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This fantastic article was written by Galen Chay, founder of Fit and Healthy Beyond 50! We encourage you to check out his website here! 

I decided to write this article on the best diet to control and even reverse type 2 diabetes because of a personal reason.

You see I’m at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes; it’s not because of my lifestyle or my dietary habits: I’m in danger because both my parents are Type 2 diabetics.

If both your parents have type 2 diabetes, then your risk factor is 1 in 2. If only 1 parent has diabetes and the diagnosis was made before age 50, then your chances are 1 in 7; if the diagnosis was made after age 50, then your chances are 1 in 13.

Luckily, you can significantly reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes, including diet changes, weight loss, and regular exercise.

However, for those who already have Type 2 diabetes, this is not enough; they can only control their diabetes because once diagnosed with the condition little that can be done to reverse the condition, so says most doctors.

This means that people with diabetes will always need to take medication to get their blood sugar levels down to normal. But this in itself comes with a host of issues because all drugs have side effects, some of which can be severe.

Side Effects of Diabetes Medications

Take Metformin, for instance, and it’s one of the most common drugs prescribed for Type 2 diabetes patients. The side effects range from having a metallic taste in the mouth to lactic acidosis, which is primarily lactic acid building up in the bloodstream faster than it can be removed. 1

This is just 1 medication; depending on how serious the diabetes is, more medications may be added – which translates to more adverse effects. And diabetes medications do not cure or reverse the condition.

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So, what alternatives do folks with Type 2 diabetes have?

In the last couple of years, there have been some breakthroughs regarding scientific evidence regarding the very low carb ketogenic diet that can or has the potential to reverse Type 2 diabetes.

The Very Low Carb Ketogenic Diet

The very low carb diet ketogenic diet was first introduced in the 1920s as a medical intervention to reduce epileptic seizures in children. In its original form, the diet comprised 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs.

In recent years, research has intensified regarding the low carb ketogenic diet’s effectiveness in weight loss, combating cancer and both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

The Low Carb Diet’s Success in Treating Type 2 Diabetes

An increasing amount of research has shown that low-carb diets can treat people with Type 2 diabetes successfully. Not only do low carb diets improve blood sugar levels and help in weight loss but the diet is also beneficial for heart health. 2

A 16-week study showed that a low-carb diet is effective in the long-term blood sugar control in Type 2 diabetes. 3 This was confirmed in another study. 4 A comparison between the low-calorie diet and the very low carb diet showed that the latter was much more effective in diabetes management.5

Perhaps this study really demonstrates the potential of the ketogenic diet in reversing Type 2 diabetes. 6

84 obese patients with Type 2 diabetes were divided into 2 groups. The 1st group’s diet was the ketogenic diet with 20 grams of carbs or less a day. The 2nd group was given a low glycemic reduced calorie diet.

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At the end of the 24-week study, the ketogenic diet group saw the most favorable results with 95.2% having either entirely eliminated or drastically reduced their diabetes medications and insulin shots. The reduced calorie and low GI diet group saw less favorable results with only 62.1% success rate.

What’s Off-Limits in the Very Low Carb Ketogenic Diet?

  • All grains and grain related products e.g. bread, pasta, noodles, rice, porridge & yes, not even oats.
  • All processed foods.
  • All root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, lotus roots, etc.
  • All Legumes e.g. peas, lentils and beans.
  • All milk including soy milk, almond milk, etc
  • Most fruits, only berries are allowed.
  • All juice, soft drinks, punch, sweetened tea, etc.
  • Beer & all alcoholic drinks
  • All desserts, baked foods, sweets, ice cream, etc.
  • Processed vegetable and seed oils e.g. canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, etc.

What’s Allowed in the Low Carb Ketogenic Diet?

  • All meat e.g. grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, free-range poultry and seafood.
  • Free range eggs.
  • Cheese (NOT slice cheese which is highly processed).
  • All leafy and cruciferous vegetables i.e. most vegetables except root vegetables listed above.
  • Avocados.
  • Olives.
  • All natural oils and fats e.g. extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, lard, clarified butter or ghee, cream, sour cream, and cream cheese.
  • A handful of raw nuts because most nuts have carbs.

What to Expect from the Ketogenic or Very Low Carb Diet

When you go the ketogenic diet, you need to ensure that your carbs don’t go above 50 grams a day.

As you drastically reduce the carbs, your body will go through a period of adjustment known as the “low carb flu.” This is because your body needs to learn to shift its energy sources from carbs i.e. blood glucose to fats i.e. ketones.

During this transitional phase which will last anything from a few days to 2 weeks, you may experience a few things.

1. Weight Loss

Weight loss may occur especially during the 1st 2 – 3 weeks. This is because every gram of carb holds 3 grams of water. After the 1st 2 – 4 weeks, your weight loss will slowly stabilize.

2. Brain Fog and Feeling Irritable

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This is perfectly normal. Stir half a teaspoon of salt into a large glass of water and drink it: after about 30 minutes such symptoms will ease. Drink this salt water drink once daily until these symptoms disappear. Another thing you need to do is to increase your fat intake dramatically. Low carb plus low fat will put your body into starvation mode, and you will feel terrible.

3. Poor Physical Performance

Poor physical performance when you exercise. Your body needs time to adjust to burning ketones (fat) instead of glucose (carbs) for energy and fuel. This adaptation will take weeks; however, the more you exercise while on a ketogenic diet, the faster the adaptation will take.

4. Constipation

Constipation as your digestive system needs to adjust. You need to increase your water and fluid intake, and adding extra salt will also help. You also need to increase your fiber intake through vegetables and perhaps also add psyllium seed husks into your water: this will give you enough fiber to normalize your bowel movements. If your constipation is bad, you can also take Milk of Magnesia to relieve it.

5. Leg Cramps

Leg cramps in your calf muscles because of the increased urination. You lose water through increased urination when you reduce carbs; these can decrease the minerals in your body especially magnesium. Increasing your water intake and ensuring you have enough salt will help prevent the loss of magnesium and the leg cramps.

If need be, you can take magnesium supplements. If despite taking all these measures, you still get leg cramps, then you can increase your carbs to get out of ketosis; this will definitely put an end to the leg cramps.

6. Bad Breath

This is caused by your body is burning fat which is being converted to ketones to provide energy for the brain. This is temporary and will go away in a week or two. You can use a breath freshener in the meantime to counter this. If it persists, you can increase your carbs to get out of ketosis – this will definitely solve the problem.

7. Heart Palpitations and Slightly Elevated Heart Rate

This is usually caused by dehydration and lack of salt. Again, this is normal and will usually resolve itself if you increase your water and fluid intake and ensure you get enough salt. But if it persists, then, by all means, get out of ketosis by increasing your carb intake.

If You are On Diabetes and Other Medications

Please discuss with your doctor on reducing the dosage of your diabetic medications if you decide to try the ketogenic diet. If the dosages aren’t adjusted, and you go on the ketogenic diet, you may experience hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

If you’re on medications for other chronic illnesses, please consult your doctor.

Final Note on the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet will help folks with Type 2 diabetes because there’s surmounting evidence to show that it can or has the potential to reverse the condition. However, if you’re on medication or have other chronic conditions besides diabetes, please check with your doctor before proceeding.

Sources:

  1. Drugs.com, Metformin Side Effects. (https://www.drugs.com/sfx/metformin-side-effects.html)
  2. American Diabetes Association. Effect of a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Blood Glucose Control in People With Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes 2004 Sep; 53(9): 2375-2382. (http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/53/9/2375.long)
  3. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005; 2: 34.
  4. Published online 2005 Dec 1. doi:  10.1186/1743-7075-2-34. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1325029/)
  5. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Mol Cell Biochem. 2007 Aug; 302(1-2):249-56. Epub 2007 Apr 20. Beneficial effects of ketogenic diet in obese diabetic subjects. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17447017)
  6. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Nutrition. 2012 Oct;28(10):1016-21. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2012.01.016. Epub 2012 Jun 5. Effect of low-calorie versus low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in type 2 diabetes. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22673594)
  7. Europe PMC. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008; 5: 36. Published online 2008 December 19. doi:  10.1186/1743-7075-5-36. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. (http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC2633336;jsessionid=aV1L6seRNxO5DZIhPqXi.2)

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Galen Chay
Founder at Fit and Healthy Beyond 50
Galen Chay is founder of Fit and Healthy Beyond 50, a website dedicated to helping men and women especially those above 50 to stay healthy and prevent chronic illnesses through dietary and lifestyle change interventions. He has been actively involved in health and fitness forums since 2007. Those he has come into contact with have improved their health through his online conversations with them, many of whom aren't even 50 yet but have been put on medications by their doctors for chronic conditions like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity and heart disease.
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