This blog isn’t really about a diet. It’s about eating in an easy, natural, healthy way that has dramatically changed my life and the lives of many of my friends and family. It has brought me back from the brink of diabetes, and generated normal, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol numbers that have literally stunned my doctors. After years and years of frustration, trying unsuccessfully to lose weight by pitting my will power against the insurmountable foe of constant hunger and dieting, I now find myself eating satisfying foods until I’m full and then barely thinking about food at all for hours. Like tens of thousands of others, I’ve discovered the “low-glycemic diet.”
Nine months ago, I was more than 50 pounds overweight, weighing in at 213 pounds on a 5′ 6″ frame. My blood pressure was 160/94. My cholesterol numbers were abominable. My total cholesterol, bad (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides were too high and my good (HDL) cholesterol was non-existent. I was a stroke (or a heart attack) about to happen.
In addition to the above disheartening numbers, my doctor told me my blood test showed I was on the verge of being diagnosed as diabetic, which simply meant my blood sugar was too high over a long period of time (an A1c blood test measures average blood sugar over a 90-day period…there’s a video explaining the test in the sidebar).
While high blood sugar may not seem to be a “big deal”, the body doesn’t react well to high levels of sugar in the blood. Sugar causes proteins to unnaturally bind together and harden, causing devastating problems like loss of vision, kidney failure, and necrosis (dying) of fingers, toes, and limbs. Not a disease you want. My son, a physician, told me simply, “Dad, you don’t want to become diabetic. Once you cross that threshold, there’s no coming back.”
I was devastated. I had tried to diet and lose weight unsuccessfully on and off for more than 40 years. Weight Watchers, Scarsdale, Jenny Craig, Atkins, and the South Beach diet were just a few of the diet plans that had paraded through my life over more than four decades, each holding the promise of weight loss, only to be followed by the predicable failure and defeat. Now, as I approached my 61st birthday, the consequences of being overweight were dooming me to a permanent condition of disability and increasing risk of death.
Why couldn’t I do this? Why was I always hungry, even after I’d eaten a meal? Why was my otherwise ironclad willpower powerless over this nemesis of constant hunger, fatigue, and weight gain? Why if I shunned fats were my cholesterol numbers so poor? Why? Why? Why? I’m a smart guy. Berkeley educated. What the hell is wrong with me?
I went online to try and understand what being diabetic was going to mean for me. My blood sugar was too high. Why?
I began reading about the insulin/glucose mechanism in the body. When we eat foods that raise our blood sugar, the body produces insulin to cleanse the blood of what the body essentially views as a toxin. Insulin grabs the sugar, called glucose, and looks around for a place to store it and get it out of the bloodstream so the body doesn’t suffer harm. First choice is the liver, which is the body’s “short term” storage for glucose (used historically for sudden bursts of energy, such as running from saber-tooth tigers). But storage capacity in the liver is limited. Second choice is the muscles, which for those of us not in body-building competitions, just do not have enough available storage for all the sugar most of us unknowingly consume. Last resort is the fat cells, which can be produced by the body as needed to store unneeded sugar. Insulin shepherds the sugar into the fat cells and slams the door shut. My ever-increasing weight was a testimonial to the efficiency of my insulin and fat cell production.
The other thing I discovered was just how much hidden sugar we eat in our diets…Americans currently eat 2000% more sugar than our ancestors ate just a couple of hundred years ago. And there are different sugars: glucose, sucrose, and fructose…with fructose being the most damaging to the body’s metabolic systems. The major source of fructose is high-fructose corn syrup, present in everything from whole-grain breads to baby formula.
Most startlingly, many respected members of the medical community are now arguing that the “low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet” that has been the cornerstone of governmental dietary recommendations for the past 35 years is wrong and was based on a faulty research study (I kid you not…read on), and our high-carb (i.e., high sugar) recommended diet has been the cause of society’s dramatic increase in metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure, imbalanced cholesterol, and obesity) rather than the cure for it. This isn’t a “fringe group” opinion…it’s an opinion also held by Dr. Robert Lustig, a renowned neuro-endocrinologist and head of the Pediatric Obesity Clinic at UCSF (you can watch his video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” by clicking on the “Videos” section in the top toolbar).
I was beginning to realize that the way I had been eating for most of my adult life had caused my pancreas, the source of my insulin creation, to become exhausted. It was simply giving up. With insufficient insulin to usher my high levels of sugar into my fat cells, the sugar was simply staying in my blood. In addition, years of constantly high levels of insulin in response to the recommended low-fat, high-carb eating guidelines had made my cells “insulin-resistant” to whatever little insulin I was producing. Without the ability to control my blood sugar levels, I was rapidly becoming diabetic.
For the first time in my life, I was scared. I started reading everything I could about controlling high blood glucose levels, and I discovered that certain foods contributed to “spiking” or raising blood sugar levels while other foods did not. Food is divided into three categories: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Fats (animal fats, butter, nuts, oils) and proteins (animal meats, eggs, and cheeses) don’t contain much sugar and don’t contribute to blood sugar problems. That leaves carbohydrates, the breads, vegetables, fruits, beans, and fruit juice we’ve been told should comprise more than half our daily diet. If half my daily diet was comprised of sugars, it began to dawn on me why I might be borderline diabetic.
I learned that not all carbohydrates are the same. You can decide to heat your house with oak, but an oak log in a fireplace burns more slowly than its same weight in oak kindling. Similarly, some foods release sugar slowly and steadily into the bloodstream while others, like the kindling, result in a sudden release of sugar. How a food behaves is measured by its “glycemic index”…a low glycemic index is like a slow burning oak log; a high glycemic index is like quick-burning oak kindling (a link to a list of the glycemic index of various foods is available in the sidebar).
The sudden release of sugar into the blood prompts the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin, which sweeps the sugar into fat cells and depletes the blood of sugar. The resulting depletion of sugar creates ravenous hunger that even the strongest will power has difficulty overcoming, which prompts another round of eating (often eating high-glycemic foods) and then another never-ending cycle of eating–insulin production–fat creation–ravenous hunger–eating–insulin production–fat creation–ravenous hunger–etc.
My metabolic syndrome disorder was beginning to make sense. The high-carb, low-fat diet I’d been struggling with for years was overloading my body with carbohydrate sugars, which was making me tired, hungry, and fat. And the supposedly “healthy” carbohydrates I was eating (rice, pasta, cereals, breads) were often high-glycemic carbs, spiking my blood sugar throughout the day and making me hungry enough to eat a carpet.
So I simply eliminated high glycemic foods from my diet. Difficult to do? Not at all. I dumped the potatoes, white grain breads, crackers, popcorn, pastries, commercial cereals (all of them), bagels, rice, cookies and pastas I used to eat from my diet. That’s it. Everything else I could still eat, and eat as much of as I wanted to.
The result? I’ve lost a total of 43 pounds. My hunger is normal. Scary normal. I don’t miss any foods because I NO LONGER CRAVE THEM. My blood pressure is 110/74. My cholesterol numbers are phenomenal: my total cholesterol is 160 (awesome); my bad LDL cholesterol is 69 (below 100 is considered “ideal”); my triglycerides are 89 (anything under 150 is considered “desirable”) and my good HDL cholesterol is 70 (60 is considered great!). And I’ve been eating (I kid you not) eggs (often two daily, with yolks), meat, poultry, fish, cheese, vegetables of every sort, nuts, seeds, olives, and REAL BUTTER! I’ve been drinking a glass of wine with dinner and eating huge satisfying meals that eliminate my hunger for hours and leave me completely able to eat normally.
And the diabetes? Gone. My A1c is now completely normal.
So for the first time in my life I’ve found an eating plan that works and I’m writing a blog to encourage others to take a look at the information that I (and tens of thousands of others) have discovered. Eating a low-glycemic diet isn’t a diet at all. It seems to be the way the human body was MEANT to eat. It feels good, natural, effortless. It’s EASY.
Most importantly, I promise you, it’s life-changing.
[UPDATE AUGUST 2015. Five years after first putting this website together, I had bloodwork done and a complete physical two weeks before my 65th birthday. My numbers have improved and are still astounding my doctors: Total cholesterol 133 (goal range 125-200, down from 160 in 2010); HDL good cholesterol 69 (anything above 60 = lowest heart attack risk); Triglycerides 57 (goal is anything less than 150 and my current 57 is down from 89 five years ago!); LDL bad cholesterol 53 (goal is less than 100, and my current score is down from 69 in 2010!). My blood pressure, once an unhealthy 160/94, just measured 121/79, and my fasting glucose is 107. The low-glycemic diet continues to work wonders].
Next article: The Origin of the Unhealthy Low-Fat, High-Carb Diet