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Treating, preventing diabetes involves nutritional changes

Staff writer

Diabetes takes a heavy toll on Kansas residents.

“We’ve always known that for the majority of Type 2 diabetics — minus just a few who have incredibly strong genetics — it’s a life-choice disease,” Marion physician Don Hodson said. “If you eat the standard American diet, you’re incredibly likely to get it.”

A diet high in simple carbohydrates such as sugar is a bad choice, Hodson said.

Complex carbohydrates are better but can be ruined by adding sugar.

“You can take all-bran cereal and add a lot of sugar to it and ruin it,” he said.

An effective way to combat diabetes is to eat a mostly whole food, plant-based diet, he said.

“It’s pretty hard to find a vegan diabetic,” he said. “Every plant has some sugar in it, but you’re never going to get diabetes from eating a whole-plant diet.”

A Mediterranean diet is healthy, and most Americans could tolerate it, Hodson said.

Hodson tells patients who diagnosed with diabetes that they would do well to cut down on eating meat.

“If you eat meat every day, how about every other day?” he asked. “If you eat it three or four times a week, how about once or twice a week?”

One dietary supplement is necessary for people who eat only plants, Hodson said.

“You have to take B12 if you are 100% vegan,” he said. “If you eat a piece of salmon once a month, you’d probably get enough B12 to make up for it.”

Heart disease and diabetes are so often related that a person who has a heart attack at age 40 or younger usually will be diagnosed with diabetes within a year.

“We wouldn’t have half of these things if we ate a better diet,” Hodson said.

Some insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, offer members access to Virta Health, a program intended to reverse diabetes.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is making Virta available to members in stages. It will be offered after a client’s annual renewal date.

The program is accessible online and provides continuous remote medical care for diabetes.

Virta is a nutritional therapy focused on changing what — not how much or how many calories — people eat.

Virta’s physicians de-prescribe diabetes medications only when patients are ready, saving costs and side effects

The program is not a quick fix. Patients often continue to eliminate medications like insulin beyond a year, but 55% achieve diabetes reversal by two years, Virta Health says.

“Most diabetes treatments focus on the symptom of high blood sugar,” Virta’s website says. “Virta focuses on the root cause to help restore your metabolic health.”

Virta’s nutrition therapy attempts to normalize blood sugar, reducing the need for medication.

“We fully support those who want to exercise, but it is not required to achieve diabetes reversal,” the website says.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 255,215 Kansans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and an additional 65,000 have diabetes but don’t know it.

Every year, 17,314 Kansans are diagnosed with diabetes, and 782,000 — 35.3% of the state’s population — have higher than normal blood glucose levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Diagnosed diabetes is estimated to cost $2.4 billion in Kansas each year.

Serious complications of diabetes include heart disease, stroke, amputation, end-stage kidney disease, blindness, and death.

The current definition of diabetes is a fasting glucose level of 126 or higher, or an A1C above 6.2.

Last modified March 15, 2023

 

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