Diabetes Prevention, Step 1: Stop Stripping Your Carbs!

In this three-part series, Cleveland Clinic diabetes expert Dr. Roxanne Sukol, M.D., M.S.,explains how to reverse obesity and diabetes

This is the first in a four-part series on preventing diabetes from the Cleveland Clinic. The author, Roxanne Sukol, M.D. M.S., is medical director of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Enterprise.

Did you know that America’s diabetes (type 2) and obesity epidemic is largely reversible? Getting started on a problem as seemingly complicated as diabetes or obesity is overwhelming, so it makes no sense to try and tackle the whole thing all at once. Instead, we’re going to start with just one important strategy -- learning to conserve your insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that our bodies make and use to escort blood sugar into our cells. Among its various jobs, one of the things that insulin does is to serve as the fat-storage hormone. The more you use, the higher your insulin levels, the more fat you store. The lower your insulin levels, the less fat you store. This means that if you can influence your insulin levels, then you can decrease the amount of fat that you store. The first strategy, then, is to learn to conserve your insulin.

The second bit of information I’d like to share is based on some observations that I’ve made about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, as you may already know, are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains. I have noticed that in nature, for the most part, you almost never find carbohydrates without fiber. For example, apples, grapes, melons, kiwis, oranges, cherries and strawberries, to name a few, always come with the fiber attached. Celery, peppers, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage and all those other gorgeous vegetables? Packed with fiber. Dates and beets are also rich in fiber -- they’re always on those superfood lists. Additionally, whole grains have plenty of fiber and beans have a ton of it too. In fact, beans are probably the only food that’s rich in both fiber and protein. So in nature, carbohydrate means fiber. Remember that.

In fact, with the exception of milk, which has a different kind of carbohydrate, the only carbohydrate I can think of that comes without fiber attached is honey (and maple syrup, concentrated 40-fold from the way it actually drips down the maple tree).

So why do carbs get such a bad rap? Well, I’m not sure it’s carbs per se that are the problem. I’m pretty sure it’s what we do to them. For example, strip the fiber from apples and you get apple juice. When I was a little kid, my doctor used to keep juice in the office to give to people whose blood sugars were too low. So I always thought of juice as a medicine for diabetics. I still do. Strip the fiber from dates and beets, and you get table sugar. Strip the fiber from grains, and you get white flour. Apple juice, sugar and white flour are very different from the apples, dates and whole grains from which they originated.

For now, start noticing how many of your foods are “whole,” and how many have had the fiber stripped away. Next in this series... Step 2: Slow Foods Rule!

Visit Cleveland Clinic Wellness to learn more about how stress, diet and exercise can affect diabetes.

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