Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors, so when he makes headlines, I often perk up.
I found it very brave of him when he publicly announced on the "Late Show with David Letterman" in October that he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The intriguing part for me was that he attributed his frequent extreme weight gains and losses for roles throughout his career as one of the factors that caused the onset.
The Oscar-winning actor of landmark films, including "Forrest Gump", "Philadelphia", and "Cast Away," told David Letterman he manages his condition through his diet. I have no idea of his medical history, and can only take what he said at face value. It is true that managing diet and weight are important to avoid developing Type 2 diabetes.
Hanks is a high profile individual, but certainly isn't in a league of his own when it comes to having and controlling diabetes.
More than 8%, slightly less than 19 million, of Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Another estimated 7 million people may have it and not know it. It’s the seventh leading cause of death in this country.
A new study by the International Diabetes Federation shows that one in 10 people worldwide will have diabetes by the year 2035. That means more than 592 million people will have the dangerous disease.
Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco are trying to find out if there is an optimum diet or food plan that people with Type 2 diabetes should be following.
The study will track adults online who are obese (body mass index of 25 and above) with Type 2 diabetes, and analyze the effects their meal plans have on their health in order to gain more insight into controlling the disease.
The online study will compare the results of a strict low-carb diet with a diet touted by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) called “Create Your Plate.” That plan focuses on portion control, including higher consumption of vegetables, foods high in fiber and small portions of meat and starches.
This particular study is looking into the possibility of a low-carbohydrate diet as a healthy or healthier food choice for Type 2 diabetics. “The main reason is there seems to be some good evidence that low-carb is especially helpful for people with diabetes,” said lead researcher Laura Saslow, Ph.D.
The "Create Your Plate" diet forces individuals to divide their meals into three parts by separating the entire portion in half and then splitting one of those portions in two. People are encouraged to fill the largest portion with vegetables and the two smaller portions with proteins, small servings of carbohydrates and sides of fruit or yogurt.
One of the major differences in that diet is that it requires people to limit foods that may be difficult to reduce while sticking to a low-carb diet that eliminates a whole group of foods altogether, Saslow said.
“The American Diabetes Association Diet you generally have to moderate what you’re eating, so you can have a doughnut, but you can only eat a very small amount of a doughnut. Well on the low carb diet, you can be like, 'I don’t eat doughnuts.' Therefore, it’s somewhat easier to stay on the diet.”
Sample low-carb meal options could look like this:
· Breakfast: Bacon and eggs with side of avocado or sour cream.
· Lunch and dinner: Salmon or proteins like turkey, chicken or beef with a large salad or greens, including broccoli, green beans or spinach cooked in butter and topped with cheese.
Saslow says there are countless online recipes to convert just about any food, from waffles to lasagna, into a low-carb alternative.
While the ADA diet is beneficial, researchers want to explore anecdotal evidence that low-carb meals might work better for people with Type 2 diabetes. There is a connection between the disease and the consumption of high-glycemic foods that includes sugar and carbohydrates, making it harder for people with diabetes to control blood sugar levels.
Since carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels, the study seeks to determine what would happen if a person with Type 2 diabetes significantly lowered their overall carbohydrate intake.
“It’s probably helpful for people with diabetes. Generally, the fewer carbs you eat, the lower your blood sugar levels and that’s beneficial for people with diabetes whose bodies don’t seem to handle high levels of blood sugar very well,” Saslow said.
Surprisingly, until now, low-carb diets and diabetes haven’t been studied in great detail, according to Saslow.
Researchers are not trying to discredit any one diet. In fact, the ADA diet is part of the study because it’s a healthy meal plan to follow.
The study is also looking at low-carb diets to help the subjects lose and maintain healthier weights.
Saslow says there is a lack of data on low-carb diets and their effect on diabetes. Early results of the University of California study are promising, which is why they’re trying to expand it nationally.
Although the study does not suggest abstaining from taking diabetes medications, it could be a possibility for controlling the disease. “I have read a lot of forums online of people with Type 2 diabetes going on a low-carb diet independent of research, and they talk about getting off meds and feeling great,” said Saslow.
There are several noninsulin, Type 2 diabetes medications on the market, but some carry dangerous risks.
Studies have linked Tradjenta, manufactured by Boehringer Ingleheim and Eli Lilly to pancreatic cancer. Actos, by Takeda Pharmaceuticals, also has been linked to bladder cancer and heart failure. Other studies show Victoza, manufactured by Novo Nordisk, can develop pancreatitis, kidney problems and thyroid tumors in those who take the medication.
“It’s very exciting. It feels very thrilling to take care of your health on your own without having to take medication.” Saslow added, “I’m not anti-medication but if you can do it through diet and stay healthy, why not?”
Participants of the study will learn nutritional changes to help them eat more mindfully, and coping techniques that would help participants deal with stress.
Interested in Participating in the Study?
You can take a survey at succeedstudy.org, but researchers are looking for people who meet these basic requirements:
· Must be age 18 or older
· Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes
· BMI of 25 and above
· HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin) greater than 6.5 percent
· Not insulin-dependent or on any other diabetes medication, besides metformin