Jennifer Lovejoy, PhD, Senior Vice President, Clinical & Quality Support
Out of the new crop of January diet books comes one that makes the eye-catching claim that it will bring The End of Diabetes. To anyone who struggles with this terrible disease, either personally or due to caring for a family member with diabetes, a suggestion that diabetes can be cured is certainly likely to get some attention.
Theres reason for employers to take notice, too. According to the American Diabetes Association, 105 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes, and unless we change course, by 2050, this number will rise to 1 in 3 American adults. The healthcare costs of diabetes, combined with its sister condition, obesity, already has a terrible impact on employers bottom line and it seems things can only get worse. That is unless, as this book claims, we can prevent and reverse the course of diabetes
Dr. Joel Fuhrman is an internist who has written several popular diet books promoting what he calls nutritarianism. The fundamental premise of these books is scientifically sound. Basically, his approach is one that emphasizes high nutrient dense foods foods that pack in a lot of vitamins and minerals with relatively few calories. Healthy foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains are the focus of the nutritarian diet and much research has shown that consuming these foods is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases and greater overall health and wellbeing.
In The End of Diabetes, Dr. Fuhrman addresses how focusing on eating high nutrient dense foods will benefit people with diabetes. The book recommends 5 foods that are helpful for diabetes beans (legumes), greens, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and berries as well as 5 types of foods that are harmful red meat/processed meat, full-fat dairy products, fried foods, soft drinks, and processed foods (including refined grains). Again science is largely on his side red meat, high-fat diets, and refined grains have each been linked to increased Type 2 diabetes risk in adults. And soft drinks have been tied in at least some studies to higher obesity rates (especially in children and adolescents), and the link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes is very close.
There are two important caveats, though, before taking the claims of this new diet at face value. First of all, the only real meaningful measure of a diet programs success is whether or not its sustainable. Lots of diet plans have health benefits but if people cant make them a permanent lifestyle change, it doesnt matter much. It is definitely possible for a whole foods-based, high nutrient dense diet to be sustainable but it takes making small changes and having lots of social support to maintain motivation in the face of our societal glut of processed junk food. Self-help books are unfortunately less than ideal for achieving this degree of sustainable change.
Secondly, I take issue with Dr. Fuhrmans claim that diabetes can be cured. Unfortunately, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are chronic, progressive diseases and holding out false hope for a cure is unfair to patients who suffer with these conditions.
It is certainly possible for Type 2 diabetes to go into remission, usually as a result of substantial weight loss. In some cases, these remissions may last for years if weight loss is sustained. Since Dr. Fuhrmans diet is emphasizing food type rather than weight loss and calories, however, its unlikely that his plan alone will cause any diabetes remissio