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Foods That Increase Risk for Diabetes

A study of 100,000 men and women showed that those who ate fried foods four to six times a week had a 40 percent increased risk for diabetes and a 23 percent increased risk for heart attacks. The more fried foods people ate, the greater their risk (Am J Clin Nutr. August, 2014). People who ate a lot of fried foods also had larger waist lines, higher levels of the bad LDL cholesterol, higher blood pressures and higher numbers on tests that measure inflammation. 

All Frying or Just Partially Hydrogenated Oils?
We do not know if this increase in diabetes risk was linked to all fried foods or just those prepared with partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) that were often used in restaurant frying. In this study, people who ate most of their fried foods in restaurants rather than at home were far more likely to suffer diabetes and heart attacks. This study was done from 1984 to 2013, when most restaurants used partially hydrogenated oils for frying. New labeling regulations and media attention raised awareness of the dangers of partially hydrogenated oils and they have now been removed from our food supply, so U.S. restaurants no longer use them. Safer substitutes for frying include canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil and sunflower oil.

Why All Fried Foods May Increase Diabetes Risk
When foods are cooked without water, the high heat causes sugars to attach to fats, proteins and nucleic acids to form Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs). AGEs can damage every cell in your body to increase risk for diabetes, heart attacks and certain cancers. AGEs cannot form when foods are cooked with water. The temperature of the food cannot rise above 212 degrees and the sugars form harmless bonds to water. Water-based cooking methods include steaming, simmering, stewing, boiling or pressure-cooking. Raw vegetables and fruits are also healthful options.

Sugar-Added Drinks and Foods Linked to Diabetes
The same data from Harvard School of Public Health, which followed more than 100,000 health professionals for more than 25 years, found that people who eat the most foods that cause a high rise in blood sugar are the ones most likely to develop diabetes. Those who eat the least fruits and vegetables (fiber) also are at high risk for becoming diabetic (Am J Clin Nutr, April 30, 2014;30;100(1):218-232).

A high rise in blood sugar causes sugar to stick to cell membranes and damage them. Your stomach helps to protect you from a high rise in blood sugar by keeping food in your stomach until it is turned into a liquid soup. All sugared drinks get through the stomach rapidly and have the potential to cause a high rise in blood sugar. Fruit juices are no different from soft drinks in this respect. On the other hand, whole fruits that have their sugar bound up in fiber can take more than five hours to pass from the stomach, so fruits generally do not cause a high rise in blood sugar even though they contain sugar.

Why Red Meat and Processed Meats Increase Diabetes Risk
Meat consumption by this same group of 100,000 health professionals was analyzed for 15 years. The researchers found that both unprocessed and processed red meat were associated with diabetes risk and the more meat they ate, the greater their risk (Am J Clin Nutr, October, 2011;94(4):1088-96). This may be because red meat contains saturated fats that can block insulin receptors and prevent cells from responding to insulin. The authors estimated that substituting one serving of nuts, low-fat dairy, or whole grains for one serving of red meat per day would result in a 15-35 percent lower risk for diabetes.

My Recommendations
More than 40 percent of North Americans are already diabetic or are pre-diabetic. To find out where you stand, ask your doctor to order a special test called a sonogram of the liver. If you have fat in your liver, you probably already have high blood sugar levels and are likely to be pre-diabetic or diabetic. Fat in your liver prevents your liver from responding to insulin and lowering high blood sugar levels.

If you want to avoid the complications of diabetes, I recommend that you avoid or severely restrict red and processed meat, fried foods, and all foods and drinks that cause a high rise in blood sugar. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, exercise, avoid overweight, get some sunlight to avoid being low in vitamin D, grow muscle and reduce body fat.

Checked 12/12/18

June 29th, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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