The Official Dietary Guidelines For Diabetics Have It All Wrong

| July 3, 2014

New figures show that the UK has the third highest rate of obesity in Western Europe, with 67 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women being overweight or obese1. At the same time, the number of people with diabetes in the UK has climbed to almost three million, with 90 per cent of cases being type 2, according to Diabetes UK.

This worrying trend has been obvious for the last 30 years, but it shows little sign of slowing down, despite all the official advice on healthy eating and lifestyles aimed at turning it around. So, is the advice wrong, or are people just not taking notice of it? It could be a bit of both.

A look at the Diabetes UK website shows that their advice for people with diabetes includes the following:

‘Eat plenty of starchy carbohydrates. The NHS advises people, including those with diabetes, to base meals around food with starchy carbohydrate such as: potatoes, cereals, pasta, rice and bread.’ The NHS guidelines also recommend that people with diabetes should get half of their daily calories from carbohydrates and that they should take medication to counteract the rise in blood sugar level.

One wonders what planet these people have been on for the last 20 years, during which time study after study has shown the value of a low GL (low glycaemic load), low carbohydrate diet, not just for diabetes and weight loss, but for general good health.

A massive review of the available research, published last year, examined the findings from 1865 separate studies and reports on dietary approaches for managing type 2 diabetes. It concluded that:

  • Official recommendations for people with diabetes to follow a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet are not justified by the scientific evidence.
  • Low carbohydrate diets (including low GI and Mediterranean style diets) reduce blood sugar levels significantly and to the same degree as medication.
  • Low carbohydrate diets also improve blood fat and cholesterol profiles and reduce cardiovascular risks.
  • Low carbohydrate diets result in better weight loss, blood sugar control and blood fat profiles than do low fat diets.

To be fair, Diabetes UK do recognise that the NHS guidelines are controversial and that the recommendation for diabetics to eat 225 to 300 grams of carbohydrate a day has been widely criticised by scientific researchers and by people with diabetes. But they seem unable to distance themselves from the hopelessly outdated NHS advice.

So why does the NHS continue to recommend a diet that is not only unsuitable for people with diabetes but is likely to make their condition worse? It’s probably nothing more sinister than the crippling inertia in the system, but one thing is for sure, the NHS dietary guidelines and other similar recommendations have become a part of the global problem rather than providing a solution.

Diet and exercise should be front line therapy for diabetes

Getting official guidelines up to date and accurate would be a big step in the right direction. But a more difficult one could be to persuade people to follow them. A recent study in Spain found that most people with type 2 diabetes do not change their diet and lifestyle habits to any greater degree than do non-diabetic individuals3.

The Spanish study identified GPs as having a crucial role in making dietary advice, weight reduction and increased physical activity the first treatment steps for type 2 diabetes, followed by drug therapy if necessary. It seems to me that few UK doctors have the necessary knowledge and resources to make this approach effective – and they are unlikely to get them without a major shift in position by the NHS.

You can’t afford to wait for mainstream medicine to get it right when it comes to your diet or your diabetes – taking responsibility for your own health, while working in partnership with your GP, is the only way to go. You can find more information on a low GL diet for diabetes here, here and here.

While added sugar clearly has no place in a low GL diet, artificial sweeteners may be just as bad, so it is alarming to see that the EU recently approved a new sweetener called Advantame, a derivative of the infamous Aspartame. More on this in my next blog post.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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References

1. Ng M, Fleming T, Robinson M et al. Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet. 2014 May 29 (Online ahead of print).

2. Ajala O, English P, Pinkney J. Systematic review and meta-analysis of different dietary approaches to the management of type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013; 97(3):505-516.

3. Villaverde-Gutiérrez C. Dietary advice, weight loss and exercise: addressing non-adherence by diabetic patients. Int J Clin Pract. 2014; 68(1):4.

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Category: Diabetes

Comments (1)

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  1. Chris says:

    Hi, interesting article. I’ve been recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and now looking for ways to cut down on the sugars and carbs. Trouble is, I’ve been drinking Pepsi Max and similar sugar-free products to get my ‘sweet fix’ but now it appears that artificial sweeteners seem just as harmful to diabetics ( and people in general ) as ordinary sugar! Why is this? Surely, aspartame etc do not cause insulin release or negate cellular receptivity to insulin, do they? I’m finding things very tough at the mo … like a sugar junkie I’m sesrching for substitutes to satisfy my terrible sweet tooth! Help!