Reversing Diabetes – Holiday Hurdles and Looking Ahead to a fresh New Year

  • Start Date of Whole Foods, Plant Based Diet, -SOS: Nov 17, 2019
  • Fasting Blood Sugar: 9.3 (originally 10.5)
    Blood Pressure 122/83
    Weight: -17 lbs

Hey everyone! I was hoping to do a week-by-week update (I DO have every last detail documented in my trusty bedside notebook) but the holidays were fast approaching and time just ran away. So instead of Week 3 in order — we jump ahead to the holidays and the end of the year.

I am not going to lie – it has been a challenge for me to eat whole-food plant-based salt-free, oil-free, sugar-free (SOS) and alcohol-free for Christmas for the first time. I have celebrated a vegan Christmas before, but it included processed vegan food (like tofurky) which now, no longer fits into my lifestyle. Temptation to eat anything and say “just for the holidays” is extremely high.

While sorting the stocking stuffers, I came face-to-face with Lindor chocolate balls (I’m sure just one won’t hurt). I had three. 

The cheese tray was another temptation. I spent a small fortune on the “good” artisanal vegan cheese, but even that is processed, as are the crackers, albeit whole grain.  

Sparkling wine. 

Cooking for my family didn’t help. As supportive as they are, they would feel 100% deprived if I didn’t roast a turkey or provide the traditional Christmas dinner they grew up with. Holiday meals are extremely emotional. Even though I know eating plant-based is the healthiest way, I can’t force my kids into it – I have to respect their choices and try to lead by example. So there was turkey and creamy mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted veggies sprinkled with parmesan and sweet cranberry sauce, followed by the traditional white chocolate cheesecake. 

In a nutshell, I tried my best, but was not 100 per cent compliant and my glucose levels show it. Before Christmas, I was on a steady (positive!) decline with blood glucose levels, moving from the first all-time high reading of 10.5 down through the 9’s, 8’s and was in the 7’s in the morning and much lower after exercising. Now, I’m back in the 9’s.

What would I do differently the next time?

1. Reframe my thoughts – I am not depriving myself. I am choosing to eat food in its most natural state to maximize my health. This is not drastic. What is drastic is going blind or losing a limb or having to go on dialysis from diabetes complications. Drastic is heart surgery to open clogged arteries, or worse a heart attack or stroke. Eating fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables is a gift and nature’s best medicine. 

2. Prepare more delicious WFPB options that avoid salt, sugar and oil for the “charcuterie board” and for the dinner table. This may takes a bit more planning, but I know that had I more options to select from, I would have chosen the healthier ones. The other part of this is to make healthier versions of the traditional holiday foods. Instead of potatoes mashed with butter and sour cream or buttermilk, make mashed potatoes with potatoes, steamed cauliflower and plant-milk. Use more herbs instead of salt. Take a super healthy option to pot-lucks.

3. Stock up on flavoured sparkling water (eg/ La Croix and others), herbal teas, assorted coffee and tea options to avoid sugary drinks and alcohol. Make interesting mocktails with real flavours from juicer (ginger, lemon, fruits). Throw a couple of raspberries or pomegranate seeds into your sparkling water to make it more festive.

4. Learn to make an amazing “main” like a “Mushroom wellington” such as this one from BOSH, which could eliminate the roast turkey, or at least offer another option:  https://www.bosh.tv/recipes/portobello-mushroom-wellington

4. Dessert – fruit, fruit and more fruit. Figs and dates. Good dark chocolate. A few nuts. 

5. Eat like our great-grandparents did.

I can’t beat myself up – it’s a learning process. The holidays are almost over with the new year and fresh start just over the hill. 

 

Reversing Diabetes – Week 2 – Salad is King

 Fasting Blood Sugar: 8.2 (originally 10.5)
Blood Pressure 122/84
Weight: -2 lbs. (Total -8)

Week 2 and my fasting blood sugar is down 2 points from last week!  Blood pressure is closer to a normal reading and there are a few days when it is even a little lower than normal (104/79; 110/85). Perhaps a happy side effect may be to reduce or even stop my blood pressure medication if this pattern keeps going.

Weight loss has slowed but it has been busy at work with days that I couldn’t get out for a walk, then got home late and was too tired to do anything but make dinner. It doesn’t help that it’s late fall and it gets dark outside by 5 pm and it’s cold. But these are excuses, yes? If this is to be a lifestyle then I have to do whatever it takes to be active every day, even if I just march on the spot while I’m cooking. Anything.

In terms of meals, this week was all about the giant salad. It doesn’t matter whether for lunch or dinner, but imperative at least once a day.  Leafy greens are at the top of the nutritional heap – low in calories but packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Any combination of the following greens work as the base for every salad: curly or lacinato kale, Swiss chard, Boston lettuce, leaf lettuce, Romaine lettuce, arugula, spring mix, baby spinach, watercress or microgreens plus parsley or cilantro or other fresh herbs. My fridge is bursting with greens.

To this base, I add the rainbow with as many colourful additions as possible in creative variations from day to day: avocado, cherry tomatoes, celery, chopped red cabbage, cucumber, thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts, red, green and yellow bell peppers, carrots, beets (grated or roasted), thin jalapeno slices, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, red or green onions, snow peas, sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, radishes.

While fruit in salad is a personal preference, I love it and mix things up by adding orange or mandarin segments, diced mango, diced apple, diced pears, kiwi, blueberries, strawberries or pomegranate arils. 

If I add fruit, I’ll also add nuts (walnuts or almonds usually), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or hemp seeds.

Dressings are tricky when not using oil. I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of seasoned vinegars, lime and lemon juice combinations and creamy dressings made with blended soaked cashews or tahini. Recipes to come! 

 

Reversing Diabetes – Week 1 – Focus on Breakfast

Fasting Blood Sugar: 10.2 (originally 10.5)
Blood Pressure 126/92
Weight: -6 lbs. (Total -6)

This first week has been more of an orientation than anything else. I am not following any one particular program, but crafting my own based on guidelines suggested by the plant-based medical advocates mentioned in my last post.  The underlying tenet is that I am eating a low fat, high-carb diet that is mostly fruits and vegetables, raw and cooked, some whole grains, plus a handful of nuts and seeds every day.  I am not counting calories and while aiming for selections with a lower glycemic-load, I am not excluding starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn or squash. I am avoiding all meat, dairy, processed food and oil. 

So far, so good — A week in, my blood sugar tests fractionally better.  At least it’s going down. Blood pressure is also marginally better than usual for me. The highlight is the six-pound weight loss this week.

So what does breakfast look like?

  • Steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts
  • Bowl of mixed berries and a banana
  • Whole grain toast with avocado, cucumber and tomato slices
  • Green smoothies

Hail to the Green Smoothie as this has quickly become my go-to breakfast, especially when I’m rushing. It’s faster than juicing,  nutritious, easy to throw together and I can drink it in the car.  Because the whole food is blended, the fibre remains intact and for diabetics, fibre — particularly soluble fibre — slows the absorption of sugar and helps improve blood sugar levels. 

There are four main steps when layering up the ingredients into the high-speed blender, from bottom to top:

  1. Liquids (eg: unsweetened plant milk, coconut water, filtered water)
  2. Fresh Solids (eg: banana, kiwi, spinach, chard, kale)
  3. Frozen Layer: (eg: frozen berries, peaches, pineapple, mango)
  4. Super Food additions: (eg: ground flax seed, hemp seed, chia, moringa or amla powder, spirulina)

If I wake up with no appetite,  I just have water with lemon, then nothing until lunch. I’m trying to only eat when I’m hungry, and only until I’m satiated, not stuffed.

Finally, exercise — I have started walking every day and if I can’t walk, I jump on my Bellicon rebounder and try to close the three movement rings on my Apple watch. So far, I’ve been most successful on weekends when I have time to walk further or be more active throughout the day. Goal for next week: try to move more at work.

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes without drugs

The results are in.  As suspected, my  November 17, 2019 blood test results thrust me into diabetes range. My fasting glucose measured 10.8 (anything greater than 7.0 mmol/L after an 8-hour fast can be used as a provisional diagnosis of diabetes mellitus). My Hemoglobin A1C level was 9.2 (anything greater than 6.5 indicates diabetes).

Even though I knew the results would be higher than normal, I was hopeful that I’d remain “pre-diabetic”.  Now, there it was in black-and-white and I was gripped with the fear of possible complications: heart attack, kidney disease, dialysis, blindness, amputated limbs… How did this happen? More importantly, how to fix it?

A huge fan of health-and-lifestyle documentaries and literature, I have come to know those who are prominently involved in promoting nutrition as medicine: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease). Dr. Colin Campbell (The China Study). Dr. Dean Ornish (Program for Reversing Heart Disease). Dr. Neil Barnard (Program for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs). Dr. Joel Fuhrman (Eat to Live; The End of Diabetes) and Dr. Michael Greger (NutritionFacts.org).  There’s also Robby Barbaro and Cyrus Khambatta co-founders of the Mastering Diabetes program. ALL of these pioneers advocate whole-food plant-based nutrition for optimal health.

The information they collectively provide points to study after study after study: a low-fat whole-food plant-based diet may prevent and even reverse certain health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. I know in my own heart that I have to try it.  The last thing I want is more medication – starting with the traditional metformin – as I am already taking an anti-coagulant and rate drug for atrial fibrillation, plus a heart pressure pill. My doctor has agreed to let me try nutrition and lifestyle changes first. I must monitor my blood glucose with a glucose meter at home. If the numbers rise consistently, I will have to take the drug. Otherwise, I will check in with another blood test in three months.

The plan, then, is to eat a low-fat, whole-food plant based diet. This means:

  • No animal products including eggs and dairy
  • No processed foods, even if they are vegan
  • No added sugar, salt or oil
  • No alcohol, fruit juice or caffeine

I think I can do all of these things except the caffeine. One cup should be OK. 

I also need to add exercise to my sedentary day, where it’s not impossible to sit 8 to 10 hours at my desk job.  My goal is a minimum of one hour of exercise every day, even if the best I can do is a brisk walk.

While it all may sound a bit daunting, I’m very motivated here at the start. Is this sustainable over time? Will this work at all? I will be tracking my efforts here on the blog.

 

 

 

Type 2 Diabetes?

I have a requisition in my hand for a blood test to see whether I have developed Type II diabetes. I’m pretty sure it will be positive. I was teetering very closely on the pre-diabetes/diabetes borderline just as I started a plant-based lifestyle a few years back. The numbers went down. I lost weight. Then I started planning a trip to the other side of the world, to see my daughter in New Zealand. I wanted to be able to eat everything and not limit myself.  Adventurous foodie won over the sick foodie. Unfortunately, I never went back to fully plant-based when I came home. I just continued to gain weight and lose energy and then gained even more weight. 

I am obese now.  Sluggish. Tired. Red-faced. Breathless. I look like I’m expecting twins and have no muscles, anywhere–classic signs of insulin resistance.  I’m feeling cramps in my legs at night. I can never close the rings on my iWatch. My toes are numb. My vision seems to blur at times, especially in the morning. 

I know I need to recommit to whole-food plant-based eating.  Will that be enough to reverse Type 2 Diabetes? 

The Path to Wellness

Welcome to HeartBeets! Finally, my own little niche online, to document my efforts to get healthier, to find more balance, to find joy.

We live in a harried society, one where we have to make an appointment just to find our own breath. Eating out more than in, we dine on convenience that comes loaded with salt, sugar and fat.  We are toxic. We drink. We smoke. We sit. We sit. We sit.

We are sick. We are overweight, overworked, in debt, stressed and unhappy. Spending on prescription meds in the United States is expected to reach $610 billion by 2021 according to QuintilesIMS Holding, a company which compiles data for the pharmaceutical industry. It’s estimated that pharmaceutical drugs, including prescriptions, are the second biggest health care cost in Canada — 16 per cent of health care spending — and the fastest growing.

Who isn’t taking a yoga class or learning to meditate? We’re trying to cleanse and detox, adding handfuls of greens and tossing back shots of turmeric and ginger. There is more paralyzing indecision than ever – about everything, but especially our health.

I want to explore the lifestyle choices that we are faced with and to share my findings with you.

My place is called HeartBeets because part of my plan is the transition to a whole-food plant based diet with an eye towards better heart health — something I will write more about in later posts.  Stay tuned!

Heart beets