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Quality Health Care and You - Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes and Weight Loss

05/10/2010

Question:

My boyfriend has type 2 diabetes and is trying to lose weight. He has decided if he just eats mainly meat and vitamin suppliments he will be okay. I have told him a balanced diet is what he needs. What are the disadvantages to his diet considering his condition?

Answer:

It is good that your boyfriend is interested in losing weight; even a modest weight loss can lower blood sugar and blood pressure and often lipids (blood fats) in people with Type 2 diabetes who are overweight. While any low-calorie diet (where you eat fewer calories than your body uses), will result in weight loss initially, the concern is his long-term health and ability to maintain the weight loss.

If the reason he wants to eat mainly meats and vitamin supplements is to eliminate carbohydrate foods in an effort to lower his blood sugars, he should know that carbohydrates are essential nutrients for everyone, including people with diabetes. Carbohydrate is the main fuel source for the human body, in fact the brain can only use carbohydrate for fuel. Scientists find that humans need a minimum of 100 grams of carbohydrate daily. Here is the carbohydrate content of some common foods

Besides fuel what else do carbohydrate food provide that meats cannot? Fiber, calcium, and phytochemicals. Fiber not only 'keeps you regular' but also blunts those high blood sugar spikes after meal that people with diabetes may experience. Calcium is essential for bone health. The body absorbs calcium best from food sources; at most, it absorbs, at most, only 50% of the calcium in supplements. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in fruits and vegetables. They have an impressive immune/anti-inflammatory effect that may reduce the risk of several cancers, cardiovascular disease and perhaps Alzheimer's disease. The benefits of phytochemicals are being seen in diets rich in fruits and vegetables themselves; taking supplements has not been shown to confer the same immuno-protection.

What about the down-side of a mainly meat diet? Long term he could be at risk for decreased bone density, immunosuppression (resistance to diseases), constipation, gout, and increased cholesterol levels (especially LDL 'bad' cholesterol). Having Type 2 diabetes already carries an increased risk of heart disease; a mainly meat diet with its high amount of fat, especially in saturated form, would have a tendency to raise blood levels of LDL cholesterol - not a good thing for his heart! And some vitamin supplements in large doses can be harmful as well.

If a person with Type 2 diabetes is also overweight, the diet would also be designed to promote weight loss. Along with diet, it is recommended that people with diabetes get 150 minutes of exercise weekly. An evaluation for sleep apnea could also be in order since untreated sleep apnea can interfere with achieving weight loss goals. A dietitian would be able to help your boyfriend create a healthy eating plan that would help control his blood sugar, blood pressure and lipids, provide sustained weight loss, and promote his overall long-term health and wellness. He could start by asking his doctor for a referral to a dietitian who works with people with Type 2 diabetes.

For more information:

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Response by:

Margaret G Doyle, RD, LD, CDE Margaret G Doyle, RD, LD, CDE
Formerly
Case Western Reserve University