Corn is a great food for human beings. Unfortunately, many cornbread recipes contain cow’s milk and lots of fat. Some of the low-fat vegan cornbread recipes produce a product that is too dry. This recipe makes cornbread with a golden brown crust (thanks to the sugar and the cast-iron pan) and a moist and tender crumb, thanks to the applesauce.
If you look at articles about East Asian countries in issues of National Geographic from the early 20th century, you will notice two things. One is that many of the people in East Asia were eating a lot of white rice. The other is that only the rich people and the sumo wrestlers were overweight. That’s because the rich people and the sumo wrestlers were eating something besides rice and vegetables.
Lately, many nutrition gurus have been promoting what they call a “paleo” diet. The word “paleo” comes from Paleolithic, which literally means “early stone age.” They think that human beings ought to be eating a diet like the diet that people ate during the early stone age. Personally, I think that the arguments in favor of the paleo diet are silly, for several reasons. I think that the appeal of the paleo diet is based on adolescent male fantasies of being an unwashed, unshaven big game hunter who gets to spend time with a hot-looking maiden in a fur or leather bikini. Real men don’t eat quiche. They eat brontoburgers:
Dr. George Lundberg, the former editor-in-chief of JAMA, graciously invited me to coauthor this editorial on how starchy, low-fat diets reverse insulin resistance!
Lately, many people have been claiming that fish is health food. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association urge people to eat fish. Yet if people follow that advice, they’ll still be at risk for heart disease and diabetes and they might increase their risk for cancer. The omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil can end up in the fatty deposits that clog people’s arteries. Like other fats, they promote insulin resistance. Also, eating too much omega 3 fatty acid could promote cancer by suppressing the immune system.
During the Siege of Paris in 1870, a French pharmacist named Bauchardat noticed that the health of diabetics was improving while everyone else was suffering as a result of food shortages. That’s because the most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, which the French call diabète gras, or fat diabetes. Type 2 diabetes represents the body’s attempts to resist gaining too much weight on a fattening diet. If the weight gain is solved by eating fewer calories, then the type 2 diabetes improves.
World War I provided insight into another way to deal with type 2 diabetes. Even though Denmark was neutral during the war, its grain supply had been cut in half by the Atlantic Blockade. To prevent the grain shortages from causing widespread starvation in Denmark, the Danish government developed a rationing plan. Instead of people feeding the available grain to animals and then eating the animals, the government decreed that most of the food animals should be slaughtered immediately and the grain be fed directly to the people. It also decreed that grain should not be used to make alcohol. The Danes could eat as much bread and potatoes and cabbage as they wanted; but their intake of meats, fats, and alcohol was severely restricted. Not only did this rationing plan prevent starvation, it improved the overall health of the Danish population so much that Denmark enjoyed the lowest recorded death rate in its history.
I don’t know how much of the lower mortality in Denmark during the war was due to a decrease in the rate of diabetes specifically and how much to a lower risk of heart attack or stroke among nondiabetics. All of those diseases result from the same cause, which is a rich, fatty diet. Fortunately, I do have data on how wartime rationing affected the risk of death from diabetes in England and Wales during the first half of the twentieth century.
Notice that the risk of diabetes went up during times of peace and prosperity and dropped like a stone during wartime rationing. It stayed low during the Great Depression, when many people simply couldn’t afford to overeat. The effect of dietary changes was so powerful that it completely obscured the impact of the introduction of insulin therapy in the early 1920s. That’s because the most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, which results from eating a fattening diet. Less than 10% of diabetes cases result from failure of the pancreas to produce insulin.
Low-carb gurus keep telling me that a diet based on grains causes obesity and diabetes. It’s true that the low-carb diets seem to provide some short-term benefit for diabetics. Depriving a person of carbohydrates does make high blood sugar go down immediately, even if makes the diabetes worse in the long run. If the low-carb diet suppresses the person’s appetite enough to cause weight loss, the diabetes could improve. However, this improvement would be due to weight loss, not to eating fat and protein instead of carbohydrates. At the same time, the low-carb diets provide an overload of fat and protein, which is particularly bad for people with diabetes because they are so prone to heart and kidney problems. The heavy load of animal protein in low-carb diets would also promote osteoporosis and cancer, but those problems might not show up immediately.
The low-carb gurus ignore an obvious fact: diabetes and many other chronic diseases are rare in populations that eat a diet that’s heavily based on grains or other starchy staples, such as potatoes. Diabetes is common only in societies that base their diet heavily on animal products. When a population shifts from an animal-based diet to a diet based on grains and other starchy staples, such as potatoes, the rates of obesity and diabetes come tumbling down. Fortunately, there doesn’t have to be a war for people to make this change in diet. It only takes awareness and a new set of recipes.
The good news is that we don’t need to starve ourselves or suffer the horrors of war to cure type 2 diabetes. All we need to do is go ape, go wild, and eat plants. Peace on earth!
Photo by Kylie_Jaxxon
Note: In my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, I explain why a high-carbohydrate diet is good for people with any kind of diabetes.
Yes, you can reverse type 2 diabetes if you starve yourself. In fact, a medically supervised water-only fast can be a useful way to manage many different kinds of diet-related diseases. Fortunately, you do not have to starve yourself to reverse your type 2 diabetes. Instead, you could simply eat a low-fat, plant-based diet—like the populations that don’t get type 2 diabetes to begin with.
In June of 2011, some researchers from Britain published the results of a trial in which people with type 2 diabetes who went on a starvation diet (600 calories per day) ended up with normal fasting blood sugar levels. To me, that is not news. By 1841, a French pharmacist named Apollinaire Bauchardat was recommending that patients with what we now call type 2 diabetes should eat as little as possible and that they should fast occasionally to bring down their blood sugar. Since then, however, diabetes researchers have learned that it’s possible to reverse type 2 diabetes without such severe calorie restriction. In fact, I think that it’s better to teach people the diet that will enable them to cure their type 2 diabetes within a couple of weeks without limiting their food intake than to set them on a course of yo-yo dieting and possible eating disorders.
Bouchardat was one of the first clinicians to put patients in charge of monitoring their own diabetes. At first, his patients did this by keeping track of what they ate and tasting their urine to see how sweet it became. Later, Bauchardat worked out a chemical test to detect sugar in urine. From monitoring the sugar content of the urine, Bauchardat showed that when people with diabetes ate sugars or starches, large amounts of sugar passed into their urine. The sugar in the urine reflected high blood glucose levels. However, the problem in type 2 diabetes is not that the person is eating carbohydrates, it’s that the body has become resistant to the hormone insulin.
Starting in the 1930s, scientists started to realize that fatty diets made the body less sensitive to insulin, and that this insulin insensitivity was the underlying cause of the high blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. People who went on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet rapidly became more responsive to insulin.
Starting in the 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner at Duke University reported astonishing success in reversing type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications with a diet based entirely on rice and fruit. Patients who found that they were losing too much weight on that low-fat diet were encouraged to add pure white sugar to get more calories. In Kempner’s report of 100 patients with diabetes who were fed his high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet, most of the patients decreased their insulin doses and many discontinued taking insulin. (It’s likely that some of the patients had type 1 diabetes and therefore would need to keep taking insulin for the rest of their lives.)
The American Diabetes Association currently recommends that people with type 2 diabetes eat limited portions of foods from all of the four food groups. In 2006, however, a clinical trial showed that the people who were randomly assigned to eat as much as they liked of low-fat, unrefined plant foods (75% carbohydrate by calorie) found it easier to stick to their diet, lost more weight, and made faster progress in reversing their diabetes than did the people who were randomly assigned to follow the ADA’s recommendations.
Note: In my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, I explain the relationship between body weight and blood sugar. French doctors have always used the term fat diabetes (diabètes maigre) to refer to the relative mild form of diabetes that occurs in people who are at least a little bit overweight and that goes away if they lose weight. Fat diabetes is the body’s way to avoid storing too much of the fat from a fatty diet. If you have fat diabetes, it means that you are a naturally thin person. It means that your body is willing to sacrifice everything—your feet, your eyesight, your kidneys, and even your life—to keep you from gaining any more weight. The solution to this problem is to switch to a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet. This diet reverses type 2 diabetes and is also good for people with thin diabetes (type 1 diabetes).
There’s a huge disconnect between what scientists know about diet and what ordinary people are being taught about diet. Most people seem to think that people get diabetes from eating too much sugar or starch. However, the scientists who wrote this article seem to think that it’s common knowledge, at least among scientists, that people get type 2 diabetes from eating too much fat.
Note: To learn how fatty diets cause blood sugar problems, read my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.
Have you ever seen an obese wild animal? Look at these wildebeests in Krüger National Park in South Africa. There’s no cellulite on their thighs! Wildebeest weigh only 40 pounds at birth, but then they gain weight rapidly. By the time they’re a year old, they weigh about 200 pounds. The females reach a peak weight of about 350 pounds at 4 years of age. The males peak at 500 pounds at 5 years of age. Yet after that, their weight stays remarkably stable. Why do they stop gaining weight? Since they don’t start counting calories or taking step aerobics classes in adulthood, they must have some built-in mechanisms that regulate their weight naturally. Do humans also have in-born weight-control mechanisms? If so, why have so many people been getting so fat lately?
To keep our body weight at a normal level, we are told to engage in unnatural behaviors. We’re told to eat less and move more. Yet wild animals never limit their food portions, and they do only the amount of activity they feel like doing. I think that their secret for staying slim is that they eat the kind of food that is appropriate for their species. If you trapped some wildebeest in a pen and fed them a diet that was much richer in calories than what they ate in the wild, they’d probably get fat. That’s what has happened to human beings in industrialized societies. To cure our weight problems, we need to escape from our cubicles and start eating a more natural diet. Go play outside, and eat low-fat unrefined plant foods instead of eating animals and processed foods.
When you look at populations all over the world, you’ll notice that the people who eat a diet based on unrefined plant foods stay naturally slim and remarkably free of heart disease and diabetes and other chronic diseases. For many generations, most of the world’s population ate like that. Only the rich could afford to eat large servings of rich foods, such as meats and butter and honey, on a regular basis. As a result, only rich people suffered from obesity, gout, and atherosclerosis. Because of agricultural policies, those foods have now become cheap while fresh fruit and vegetables are still relatively expensive. As a result, the “diseases of affluence” are now a particular problem for poor people in the United States.
Photo by h.koppdelaney
Note: In my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2, you can learn more about how a low-fat, high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet helps people lose weight and reverses their type 2 diabetes.
Here is an interesting article that was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1949. It points out that type 2 diabetes is common in places where people eat a fatty, low-carb diet and rare in places where people eat a starchy, low-fat diet. When a population that had been eating a fatty diet switches to a starchy diet, such as under rationing in wartime, the number of people who die of complications of diabetes falls off dramatically. See the graph on page 324 to see the effects of rationing, economic slump, and the introduction of insulin therapy on the number of people who died of diabetes in England and Wales in the early 20th century.
The author pointed out that you can see the same relationship between high fat consumption and deaths from diabetes all over the world:
There thus seems to be a universal relation between diet and diabetic mortality. The dietetic factor most closely related is fat consumption.
It may seem odd that the introduction of insulin therapy didn’t make a dent in the graph. That’s because most people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which used to be called non–insulin-dependent diabetes. You’d see a different picture if you looked at a graph of deaths from type 1 diabetes, which used to be called insulin-dependent diabetes.
Note: For a clear explanation of why high-carbohydrate diets are good for people with any type of diabetes, see my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 2, Cure Type 2.