In this episode, Nurse Practioner Laura Vasquez and host Kim Romig discuss the fundamental question, “Are processed foods making you diabetic?” You will learn what qualifies a food as processed, ways to avoid those foods, and steps you can take to improve your overall lifestyle.
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Kim: Welcome to the Real Health podcast. I’m your host today, Kim Romig and joining me is Laura Vasquez. Laura is a nurse practitioner, who is specializing in integrative oncology and other complex chronic illnesses and disease. Welcome Laura.
Laura Vasquez: Hi Kim. Good to be with you today.
Kim: Good. So today we are asking a very important question and that is, are processed foods making us diabetic. So what are your thoughts on that?
Laura Vasquez: I would say absolutely from the literature and trends that we have seen over the last several decades with the advent and the increase in processed foods, that there’s also been a sharp increase in obesity and diabetes type two, and those two are very closely related or related. So I would say yes, there is good evidence to point to processed foods can lead to diabetes.
Kim: Okay. And let’s dive into that a little bit. So what, what actually classifies a food as processed?
Laura Vasquez: So great question. Let me pull something up. So processed food would be a food that has been changed from its natural state. So it’s been cleaned milled cut, chopped heated pasteurized slash can dried dehydrated mixed. So some of these foods, you know, if you were to get, for example, dried fruit that may not have a lot of chemicals or additives, so it may be a more natural food, but it has been slightly altered. You know, that’s, to me a minimal type of processed food. There’s kind of levels when it comes to process food, there’s what they call ultra-processed foods, which are going to be your frozen meals, which have a lot of chemicals and stabilizers added to preserve those or chips, soda pop. These are unnatural foods that are primarily chemicals you know, that have been added to make a food. So those are ultra-processed, but you can find these processed foods. I mean, they’re just in our daily diets.
Kim: So how do we avoid those? Like, obviously there’s that scale of what is, you know, just dried and packaged versus the, you know, frozen meals, what are steps you can take to avoid those. And like just in general, make it since they’re so easy to acquire you go to the grocery store and they’re everywhere. So what can we do to kind of avoid those highly processed foods?
Laura Vasquez: Yeah. Another good question. So in November, in our health hunter magazine, we will be having an article regarding this topic come out and there will be tips pretty common sense tips that everyone can read and use to avoid processed foods. But some of those would be looking at ingredients, which, you know, sometimes we’re in a hurry and we’re, we’re trying to get our shopping list completed, but looking at ingredients to see if there are sugars. So high-fructose corn syrup is one that most people have heard oils, chemicals, stabilizers. These are going to be words typically you cannot pronounce. So these are processing things that are put into our processed foods. You can also shop on the perimeter of the grocery store. So there, you’re going to find your fresh produce. You’re going to find seafood, meats, the meat department dairy. You’re also going to find the frozen foods on the outskirts of the aisle. So trying not to buy a lot of packaged process bag, boxed food that is typically in the middle of, you know, majority of the aisles in the middle. Those are just a couple quick tips you can do. And, and always just going back to, you know, where’s your food coming from, you know, is it in its whole natural state? Making sure a majority of your plate is, you know, a lean protein that doesn’t have a lot of preservatives and vegetables that you can prepare yourself or frozen without added ingredients. There’s lots of it. And there’s other tips in the magazine, so you can check that out.
Kim: Awesome. We will definitely link the magazine and the podcast show notes. So if you’re interested in that you can see them. But kind of going back to the question itself of are they making, you know, are processed foods making you diabetic and going into the diabetic side and that article that you wrote in the health hunters, you kind of talked about the relationship between glucose and insulin. Can we kind of go into detail about that and for the people who either have diabetes or pre-diabetic, or just curious about the topic what’s kind of dive into that.
Laura Vasquez: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. The other side of this is, you know, we have these processed foods, which we know are bad for our health. They cause they can, if we have a majority of them caused diabetes cancer can be related to obviously our diet hypertension, cardiovascular disease. You can leak a lot of chronic illnesses to your diet. And so when it comes to diabetes, specifically glucose and insulin glucose is a main fuel source that we obtain from our foods. We also can stored as glycogen in the liver when we need that backup, fuel, and insulin is a hormone that our pancreas produces. So these two glucose and insulin have a very synergistic and a balancing relationship. You need both. And so when, once we eat and our glucose let’s say you’ve had a meal, your glucose levels in the blood will start rising. That is when insulin is excreted from your pancreatic cells, and it will go and find those glucose molecules and its job is to attach and take those into this cell where we use the glucose for fuel. However, in diabetes, specifically type two diabetes is what we’re talking about. Typically the insulin, there is not enough insulin to, or vice versa, too much glucose. And so there’s an imbalance and you get this continue continual circulating high level of glucose in your bloodstream, which causes a lot of damage and inflammation to the body. You know, over time as, especially in America, our portion sizes have gotten larger and we’ve had these foods with added sugars and natural foods and in a natural state, you know, void of fiber, our blood sugars, we’ve had these blood sugar spikes and it really burns out the cells in our pancreas that no longer can produce enough insulin over time to bring down our glucose levels in our bloodstream. And so, you know, we can measure this through what’s called a hemoglobin A1C, which is a very important test that looks at your average blood glucose level over a three-month period. And that’s a good marker to tell, are you well controlled? Are you in that prediabetes range? Are you in the diabetic range? And you know, the more, or the quicker you learn about your blood sugar regulation, the quicker you can take action to improve your glucose control and take steps to prevent diabetes or, you know, improve it.
Kim: Right. That’s awesome. Yeah. So when it comes to type two diabetes specifically or even the pre diabetic range for that, are there ways to reverse that diagnosis and kind of what are they and what, what can we do to help people on that, that path?
Laura Vasquez: Yes, I definitely believe and have witnessed that a lot of chronic disease states can be improved and sometimes reversed. That obviously depends on outlying circumstances or, you know, individual there may be other risk factors for that disease state. There was a study published in 2018 that examined evidence from several different studies on reversing type two diabetes. And they looked at the first factor was or variable was very bariatric surgery. So two separate procedures types of bariatric surgery. The second* variable was a low calorie restricted diet, and the third was a low carbohydrate diet. So essentially just changing your macronutrient ratio and what it showed was the bariatric surgery outcomes seem to have a longer onset of reversing type two diabetes. In one it showed 37% and another 45%. So to five years, these patients had reversed and maintained normal blood glucose levels. They were no longer a type two diabetic. The other two studies showed with the you know, calorie, restricted diet, these patients lost weight and their blood sugars also reversed. And so the type two diabetes improved, they no longer were considered diabetic. They believed that this was also due to not only, you know, obviously consuming fewer calories, they had lost weight. But it, with the weight loss, it, it impacted some of the hormonal factors that can also be part of regulating your glucose. And then the third one on a low carb diet, this showed which is the most popular diet modification for diabetes within 24 hours, a 24 hour glucose measurement normalized within two weeks of being on this low carb diet for a 100% of the type two diabetes patients. They also in the studies showed that these type two are patients with type two diabetes lost the same amount of weight compared to the bariatric surgery groups. The studies with the low carbohydrate diets that they had used were not long-term studies. And so that needs to be assessed in terms of, you know, patient’s compliance to these diets and how long their diabetes was in remission. But those are three, you know, those are just, those ways are very similar to me because all three methods are encouraging weight loss, so a healthier body mass index, as well as you’re not eating quite as much, you’re changing the type of foods you eat which has obviously a big impact on blood sugar spikes and your overall glucose intake. So yeah, I mean, it is, it is definitely possible to improve and even reverse metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
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Kim: Yeah, that’s so interesting that they have three different studies that are showing, you know,
Laura Vasquez: Multiple studies with all those different variables that really show that any of those variables can work.
Kim: Right. So just taking those kinds of lifestyle changes one step at a time can really make a huge impact on absolutely diagnosis in that. So that’s awesome.
Laura Vasquez: And in a way I was trying to say, as you just said, Kim Lifestyle changes. That is what is the driver of promoting, you know, someone to develop diabetes is their lifestyle, as well as reversing it. So, you know, taking a really hard look at how much you’re eating, what type of foods you’re eating and making those changes, you know, that takes education support and, and a lot of mental willpower to sustain changes like that. And but those are so important for preventing chronic disease or reversing it. So that’s really a good point, right?
Kim: So tell us a way, so there’s another, there’s obviously multiple ways you can kind of invoke those lifestyle changes. Is there a specific one that you’re interested in, and you do yourself?
Laura Vasquez: Yes. So I, then we’ve talked about this on previous podcast for different reasons, but one way to help manage multiple or improve multiple health factors is intermittent fasting. I know that’s our time restricted eating is another term. That’s one of my favorite health hacks, so it pretty much we can kind of go into a little bit about that. You know, for centuries, people have been incorporating fasting for religious practices. Our hunter gatherer ancestors used fasting. They were fascinating even when they weren’t intentionally fasting because they were hunting for food, you know, times and food supply was short or resources for low. And so it’s very different today in our modern world, you know, we’ve been conditioned to wake up and eat breakfast. We are taught to eat multiple times a day are for eating late at night. You know, we have food available to us 24 hours a day. We have the refrigerator, the fast food, so it can make it difficult. You know, we just we’re conditioned this way. So fasting is pretty simple and it’s a great practice to get into there’s multiple ways to do it. You can do. Well, first of all, you’re probably fasting at night after you eat dinner. If you’re not eating a late night snack and you’re waiting until you eat breakfast, you know, most people are going about 12 hours. And so that’s a, that’s a good, fast, you know, you’re consuming no calories during that period. You’re, you’re resting, you’re sleeping another way is to start extending that fast by an hour or two hours into work your way into what is called a 16 – 8, which is pretty popular. So you’re consuming your calories in an eight hour window.
Laura Vasquez: And during that 16 hours you know, you can consume water, herbal teas, black coffee, you can still have liquids. You just don’t want to have, you know, fats like creams in your coffee, milk, those types of liquids that are going to start your digestive process going. So yeah, there’s, there’s so many different ways you can also do a 24 hour fast once a week. You can do alternate day fasting. So, you know, consuming your, your normal or restricted calories. And then the next day doing that 24 hours there’s so many benefits to this. And I think if, if you’ve not already tried it, I think it’s a great practice to start practicing and over. I would say a week, two, three, you will adapt to that, that new feeding schedule. Just like anything, it just takes a little time to start, you know, kind of get your body in your mindset on that. Right.
Kim: That’s awesome to even like, think about that. You’re, you know, you’re already unconsciously fasting, so just taking the time to extend it just a couple hours is going to change your lifestyle immensely. So on kind of that same topic for your intermittent fasting when you were making foods and kind of preparing for your meals of the day, what are ways, or what are some things that you cook yourself or even how do you get, I know you have a larger family, get your kids involved to make that a fun process. So you avoid when you do go to the grocery store, you’re avoiding those processed foods and things like that.
Laura Vasquez: Yeah. Oh gosh. That’s such a challenge for parents. You know, parents are working, kids have activities. And so sometimes your time in the kitchen can be limited or it can be very easy to grab, you know, the crackers or, or whatever processed foods, the snacks that kids eat. I think the best way to prevent that is again, kind of common sense, but planning. So, you know, taking time on a weekend, when you have, you know, maybe a Sunday to make healthy trail mix for your kids, you can make healthier muffins that don’t have added sugars or chemicals. There’s so great recipes for like flax seed muffins, where you can put some fruit in there. There’s, you know, obviously cutting up vegetables. And so fruits you could do a little cheese. If your kids eat a little bit of dairy, there’s so many different things you can do, like finger foods that you can kind of pre make ahead of time for your kids. Another thing that I think is great for a meal time for kids is making bowls. So you can have Greek, Mexican, Asian foods and you can get a variety of different vegetables and chop these small, like red peppers, avocados, you could do cilantro like spices. Baby cucumbers is a great one shredded carrots. And so that, and then dice up your protein have a base like rice or quinoa for the bowl. You can do a little healthy, like Suzie, he sauce if it’s Greek, or if it’s Mexican, you could do the salsa. I think the kids love this because they’re actually having more control over which vegetables are eating and how they’re putting it together. So you, it’s kind of like a little buffet and they can get their base and they can get their protein and then they can pick, you know, a minimum of three vegetables and the sauce. And it’s a lot of good flavors. It’s fun. It keeps it interesting. And that’s one of the ways I like to do in terms of feeding the kids and getting them interested in the kitchen is helping to kind of put this together.
Kim: That’s so, I mean, I wish I would’ve done that as a kid, so it sounds like a great household that you have for yourself. So, I mean, that’s, that’s all I got for you today. Is there any other things you kind of want to talk about or point out to our audience and our listeners or, yeah,
Laura Vasquez: I guess I would just close with I think most people recognize that processed foods are abundant and they’re detrimental to our health in large quantities. You know, I think everything’s a balance. So this isn’t to say, you can never have a potato chip where you can never have, you know, a dessert or something that is processed or boxed or bag. But it’s just to be more aware and to really take the time to recognize how important this is for your health, you know, in prevention of chronic disease, especially those metabolic disorders like cardiovascular, diabetes. And so, yeah, I think it’s just this as an important topic. And if you take the time to kind of think more about it and start putting some easy, you know, steps in place, you could really impact your health in a positive way.
Kim: Great. That’s great advice. Well, thank you Laura, for joining us today and everybody have a great Tuesday.
Laura Vasquez: Thank you, Kim. Take care.
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