Book review: The End of Diabetes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2013, 9:21am

In a city where food can be found in nearly every street and at every corner, it's obvious that many Hongkongers live to eat. Dr Joel Fuhrman wants you to do the opposite: eat to live.

Fuhrman, 59, an American board-certified family physician, has been promoting this philosophy since the launch of his book, Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, in 2003. A No1 New York Times best-seller, the book is backed by hundreds of testimonials from people who have followed his six-week diet plan and shed a radical amount of weight quickly while boosting their health.

After its success, Fuhrman, a specialist in preventing and reversing disease using nutritional and natural methods, has recently launched a spin-off, The End of Diabetes: The Eat to Live Plan to Prevent and Reverse Diabetes. It's a smart move: the diet is the same, but repackaged for its targeted audience.

Excess weight, a high body-fat percentage and a poor diet, after all, are key risk factors for type-2 diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes. In Hong Kong, one in 10 people, or about 700,000, have the condition, and the number is increasing sharply. In 2010, it was the 10th most common cause of death in the city.

Today, controlling the condition depends on drugs that lower high blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure typically seen in diabetics. But Fuhrman believes in eradication rather than medication - by treating the disease's cause through changing one's diet. Drugs, he says, could worsen diabetes in the long run as they cause weight gain.

The basis of Eat to Live is what Fuhrman calls a nutritarian diet, "the most effective programme for diabetes ever studied". It's all about filling your plate with the most nutrient-dense foods - green vegetables, berries, beans, mushrooms, onions, seeds and other natural produce. With such a diet, he says the body ages more slowly and is armed to prevent and reverse many common illnesses. Food cravings are also suppressed.

In Hong Kong, about 700,000, have adult-onset diabetes, and the number is increasing sharply

Fuhrman has devised the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, which scores food on a maximum of 1,000 based on its density of micronutrients - phytochemicals, vitamins and essential minerals that improve health and longevity. Kale, watercress and collards, for example, score full marks; cola (1 point), corn chips (7) and olive oil (10) are at the bottom of the list.

Essentially, Fuhrman is saying, go vegan. In the book, he provides two weeks of sample meal plans based on a daily intake of 1,400 calories, including more than 60 recipes (no photos). He backs his diet with solid science - there are 20 pages of research citations - and presents everything in a readable, friendly manner.

In a case series published in the Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, 90 per cent of diabetic patients studied were able to eliminate or reduce their medication by 75 per cent, and the average haemoglobin A1C dropped from 8.2 to 5.8 (lower than six is considered non-diabetic; above eight, poorly controlled).

The evidence is certainly convincing, but the diet is restrictive, potentially boring and foodie unfriendly. Eat to live or live to eat? It all boils down to personal priorities.