Can a low-calorie diet be used to treat Type 2 diabetes?

Once again I’m turning The Health Gardener blog over to the lovely Jada-Virginia Surpin. She’s passionate about using nutrition to improve health. This week she’s been inspired to put pen to paper by news that the NHS will be offering very low calorie diets to tackle type 2 diabetes. But will this be the panacea it’s thought or cause more problems than it solves?

Over to Jada-Virginia:-

Can a low-calorie diet be used to treat Type 2 diabetes?

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are threatening to cripple the NHS. Added to this we have an aging population. I’m sure you have heard this before, we seem to be living much longer nowadays, however, the elderly continue to be affected by various illnesses impacting their quality of life (which in medical terms is called comorbidity).

According to Diabetes UK, up to 27% of residents in care homes are at greater risk of type two diabetes, therefore, teaching diabetic patients to take responsibility for their overall health and diet as well as raising awareness about new evidence-based treatments could reduce the strain on the NHS. Recent research has indicated that low calorie diets may be useful in treating diabetes; The question is, is there currently sufficient evidence to support the long-term efficacy of such diets?

The BMJ reports the NHS is to pilot the use of very low-calorie diets (VLCDs) with 5000 volunteers to investigate its use as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.

Since losing weight using diet and exercise is a known management of Type 2 diabetes, it is only logical to explore a range of dietary options when it comes to treating type 2 diabetes. The idea of using a VLCD is an intuitive new development in the treatment of diabetes and a natural progression from the treatment currently prescribed to type 2 diabetics. VLCD diets involve severe calorie restriction (820kcal total diet replacement) and consist largely of diet shakes. Participants are weaned back onto ‘healthier’ foods as part of the programme (however it is to be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women).

Previous studies of VLCD diets have been positive, suggesting VLCDs can effectively treat or cure diabetes. However it should be noted that many people struggle to maintain weight loss following such regimes and often regain any weight they lose plus more.

This treatment, according to Professor Jonathan Valabhji – National Clinical Director of Diabetes and Obesity for the NHS – will work as a prophylactic (a preventative measure) as well as helping current diabetic patients achieve remission.

This is an extremely exciting development as it means that we are one step closer to curing diabetes and implementing better and more widespread use of nutrition to treat all illnesses.

There are other diet based options available. After a year of testing a low carb diet, Virta Health has seen a 60% incidence of diabetes reversal. have also experienced a good success rate using a low carb approach.

However, it is important that we view this as a form of progress in the recognition of the positive role diet can has to play in the remission and prevention of type 2 diabetes. VLCDs are from a magical cure though. Type 2 diabetes is caused by a variety factors including diet. Furthermore, reduced calorie intake alone is unlikely to produce the expected results. According to the latest PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) study, the oxidation of fats, colloquially known as “fat burning”, is in fact inhibited by a diet high in carbohydrates since our body’s natural metabolism uses fats as a secondary energy reserve. In other words, if we supply our bodies with a constant excess of carbohydrates, we never need to use our fat reserves for energy, so the kilos of excess fat just stay where they are until we need them. This is why some find weight loss so challenging, because we are encouraged by vicious marketing tactics to self-sabotage our weight loss by eating an excess of carbs, without being informed of the need to balance our fat and protein intake.

Unfortunately, many popular diet shakes and “healthy foods” contain an excess of sugar and too little good quality fats, which is simply another example of the food industry providing the bare legal minimum and hooking consumers through addictive ingredients. For example, Nestlé Optifast contains a huge 36% sugar – 7 times over the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s (SACN) recommended amount and only 5% fat. Although this is the supplement used in the seemingly successful Newcastle Study, it is important to note that the Optifast sachets were accompanied by non-starchy vegetables, thus decreasing the overall glycemic index of the test volunteers’ diet. And let us not forget that an imbalance of blood sugar levels is the key issue with Type 2 diabetes. In conjunction with the compelling evidence from PURE and the USAC, the use of starchy vegetables is clearly the factor that saved the Newcastle Study. In fact, better results would have been achieved by including a healthy level of fats and Omeg-3 fatty acids in line with the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) daily recommendation.

For more information on how you can change your diet to both prevent and put type 2 diabetes into remission look at the ANH-Intl Food4Health guidelines. If you need additional support and help to make changes then give me a call on 07943 763818.

To help you combat types 2 diabetes here are some additional resources:



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