Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diabetes and the Vegan Diet: What do you think?

I was wandering around Barnes & Noble today when I came upon a book called Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, and I became curious about it. Despite its chick-lit-esque cover and title, this is pretty much a vegan/raw foods cookbook. It's apparently the sequel to a book called Skinny Bitch. This is where things get complicated in my mind.

Did the authors of this book intend to at least make the habits of the typically American obsessed dieter more healthy? Or are they saying a veggie lifestyle is the only diet that will really make you thinner and healthier? The book description of Skinny Bitch on Amazon.com tells us this is a book that "encourages women to get excited about feeling 'clean, pure and energized'". I'm not sure about you, but I typically feel "clean, pure and energized" after a shower, not necessarily always after a meal, no matter how healthy.

One of the authors of this book has a Master's Degree in Holistic Nutrition, and that title alone, I think, should cause many diabetics to bristle. How many websites are there devoted to "Noni Juice Cures" or what have you?

I'm concerned that this book exists in such a mainstream way. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with healthy eating, and I'm definitely not saying we should just eat whatever overprocessed junk we feel like every single day. I just think that being a vegetarian/vegan/raw food kind of person is not the best choice for everyone out there.

I would be a very unhappy camper to be without cheese, yogurt, chicken, steak, even burgers. And I would be even more unhappy if I couldn't eat anything cooked.

I have a friend who is into constantly modifying her diet, but it hasn't helped her feel less stressed, and it hasn't solved her thyroid issues. It gives her a feeling of control over something, and also, she generally thinks meat is disgusting as a matter of taste. But I just want to yell at her sometimes. She does those juice fasts and colon cleanses once in a while, and I just don't think there's anything healthy about that at all. But she hears they're "Soooo good for you."

Studies have shown that a vegan diet can be helpful for some Type 2's, but you know they had to be carefully monitored and unfamiliar with the vegan lifestyle. If a doctor said that vegans always eat healthy, they probably tried to eat as healthy as possible. But you could eat nothing but potato chips fried in sunflower oil. You could still have a regular Coke (assuming that has no animal products in it). I'm sure vegan-friendly baked goods aren't exactly devoid of calories and fat either. I think you see what I'm trying to say here.

Now, somehow I discover that a documentary is set to release next year, called Raw for 30 Days. "Can a diabetic thrive without insulin and other drugs?" asks the website. "Can diabetes be reversed or cured with a diet?" Type 1s and LADAs, let's stand up and yell it, all together now:


Well, not for us anyway. Dead islet cells are dead islet cells. I hope if this documentary gets big that someone involved with its production has the cojones to tell us that. By reading the synopsis of the movie, I'm sure all the participants improve by the end of the film. It's unclear what type they have, but giving up the comforts of home and the stress of family for 30 days gives you a LOT of time to focus on yourself and your diabetes. I'm sure there is time allotted for everyone to exercise and all their food is healthy food. I'll bet everyone's A1C's are better by the end of the month. If I had that kind of time with no unexpected crisis or diversion, I'm sure I'd be pretty damn healthy too.

I feel like I've made some kind of very roundabout point here. I guess my main point is that I'm a little afraid of those who are so militant about dietary extremes curing disease or obesity.

Trust me, I've seen some unhealthy looking vegans in the past few years. Explain to me how a 22-year-old vegan who doesn't drink and is fairly bony-looking can have a potbelly. Really.

But mostly, I'm afraid of the wide release of a documentary that could be misleading to many people out there with diabetes--people who think a change in their diet will be the only thing they ever need to get back to normal.

Face it, D-Friends, sometimes we're just going to need that medication. And always, some of us are going to need that insulin...until they find a real, medical cure.


  1. You rock! I'm loving this post for so many reasons.
    -showers: way better/less scary than diets for feeling clean and happy. way better. and um, can we think about all the intense issues involved about feeling clean/dirty after eating?
    -NO!!! NO NO NO!! NO to the g-mail ads i get saying "diabetes is curable (99% type 2 and 66% type 1)"! NO to the PETA dude who harasses me every thursday morning, telling me he knows more about what's good for my body than me, who tests it's blood 10-14 times a day (and was almost vegetarian until recent months of messed up blood sugars, making protein in all forms the easiest thing to deal with). NO to the nurse who told me I wouldn't be diabetic if I had just been breastfed (I was). NO!!
    -and really, i think a lot of this "health" stuff, especially vegan stuff and other strict diets, are not necessarily about health. restricting and obsessing about food in that way (unless you have a specific reason, like say, diabetes) i don't think is so healthy, mentally OR physically. and its a bullshit cover-up to say its about health when it's about so many other things (skinniness, class, "purity", control issues both personal and societal). i too know a lot of vegans who ate pretty unhealthfully in different ways (only junk food, not enough food). i think some people & the earth would benefit from eating some more vegan foods, but not necessarily ALL vegan ALL the time. and not all of us have the same bodies so this universal "THIS IS WHATS BEST" for everyone is bs.
    -i have had some delicious fatty indulgent vegan treats. that were really sugary, even more so than non-vegan (but they were yummy!!!)

    woo, sorry, that got a little long... but this post made me excited.

  2. Its amazing how focused many people are on their own frame of mind. I lived with a vegan woman for about 5 years, and this woman was certainly educated, she had a PhD and had attended some of the best schools in New England and California, yet when I moved in with her and mentioned I had diabetes, she went into a diatribe about how I could have prevented it and most certainly could stop taking insulin.

    At that point, I screamed to interrupt her (she was speaking without even realizing that I was there) "Can you tell me the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?!?!".

    Once the room became quiet, it became apparent that the woman did not understand that one was an autoimmune disease with an etiology similar to multiple sclerosis, while the origins of type 2 were less clear except that they were not the same disease. She apologized for her ignorance, and said she would be certain never to make that mistake again.

    To be sure, there is evidence that a vegetarian diet has significant health benefits (mostly from eliminating red meats) but it IS a choice. Humans are designed as omnivores and to imply otherwise is to ignore basic biology. But it is surprising within this group of supposedly nutritionally educated people just how widespread the ignorance about diabetes really is. Many diet recommendations among vegans are heavy in carbs, although they also have a significantly higher fiber content. But when all is said and done, I suppose we'll be carrying that baggage of societal ignorance around for a long time.

  3. Preach, on, sista! I hear a poem diatribe comin'....
    my dad's asshole wife told me (as a child with type 1) that i should stop taking insulin and eat just greens and millet seeds. She tried to convince my dad of it, too. She is one of those vegan types who does it in spurts then complains to me about how the McDonalds burgers on the big billboard make the burgers look so big, but they're really small.

    My ex-boyfriend's brother was a vegetarian who ate cheese pizza and doritos and finally went back to meat after his holier than thou attitude faded and the man realized he was better off eating some damn turkey instead of tofurkey at thanksgiving.

    i don't fault anyone for being vegan or vegetarian, but this kind of shit drives me nuts!

  4. The Vegan diet is a great way to ruin your health because it usually ends up meaning that you eat a ton of soy.

    Anyone who still thinks soy is health food needs to read, "The Whole Soy Story" a book that is as densely documented as Taubes' new diet book and which proves conclusively that soy is really bad for you.

  5. A vegan diet will certainly not cure Type 1 diabetes. We all know this.

    However, I was a vegan from age 9 to age 20, then "fell off the wagon." I thought it would be great to indulge in meats and cheese aka "freebies." I proceeded to see my blood sugar continually skyrocket and my basals doubled.

    If I maintain a diet <20g fat/day (ANY fat, omega-3 and omega-6, too), my insulin needs plummet. If I go above this level for more than a day or two, I'm running in the 180s on basals that previously worked perfectly. This is why I'm dedicated to being a low-fat vegan again, and why I feel *so* much better on it.

    Just because there are some wackos who claim diets can reverse irreversible illnesses, doesn't mean that diet can't cause big improvements in our overall health. If I can get great numbers with half as much insulin and feel good, what's the downside to that?

  6. BDM--Glad to know that my little ramble struck a chord.

    Scott--Great input!

    Amylia--That's exactly what this post is about, I think. If this documentary comes out, more whackjob strangers will be telling me I can be completely cured if I just eat in a certain way. I believe that maybe some diets would be pretty healthy, but I know I can't make type 1 diabetes go away no matter how much millet I chow down on.

    Jenny--Mmm, soy. In moderation, of course. Actually, the most soy I eat is the occasion dish at the Chinese buffet or a bowl of Miso soup.

    Marina--Really, I'm with you...I know a vegan/veggie lifestyle isn't for me, but I can see that it would have definite benefits if handled correctly. I'm just afraid of the extremist points-of-view telling those of us who are insulin-dependent that we can eliminate insulin from our lives forever if we only eat [insert helpful veggies here].

  7. Anonymous4:41 AM

    Hi all, I have just read the first "Skinny Bitch" book,and I can't remember seeing anywhere in it that a vegan diet can cure Type 1 diabetes.

    Then I noticed a lot of you took the opportunity to engage in a bit of vegan-bashing! Goodness me. A vegan diet is not all about weight and health of humans, it's about compassion. It's about acknowledging the suffering of our kindred creatures, and refusing to support that.

    The authors of this book are not targeting diabetes sufferers, nor do they seem to be saying that a vegan diet is some sort of panacea. In fact, they go a long way towards simply educating people about the crap they eat.

    I am a vegan, and I am not skinny. I am not overweight though either. I am a healthy weight, I have blood tests at the behest of my doctor every year, and all my nutrient levels are fine. we certainly are omnivores, but that does not mean we cannot survive without animal foods. A well-balanced and sensible vegan diet supplies all nutrients except for B12, which should be supplemented. (B12 deficiency is also common in seniors, who eat meat, due to declining absorption ability in the intestines.. so therefore not restricted to vegans).

    I had a vegan Christmas, and it was lovely knowing that I personally did not contribute to the horrors of factory farming. I feel full and satisfied after Christmas dinner, and never hanker for that revolting sick feeling I used to get after eating meat and dairy.

    Try a few healthy vegan meals a week. It won't kill you. :)

  8. Anonymous4:47 AM

    Oh yeah, one last comment for Jenny... I hardly eat any soy, vegan does not equal massive amounts of soy. I don't like soy much. I do like quinoa though. You like to read about nutrition? Read The China Study. Happy reading. :)

  9. i am a closet type I for exactly these reasons - everyone thinks they know best. then when you visit your endocrinologist, he'll usually say "you know your body better than I do" and he's the professional in the room! :) it used to shit me to tears when my gran would perpetually ask "can you eat that?" FUCK!! i know she just cares about me, but hell it's annoying. so now i just don't tell ANYONE.

    i think the diet misconception here stems from the people not knowing the difference between type I and II, as per scott's story, i.e. diabetics are fat bastards who ate shit all their life. sure, i'd probably feed them a vegan diet quick smart too :)

    so anyway... i understand the rage, but let's take a deep breath and all hold hands....

    ironically, i became a vegan through a long process of dietary investigation that was initiated BECAUSE I was diabetic. it's funny how little some people think about what they eat - people would say they eat no sugar and then dollop ketchup on everything in front of them. my reasons were initially health related (and part curiosity) when i ventured into vegetarianism. although nothing wrong with that, they are self-centered reasons - my reasons now are practicing non-harm towards other beings, and reducing my environmental impact - much better, non-selfish reasons :) but let's keep on topic... health wise, I am ideal weight, and in good shape and my endo loves me. in fact i like to think i'm the healthiest person in my office (on the outside anyway...) i cycle to work. i don't eat vegan muffins or soy ice cream, i eat WHOLE FOODS. you really can't lose on that one, veg or not. ignoring all other health studies, i'd hazard a guess that the average vegan would tend to eat more whole foods than the average joe just by virtue of this dietary choice.

    B12 is a little controversial still, but i'm not going into it here. since i have a fucked diabetic body, I take supplements anyway.

    like anon, i'd give you a little nudge to try it out for yourself, only through your own experience will you know. "diabetic experts" will never have the benefit of experiencing diabetes (unless they're unlucky!) to stop being jerks, but you can try being veg! you may even feel "clean, pure and energized". I know I do :) but i wholeheartedly advise against any dramatic, instantaneous diet change. i don't think i've seen anyone pull that off and sustain it, for any diet. your body, and it's magnificent, complex bacterial system, takes time to adjust to a new regime. push the pendulum to hard it will swing back.

  10. ... i also checked the trailer. at first it seemed to be about just Type II (which i could understand), but there are a couple of Type I in it.

    i read that fructose can be transfered without insulin to the cells. i can only think of this as a way to keep alive on a fruity diet sans-injection.

  11. Anonymous2:15 PM

    I can see and understand everyone's point of view. Here is mine, take it or leave it: I am 22 and have Type 1 diabetes. I have had it since I was 8. About as month ago, I decided to become a vegan for several reasons. One of them was to kind of do an experiment and see what happened with my blood sugars. I'll tell you what, my sugars have been incredible and I feel so so good. I have energy and I just feel... better. It's hard to explain. Of course I still take insulin (I am on a pump). I just have to take less. My body seems to absorb it better, so both my bolus and basal rates are lower. I'm guessing this is just kind of how my own body works, not necessarily others. So my point is, veganism is working for at least one person with type 1 diabetes. I'm sure it's not for everyone. If you are desperate to get your sugars down, give veganism a try, if only for a week :) Much love!

  12. Anonymous7:37 AM

    I am a type 1 diabetic and have been for 20 years. For 19 years I was what you call a "bad diabetic." I ate the typical crappy American diet full of red meat, processed snacks, etc. My blood sugars were never normal unless I starved myself or ran 10 miles everyday, but of course I felt too tired and just, umm, blah, for lack of a better word. I tried the high protein diet, the low-fat, the Mediterranean diet, the low calorie diet, vegetarian diet, etc. Well, I woke up one morning and decided I was going to finally take it a step further and try the vegan diet for at least one month. The first few days were hard temptation wise, but I felt like a new person within a week of being vegan. I had so much more energy, my blood sugar was normal, my hair and nails were getting stronger, my skin brighter. People were actually coming up to me and telling me how healthy I looked! The best part about the vegan diet with my diabetes is that I don't need to constantly worry about what is or isn't going to spike my blood sugar. I can eat whenever I want and as much as I want as long as it falls into the vegan food category. Of course I know what foods will cause a rise in my blood sugar (rice, bread, juice, etc.) but I never ate these anyway so doing without has been fairly simple. Anyway, I know to some this way of life seems nearly impossible but I think you should at least give it a try for a week or two before you classify us vegans as "freaks." I don't preach about it to every person I meet or obsess about vegan attire, etc. but I do choose to eat this way because my doctor's are amazed at the positive changes my body has made in only one month of being vegan. It's always nice to hear, "just keep doing what you're doing" when I leave the doctors office.

  13. check out the book "plant roots"

    -mark, type 1 diabetic

  14. Anonymous1:23 PM

    (i know you posted this years ago, but i just felt i needed to share) no offense, but nowhere in that book or any other vegan book (worth reading) does it claim that a vegan diet can cure TYPE 1 diabetes - that claim is almost exclusive to type 2 diabetics - and it's not bunk, either. type 2 diabetics can actually lose weight and mitigate insulin resistance by eating a diet of fruits, veggies, beans, seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains. and they can cut their risk of heart disease, and even reverse the effects of heart disease with that diet as well. type 1 diabetes is a different animal. as an autoimmune disease, so it's not curable - at least not yet. so take diabetese diet talk for what it normally is - a plug for type 2 diabetics who got the disease from having bad eating habits. as for myself, i've been vegan for three years and a type 1 diabetic for 20 - and i've never been healthier. after cutting out all animal products, my A1C dropped within the first year by over four points, my skin cleared up, my digestive upsets stopped and i lost all the extra weight i'd been carrying around. i also became more sensitive to insulin, so it didn't take as much to bring my sugars down after eating. i used to be lethargic after a meal, now i have so much energy i feel like i could run a marathon every day of the week. now i'm sure you can be perfectly healthy without going vegan - and i wouldn't suggest this lifestyle for everyone, as i know there are a lot of folks like you who can't imagine life without bacon cheeseburgers. but i think it's much harder to stick to diets that specify certain animal products over others (only going organic, for instance), and - ethically speaking - veganism is the way to go if you're at all concerned about animal rights. by the way, there are definitive studies out there linking the autoimmune trigger that leads to type 1 diabetes with dairy consumption, so that claim isn't entirely bunk either. i think a much worse claim to make is that meat and other animal products should be a regular part of your diet, whether you have diabetes or not. i've seen more evidence to the contrary than not, and if my own family history of health problems is any guide, an over-reliance on animal products and the diseases it's lead to have cut a lot of our lives short. and i've determined that my diet shouldn't be one that hurts me. going vegan is probably one of the best things i've done for my health and my diabetes, but i didn't do that by reading "skinny bitch" or going on a restrictive fad diet. i eased into it by gradually making changes i could stick with long term, and i did lots of research on proper nutrition before taking that leap. now that i've discovered all these benefits though, i'm never looking back!!!


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