose is the form of sugar found in fruits, honey, and corn syrup. It is 1.7 times as sweet as sucrose. In recent times fructose, which is every bit as much a sugar as sucrose, has been added to processed foods so that the manufacturers can say on the packet that their product ‘has no added sugar’. It’s a legal loophole as fructose is a sugar. Fructose is a monosaccharide (meaning ‘one sugar’) which is absorbed intact and changed into glucose by the liver. Diabetics are told that they can eat fruit so, presumably fructose is thought to be all right.
Lactose is the sugar found in milk and cottage cheese. A disaccharide, it is hydrolysed into glucose and galactose. The galactose is changed into glucose in the liver
Maltose is a disaccharide sugar found in grains. It hydrolyses into glucose and glucose. Thus, for diabetics it seems to be the worst ‘sugar’.
Note that all these sugars end in ‘ose’. Anything you see on the label of a product ending with these three letters is almost certain to be a sugar. Dextrose, for example, is merely another name for glucose. The only exception is cellulose, which, while it is a complex sugar molecule, is the material that plant cell walls are made of. Cellulose only has a food value for a herbivore. It is inedible to a carnivore and as the human digestive system has no enzyme to digest it, cellulose has no nutritional value and passes straight through you. It used to be called ‘roughage’; we now call it fibre.
Next we need to understand how the current recommendations are actually based on what I can only describe as dietary nonsense.
Note that DiabetesUK recommendations are to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day and base meals and snacks on starchy foods. Also note that on the plate (left) sugar is lumped together with fats at the bottom. Now this is why this is nonsense:
You are told to ‘Cut down on . . . sugary foods’
The chemical name for sugar – the white granulated stuff you put in your tea – is sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide , which means two sugars. Its chemical formula, C 12 H 22 O 11 , means that it is made up of twelve atoms of carbon, twenty-two atoms of hydrogen and eleven atoms of oxygen. When it is digested, it enters the bloodstream as the blood sugar, glucose, whose formula is C 6 H 12 O 6 . In this process one molecule of C 12 H 22 O 11 ends up as two molecules of C 6 H 12 O 6 . But you will notice that sucrose has only twenty-two hydrogen and eleven oxygen atoms, before it can become glucose, it must gain two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom somehow. It does this very simply by combining with water whose chemical formula is H 2 O (which means it has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom – exactly what we need). The process is illustrated thus:
C 12 H 22 O 11 + H 2 O == 2 C 6 H 12 O 6
1 Sucrose + 1 Water == 2 glucose
The addition of the water molecule to the sugar molecule increases the total energy content. In this way, 100g of sugar, which you would think contains 400 kcals, ends up as 105g of glucose or 420 kcals.
‘Base meals and snacks on starchy foods’
The situation is similar with starches. Dieticians call starches ‘complex carbohydrates’ or polysaccharides , which means many sugars. Our digestion also converts these into glucose but, in this case, the formula is a little different. Starch is made up of strings of thousands of sugar molecules fastened together. The formula for each of these individual sugar molecules is C 6 H 10 O 5 so, to make it into C 6 H 12 O 6, it again needs to find two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. So one molecule of water, H 2 O, is combined with each of the starch sugars. In this way:
C 6 H 10 O 5 + H 2 O == C 6 H 12 O 6
Starch + Water == glucose
But as the atoms from the water now form a greater proportion of the total in this equation, 100g of starch actually become 111 g of glucose or 444 calories. That’s more than the sugar!
So if you are taking DiabetesUK’s advice for weight loss and trying to reduce your calorie intake, basing meals on starchy foods doesn’t look like a very clever thing to do.
And the second piece of advice appears to be no more sound:
Q: What are diabetics told to eat?
A: “5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day”
Q: What carbohydrate do fruit and vegetables contain?
A: FRUCTOSE – which is a sugar!
Ah, yes . . . but . . . glucose raises blood levels very quickly (Fructose is preferred to glucose because it is thought to take longer to raise blood sugar).
Earlier I lied . . . well didn’t tell the whole truth. You see C 6 H 12 O 6 is the formula for both glucose and fructose
Sucrose hydrolyses to 50% glucose and 50% fructose. In other words, table sugar is half fructose . . .whereas starch hydrolyses to glucose alone. So does that make sugar healthier than fruit?
Perhaps not . . .
You might point out that, on DiabetesUK’s plate, equal emphasis is given to both glucose-producing starch and fructose-producing fruit and veg. In the USA, the American Diabetes Association places a bigger emphasis on starches, telling diabetics to eat 6 to 11 portions of bread, pasta and so forth a day – so is that healthier in the USA than fruit?
The belief seems to be that glucose raises blood levels and, consequently, insulin levels quickly but, as fructose doesn’t require insulin, it is healthier.
But again it isn’t that simple. The aim of diabetes treatment is to reduce the complications, the major one being heart attacks. In this respect fructose does not seem to be a good choice because:
Fructose Increases CHD Risk!
- fructose glycosylates haemoglobin 7 times faster than glucose. (1) This may be important because glycosylation (as well as oxidation) of other proteins, including LDL & HDL particles, may increase the growth rate of atheroma.. (2)
- Fructose also appears to increase Total Cholesterol (TC) primarily by elevating LDL-C. (3) Increasing dietary fructose from 3% to 20% of calories at the expense of starch increased Total Cholesterol by 9% and LDL by 11%.
- It appears that every 2% increase in dietary fructose raises LDL by more than 1%. Swanson et al say that “There is now reason to believe that dietary fructose will increase the risk of atherosclerosis.”
The glycosylation of proteins is also responsible for the other complications of diabetes which were listed in Part 1
So one has to ask: why are diabetics at such risk told to “Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day”?
Diabetes mellitus is a disease of incorrect nutrition.
The disease develops as a result of a high intake of carbohydrates – the ‘healthy’ diet.
Since ‘healthy eating’ was introduced, type 2 diabetes has become epidemic to such an extent that it now affects children.
This increase at such a time is NOT a coincidence – it is cause and effect.
The reason conventional treatment of diabetes fails is because authoritative bodies such as DiabetesUK and the American Diabetes Association promote the very diet that caused the disease in the first place – a diet that actually exacerbates the condition..
Fortunately Type-2 diabetes is easily treated without the need to resort to drugs by:
A strategy that offers the prospect of cure or successful treatment for diabetes is one that limits hyperinsulinaemia by restricting carbohydrate intake – the exact opposite of the conventional approach.
Part 5 looks at some of the evidence that eating a low-carb, high-fat diet is better for diabetics.
1. Bunn HF, Higgins PJ. Reaction of monosaccharides with proteins: possible evolutionary significance. Science 1981;213:222-9.
2. Bierman EL. Arteriosclerosis and Thrombosis 1992;12:647-646.
3. Swanson JE, Laine DC, Thomas W, Bantle JP. Metabolic effects of dietary fructose in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 1992;55:851-6.
Part 1: The scale of the problem
Part 2: What is diabetes — Are you at risk?
Part 3: Conventional treatment for Type-2 diabetes – and why it fails
Part 4: Why carbs are the wrong foods for diabetics
Part 5: The evidence
Part 6: The correct diet for a Type-2 diabetic, (or treatment without drugs)
Part 7: Treatment for Type-1 diabetes
Suitable foods for diabetics