Fat, particularly the kind you eat, has a big effect on blood sugar levels. The wrong kind of fat actually blocks the messages sent to the pancreas to increase insulin production – meaning that blood sugar stays higher than normal since the message to produce enough insulin to manage blood sugar did not get through.
Too much dietary fat also reduces the ability of insulin to move glucose into the cells while causing the liver to release large amounts of stored glucose. This leads to even higher blood glucose levels. Over time, the liver loses its ability to manage blood fats, resulting in a metabolic issue of excess triglycerides in the blood which increases the risk for heart disease while also making us fat around the middle.
This all means that low fat diets are important to overall health and in the treatment and prevention of diabetes and heart disease. Research has shown that replacing dietary calories of fat with the same number of calories of low glycemic carbohydrate actually improves blood glucose levels.
The best level of dietary fat is to limit intake to about 20 percent of total calories. The average American diet contains about 42 percent of total calories from fat. Read labels and remember that each gram of fat is 9 calories – yikes, this adds up.
The quality of fat is also important. Omega 3 oils such as flax seed oil and fish oil are beneficial to all people, but particularly for people with type 2 diabetes and/or heart disease. Fish oil contains higher concentrations of omega 3 oils than flax – so it is typically easier to supplement with fish oil.
Certain omega 3 oils are also called essential fatty acids (EFA’s) because they cannot be produced in the body and must be obtained through the diet. EFA’s actually help burn free fatty acids in the liver enhancing weight loss and lowering blood lipids. EFA’s are a vital component of cell membranes, actually helping cellular communication which tends to facilitate glucose transport into the cells.
Two particular EFA’s that are important to health are EPA and DHA which are abundant in fish oils. EPA lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also is a safe blood thinner that helps reduce inflammation throughout the body. The DHA component is important for brain and nerve health, improving memory and cognitive function.
What is important to know about the omega 3 oils is that our body tends to ignore them unless our fat intake is relatively low. The human body was designed to work in a more natural system where omega 3’s were abundant and omega 6’s were rare. In our current food system, the omega 3’s are rare and must be supplemented while reducing overall fat consumption to overcome the tendency of the body to favor omega 6 oils.
Monounsaturated oils such as olive oil are beneficial in the diet since they protect against heart disease. Monounsaturated fats help keep arteries flexible and help lower blood pressure. One relative newcomer to the monounsaturated oils is macadamia nut oil. It is very similar to olive oil in health benefits, but has a very mild, almost buttery flavor making it easy to use.
Margaret Durst is a naturopathic doctor who owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.