The goal of most diets plans is to help as many people as possible lose weight as quickly as they can. Some may even ignore health considerations, like that it’s usually unhealthy for a person to lose more than 2 pounds a week.
It’s our own fault. We’re all impatient and want results right away. If millions of people in this country are willing to take risky diet pills, we’re likely OK with losing more than the recommended guidelines.
However, a new study from the Weizmann Institute of Science may force us to reconsider the one-size-fits-all approach to dieting. Why? Because in this study, researchers found that the same foods can cause strikingly different responses from one individual to the next. Although one individual saw a sudden spike in blood glucose levels after eating bananas-but not after they ate the same number of calories in cookies-the opposite occurred with a second individual.
Here’s why that matters and what it means for you.
Problem with high blood glucose levels
Professor Eran Segal, one of the authors of the study, had this to say:
We chose to focus on blood sugar because elevated levels are a major risk factor for diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. The huge differences that we found in the rise of blood sugar levels among different people who consumed identical meals highlight why personalized eating choices are more likely to help people stay healthy than universal dietary advice.
At the very least, type 2 diabetes will make your life a lot more complicated. However, it can also cause eye damage, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, skin and gum infections, joint problems, coma and premature death. It’s a long, scary list. Nearly 300 million people worldwide suffer from this disease, so it’s more prevalent than you may think.
Where to start
Because four out of five people with type 2 diabetes are obese, the first step to preventing it should be losing weight. We all know that drinking a Coke or two isn’t good for us and is likely to cause a spike in blood glucose levels, but the Weizmann Institute study has to make us reconsider what exactly your weight loss should entail. Added sugar is always looked at as a no-no when you’re trying to be healthy, but a banana shouldn’t have any added sugar. It’s supposed to be good for us, so why is it causing a sudden spike in some individuals?
Finding the answers
The authors of this study didn’t try to answer all our questions, which is frustrating but also a good thing. They were able to create algorithms that successfully predicted what foods would cause a spike in glucose levels in one individual to the next. Unlike some research out there, they didn’t take that information and throw it back out to the public and basically say, “Good luck!” in their best Liam Neeson impersonation. They’re going to continue their research. It’s going to take time, but they’re on the right track.
What they did find is that when they prescribed personalized diets for people on a week-to-week basis, where week one was a “good” diet and week two was a “bad” diet, they got the results they were looking for. And it really did vary from person to person. Some people’s food found on their “good” diet was on another person’s “bad” diet and vice versa. The good diets consistently kept blood sugar at healthy levels.
What to look for
These researchers didn’t completely reinvent the wheel. They said that lifestyle still mattered. People who exercised and got proper sleep were better at regulating their blood sugar levels, and the most common cause of type 2 diabetes remained the consumption of large amounts of added sugar in our diets. Why? Because added sugar is full of fructose, which only our livers can process. However, most people have more than enough in their bodies, and when you add more, your liver turns this into fat. Some of this fat makes its way to your blood, increasing insulin resistance, raising your blood sugar and eventually causing you to develop type 2 diabetes.
A solution in sight?
If you’re serious about losing weight and preventing type 2 diabetes, you shouldn’t go it alone. Although most diets are well-intentioned, it’s becoming clear that even the healthiest fruits and vegetables can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. That’s the last thing you want. If you want to get healthy the right way, you need to consult your doctor and a dietician before beginning any major weight loss plan. Even if you find a diet that is helping you lose weight, remember that it’s possible to lose weight and actually be less healthy than you were to start.
If you’re not up for seeing a doctor or dietician (which I really wish you would!), it is possible to diet properly on your own. However, you’ll have to buy a blood glucose meter and learn how to use it. Follow my advice on dieting and find a diet that you think you can stick with for a week. During that week, monitor your glucose levels after each meal and determine which foods are causing spikes in glucose levels. If you see the same results three to five times in a row, it’s probably best to put that food on your do-not-eat list.
Our bodies are used to getting real food, and when we stop eating regularly, our metabolism grinds to a halt and we’re zapped of all our energy. So don’t make yourself miserable with a cleanse or fast diet. Getting rid of food isn’t the solution. It’s getting rid of the food you don’t need that is the answer. Stay hydrated, keep your blood sugar levels down, stay active, and sleep well. Keep your body regulated and you’ll have a much easier time reaching your goals.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.