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Traditional diet helps beat diabetes, says doctor
Eating a traditional diet can help control Type II diabetes, said Dr. Jay Wortman, a Métis who grew up in Fort Vermilion and is now a doctor and researcher at the University of Victoria.
“When I stopped eating starch and sugar…my blood sugar dropped and stayed there,” Wortman said at a two-day health conference hosted by North Peace Tribal Council’s Many Jurisdictions One System in High Level, Sept. 15 and 16. “A diet that is low in starch and sugar is very much like a traditional diet.”
Aboriginal Canadians did not have the same health issues they face today before their food consumption changed drastically in the last half-century. The traditional diets of meat and animal fat plus seasonal foods like berries kept them healthy. Instead of dying of chronic illness as they do now, people who lived in North America before European influence tended to die of accidents.
“They had no diabetes, they had no chronic disease. Now, they all have diabetes. It’s a phenomenon,” he said and diabetes is the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to health issues First Nation’s now face.
There are many underlying problems including insulin resistance.
“How do we treat all this?” he asked. “Drugs, drugs, drugs and more drugs.”
The North American obesity epidemic started in the mid 1970s when foods became starchier, pre-packaged and loaded with additives like fructose.
A world wide campaign to treat overweight people by pushing fitness, smaller food portions and increased exercise is not working, Wortman said, because it depends on willpower. Instead, the problem grows.
Two hormones, insulin and leptin, are considered to cause diabetes when they are not in balance. Leptin starts in the fat cells and carries a message to the brain to stop eating. When insulin intercepts leptin, the message is the opposite.
“Your brain thinks you’re starving,” said Wortman and the automatic response is to store more fat and reduce activity.
In his research, when people stop eating starch and sugar, the hormonal problems correct themselves, insulin levels drop and leptin can send its message to the brain.
In one study, people in two groups who ate the same amount of calories saw the group that also ate more fat lose twice as much weight as the second group.
Wortman tells the story of a man who approached him asking about eating a traditional diet. The man had been taking insulin for diabetes for 17 years. He started eating a traditional diet with high protein, fat and low carbohydrates.
Within two weeks he no longer needed insulin and he had lost 17 pounds.
Wortman’s theory is that some people have a sugar and starch intolerance (like an allergy) and that is how their treatment should be approached.
Cut out the foods causing the problem and the problem will go away, said Wortman.
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