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Diabetics, Put That Burger Down!


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

July 12, 2001 -- Frequently substituting soy products for burgers, steaks, chicken, and other meat dishes may help reverse or slow the development of type 2 diabetes.

But meat lovers, don't fear. You don't have to permanently sideline the sirloin or become a vegetarian to see dramatic differences in your diabetic condition, says Greg Arsenis, MD.

"This is an everyday, palatable diet," says Arsenis, of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bay Pines, Fla. "Overall, people came back and said they liked it, and that was the intent -- we wanted them to like vegetables."

For six months, 51 people with type 2 diabetes were instructed to restrict their consumption of meats, eggs, and other animal proteins to once every other day. They also restricted their sugar intake. Vegetable proteins such as legumes and soy replaced the animal protein in their diet.

Arsenis and colleagues helped keep patients motivated by providing low-fat vegetarian recipes, menu suggestions and tips on where to go for more information on vegetable protein sources.

After six months, levels of hemoglobin A1C -- which reveal how high the blood sugar has been over a period of several weeks -- were an average of 30% lower in the 31 patients who stuck with the diet. Also, their total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol dropped nearly one-third, while their "good" HDL cholesterol increased 10%.

Three people were able to cut their need for insulin in half. Four patients no longer needed sugar-lowering pills. And six people with high cholesterol lowered their blood cholesterol enough to be able to stop taking at least some of their cholesterol-lowering medication.

The 20 people who didn't stick with the diet saw no improvement in their diabetes symptoms.

Cutting back on animal products and sugar may not cure diabetes, but this study indicates the diet change helps insulin and/or sugar-lowering pills work better and can keep blood sugar levels in a near-normal state, Arsenis says.

"What we are doing with this diet is supporting the medication because some people ... have damage to their pancreas already and have to be on insulin. You cannot replace the insulin with the diet, but the diet is an essential component to controlling metabolism," he says.

"It certainly sounds like a good diet and one I would probably be willing to recommend ... if it's the kind of diet I am envisioning," says diabetes expert Noah Kromholz, MD, who reviewed the study for WebMD.

The biggest problem is getting people to stick with it, says Kromholz, who is chief of the division of endocrinology at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y.

He says he'd like to see follow-up data showing that people on the diet therapy are continuing to show improvement in their diabetes indicators over time. Arsenis tells WebMD his group is continuing to follow the patients for this purpose.

Approximately 90% of all people with diabetes have type 2. About 50% of them require oral medications or insulin to regulate their blood sugar.

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People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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