If your goal is to enjoy strength, health and clarity of mind well into your later years, one of your main objectives should be to maintain healthy blood sugar balance.
Of course, consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes. But it can also dramatically increase your risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer and accelerate the aging process (including adding wrinkles to your skin).
You probably already know that a low-carbohydrate diet is the key to keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. But you might not know just how important it is to also consume adequate amounts of healthy fats.
Time and time again, diets that are rich in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates have been proven to produce healthier outcomes for diabetics.
But before we look deeper into the benefits of healthy fats, let’s take a look at…
How a Low Fat Diet Actually Promotes Diabetes
By eating a low-fat diet, calories that would normally come from fat and protein are displaced by carbohydrates.
A diet rich in carbs causes blood sugar levels to rise. This causes the pancreas to release insulin to escort the sugar from the blood into muscle cells to be used as fuel. But it doesn’t take long before your muscle cells have stored all the sugar they can hold. Then sugar gets shuttled to another place: your fat cells!
Not only does this promote an increase in body fat, it also promotes insulin resistance and diabetes.
Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels with Fat
Unlike carbohydrates, however, healthy fats have no appreciable effect on blood sugar levels. They are also vitally important for the absorption of important fat-soluble nutrients (including vitamins A, E, D & K) and for helping to reduce inflammation in the body.
But the type of fat is key.
Let’s take a look at the three healthy fats you should be eating to optimize blood sugar levels, achieve a healthy weight and ward off degenerative disease:
Omega-3 Fats: “Essential” for Blood Sugar Balance
In the United States, 80 percent of the fats we consume are omega-6, like those found primarily in vegetable and seed oils like corn, soybean and cottonseed oil. Omega-6-rich fats like these have been found to increase inflammation and other key markers of disease.
Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, provide potent anti-inflammatory action. They also improve blood sugar control, reduce triglycerides and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death among individuals with diabetes.
One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those with the highest blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – the two omega 3 fats found in fatty fish – were roughly 33% less likely to develop diabetes over the next decade than their counterparts with the lowest levels.
Another recent study published in the journal Lipids found that DHA and EPA omega-3 fats may help to lower body fat by encouraging fat-burning and reducing the number of fat cells. Even more impressive, the researchers found that omega-3 fats act at the genetic level – genetically programming the body to shed fat!
And the benefits of omega-3 fats don’t end there. Multiple studies have shown that these healthy fats dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke – the leading causes of death among diabetics. Take a look:
- A study in China that followed more than 18,000 men for 10 years found that those who consumed more than 7 ounces of fish or shellfish weekly reduced their risk of fatal heart attack by almost 60% compared to those who consumed less than two ounces weekly.
- In the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 84,000 women for 16 years, death from heart disease was up to 34% lower in women who ate fish at least once a week compared to those who ate it less than once a month.
- In a study that followed more than 79,000 women for 14 years, the women who ate fish at least twice weekly had a 52% lower stroke risk than those who ate fish less than once monthly. In a similar study of 43,000 men, those who ate fish at least once a month reduced their risk of stroke by 43% over those who did not.
To get the diabetes-fighting, heart-healthy benefits of this fat, eat wild seafood – including wild salmon, wild halibut and wild shrimp and scallops – several times each week and consider taking a high quality fish oil supplement.
But omega 3 fats aren’t the only fats that benefit blood sugar and diabetes…
Monounsaturated Fats: Reduce Belly Fat and Blood Sugar
Monounsaturated fats (the best-known sources include avocados, olive oil and nuts) can also help balance blood sugar, banish belly fat and protect against heart disease.
A study published in Diabetes Care found that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats helped to reduce abdominal fat better than a carbohydrate-rich diet. When study subjects ate a carbohydrate enriched diet, belly fat increased. But when they ate a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, belly fat decreased (even without exercise!).
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found MUFAs have a profound effect on blood sugar. After eating a monounsaturated-fat rich diet for six months, study participants saw fasting glucose drop by 3 percent, insulin fall by 9.4 percent and the insulin resistance score drop by 12 percent. All of these are key factors for warding off diabetes and other chronic disease.
While the traditionally recognized sources of monounsaturated fats should be enjoyed liberally (including macadamia nuts, olive oil, and avocados), there are other excellent sources of this healing fat that might surprise you, including duck fat and lard.
In fact, duck fat is 45% monounsaturated (with 34% saturated and 21% polyunsaturated). Lard is 41% monounsaturated (with 32% saturated and 27% polyunsaturated), making these rich and delicious culinary staples a must-have in your blood sugar-balancing culinary repertoire.
And last, but not least is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
CLA: The “Grass-Fed” Fat for Leanness
CLA is a powerful compound that has been found to benefit blood sugar levels and reduce leptin – a hormone that regulates body fat levels.
CLA is found exclusively in the meat and milk of grass-fed animals, including grass-fed beef, grass-fed cheese, butter and milk. It’s also found in high concentrations in grazing game animals such as elk and deer.
In recent years, CLA has been promoted for a wide range of benefits – from melting belly fat and lowering hunger hormones to balancing blood sugar and even reducing the risk of cancer.
- After an eight-week study, diabetics who added CLA to their diets not only had lower body mass and reduced blood sugar measurements, but also lower levels of leptin – a hormone that regulates fat levels.
- A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that CLA inhibits the body’s formation of fat while preserving muscle tissue. In the study, the group that supplemented with CLA lost an average of six pounds of fat, compared to the placebo group.
- A study published this month in Lipids in Health and Disease found that CLA-rich butter (from grass-fed cows) prevents high insulin levels and increased beneficial HDL cholesterol levels in animals.
CLA also has powerful antioxidant properties and is known to help reduce inflammation – two key factors for a healthy heart.
When it comes to balancing your blood sugar and achieving optimal health, focus on a low glycemic, low carbohydrate, whole foods diet that’s rich in the healthy fats noted above. You’ll get more culinary satisfaction from every bite…while improving your health at the same time!