Discussing Diet and Diabetes with the Macedonian Minister of Health

This is a guest post from Physicians Committee member Ted Barnett, M.D.

Research shows that a low-fat, plant-based diet is effective in managing and reversing diabetes, decreasing the need for medication and cutting medical costs. This is why the Minister of Health of the Republic of Macedonia invited Caroline Trapp, N.P., C.D.E., from the Physicians Committee, and me to discuss how a healthful diet can reduce the country’s rising diabetes rates and associated costs.

Diabetes is a global epidemic, but as a physician practicing in the United States, I tend to focus on the skyrocketing rate of diabetes within America. However, the diabetes statistics in Macedonia are even worse.  More than 11 percent of people in this country, once part of Yugoslav, have diabetes. And from the years 2000 to 2030, its prevalence is expected to nearly double.

After arriving in the country, we visited Saints Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje. We met with the director of the university’s cardiology clinic as well as Nikola Jankulovski, M.D., the dean of the university’s medical school. Our nutrition presentation to a group of faculty members on Wednesday was a success, with many staying after the lecture to ask questions. This was followed by two-hour presentations to even larger groups on Thursday and Friday. During our presentations, Ms. Trapp focused on diabetes and I focused on heart disease.

One of the most crucial meetings was with Nikola Todorov, the Minister of Health.

Caroline Trapp, Minister Todorov, and Alex Mitov, M.D., discussing diabetes in the Minister’s office.

Caroline Trapp, Minister Todorov, and Alex Mitov, M.D., discussing diabetes in the Minister’s office.

Minister Todorov is very interested in reducing the $25 million the country pays for insulin each year. Ms. Trapp presented our research showing that he could reduce medical costs by starting patients on a low-fat plant-based diet.

Not long into the meeting, the Minister asked to team up with the Physicians Committee to do a research study in Macedonia to establish that lifestyle interventions can successfully treat diabetes. Of course, we are excited by the opportunity to help show the benefits of a plant-based diet firsthand.

We met again with Minister Todorov on Friday evening and he reiterated his support for a research project to evaluate the effects of lifestyle changes. As I am an interventional radiologist, he was also interested in my opinions regarding establishing a program for intracranial catheter thrombectomy and thrombolysis in the setting of acute stroke.

Alex Mitov, M.D., Caroline Trapp, N.P., C.D.E., Esma Redžepova, and Ted Barnett, M.D. at the home of Ms.Redžepova.

Alex Mitov, M.D., Caroline Trapp, N.P., C.D.E., Esma Redžepova, and Ted Barnett, M.D. at the home of Ms. Redžepova.

On Friday evening, after our second meeting with the Minister of Health, we had a delightful meeting with Esma Redžepova, one of the most famous performers in Macedonia and someone who has lived with type 2 diabetes for nearly 20 years. As a humanitarian, she has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. We found her to be an inspiration!

Dr. Daniela Miladinova, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and Ted Barnett, MD.

Dr. Daniela Miladinova, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and Ted Barnett, MD.

We are grateful to the government of Macedonia for inviting us to help them tackle the diabetes epidemic and look forward to bringing our expertise to bear.

Reduce Diabetes Risk for Native American Heritage Month

November is both Native American Heritage Month and National Diabetes Month. Though the two may seem unrelated, it’s possible—even beneficial—to acknowledge both at the same time.

A traditional Native American diet incorporates corn, beans, squash, fruits, and grains—all foods that can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, Native American communities have moved away from these plant foods toward the standard American diet full of meat and dairy products, which increase the risk of diabetes.

Chefs Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater making Indian No-Fry Bread.

Chefs Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater making Indian No-Fry Bread.

For all Americans—no matter which race—diabetes statistics are far too high. Forty percent will have diabetes in his or her lifetime. Ten percent of Americans overall currently have diabetes. But for Native Americans in particular, the rate rises to 16 percent.

To cut diabetes rates, we need to cut out high-risk foods. Dairy products are the main source of saturated fat and cholesterol in the American diet, and diets high in fat can increase insulin resistance and increase the risk of heart disease. Meat-eating is also considered a risk factor for diabetes. A study out of Taiwan shows that women and men who avoid meat entirely reduce their diabetes risk by 70 and 45 percent respectively. The Physicians Committee’s own research has found that a low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and heart health in patients with type 2 diabetes.

The alarming diabetes statistics for Native Americans prompted us to visit the Navajo Nation and work with community leaders to implement nutrition programs to help Native Americans manage and reverse their diabetes. The Physicians Committee recently released Food for Life in Indian Country, a documentary detailing the progress and successes from our program. The film shows that a return to traditional plant-based meals can help Native American communities reverse their diabetes and experience a boost in overall health.

We brought in Native American chef Lois Ellen Frank to create recipes that incorporated cultural tradition alongside disease-fighting ingredients. The Food for Life in Indian Country booklet has several recipes for every course, along with a sample daily menu. This month, try the Posole Harvest Stew or the Indian No-Fry Bread. Spread good health—and promote diabetes awareness and Native American heritage—by bringing traditional Native American recipes to your next potluck and sharing our booklet with friends and family.

For more information, visit PCRM.org/Diabetes.

More Milk, More Problems

milk-fracture

Science Contradicts Milk Marketing

This week, another study has illustrated that milk actually has a negative effect on bone health. Researchers in Sweden published findings in the British Medical Journal showing that women who drink milk have a higher incidence of bone fractures—and an increased risk of mortality from heart disease and cancer.

According to the study, women who consume three or more glasses of milk per day have a 60 percent increased risk of developing a hip fracture and a 93 percent increased risk of death. And each glass of milk increases mortality risk by 15 percent.

However, this news should not come as a shock to anyone outside of the dairy industry’s advertising department. A 2005 review in Pediatrics showed that milk has no effect on preventing stress fractures in girls. In fact, the research linked higher milk consumption with higher fracture risk.

For strong, healthy bones, it’s important to have enough calcium and vitamin D. However, animal products tend to leech calcium from bones, yet plant foods do not have this effect. One cup of collards has 268 mg of calcium. Spinach has 245 mg in a single cup, while a cup of soybeans has 261 mg. When you take fortified orange juice and fortified tofu into account, it’s easy to obtain more than the daily calcium recommendation of 1,000 mg.

Regardless of what milk marketers would have you believe, vitamin D is not naturally occurring in dairy milk. Last week, we examined a recent Canadian study suggesting that children who consumed dairy milk had higher levels of vitamin D. After reviewing the research, we learned that the dairy milk was fortified—while the plant milks were not. Any fortified non-dairy beverage can provide the necessary nutrients, without the cholesterol and saturated fat found in milk.

The science is there: milk does a body bad. Let’s wipe off the milk mustaches and remove milk from the school lunch line. To learn how you can help get milk out of schools, visit www.HealthySchoolLunches.org.