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Q&A with Patrick Holford

Patrick Holford’s book Say No to Diabetes has met with mixed reviews: many readers say they love the recipes and the idea of low GL eating to control diabetes, many doctors and dieticians say it’s too early to tell if the results Holford mentions are actually legitimate in the long term… The best way to decide is to read the book yourself, and tell us what you think! 3 lucky readers of the first issue of Sweet Life magazine will win a copy of Say No to Diabetes – be sure to enter!

We asked Patrick Holford a few questions about his book, and here’s what he said:

1.    Some of the dietary changes you suggest in your book are quite expensive, do you think the effects of low GL will still be noticed if not all the changes are adopted?
Of course! Things like lentils and beans and apples are not expensive and are great low GL foods.

2.    What is the most urgent reason to gain control of your diabetes?

If you do nothing, you’re going to end up with heart disease. Blood pressure will go up, you’ll probably start to develop angina, and the next step is heart attack. And you get kidney damage, and eyesight starts to go. So you’re just going to feel worse and worse. And there’s such a strong link between diabetes and depression, and diabetes and memory loss leading to Alzheimer’s.

An animal won’t eat until their blood sugar is very low, and that very low blood sugar stimulates adrenalin, which makes you irritable, edgy, pessimistic, moody and hungry. And now you hunt. So we end up hunting for sugar… Or some of us learn to hunt for caffeine, because caffeine gives us a hit. And so now blood sugar’s very low, and when blood sugar’s very low you cannot not eat fast releasing carbs, so suddenly a fizzy drink or bread or pies or whatever is suddenly very desirable.

Then the blood sugar goes too high, then you make more insulin, then it goes too low again, and after a while you become resistant to the insulin that you make, so you have to make even more insulin. Now it takes even longer to lower your blood sugar, so you’re doing even more damage, and then it goes even lower, so you’re getting even more moody, more irritable, more tired. Quite late in the process you start to produce too little insulin.

3.    How are stress and sleep linked?

The body regenerates when you sleep. But the point is that when the blood sugar dips that’s when you get adrenal hormones – cortisol. What stress does is it pumps cortisol. Sleep is when you restore cortisol. So if you’re not getting the switch off, you’re not restoring your levels. Also, the stress state is a hunter state – you don’t have energy going towards repair and rejuvenation. Many of us have simply gotten used to living in a state of stress. And whenever I hear about stress, I always ask about stimulants and sugar. Sugar – stimulants – stress go together. Stress isn’t the cause of diabetes, but it is often the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

The one measure that is really important is the HbA1c. Every time your blood sugar goes too high, the sugar damages things – whether it’s your heart or your kidneys or your brain or your eyes. And sugar actually coats proteins, and sugar coating is called glycosylation. And in this case what you do is measure how many red blood cells (hemoglobin) have become sugar-coated. And it should be around 5%, or less. And if it’s up to 7%, if you don’t have diabetes, you will soon. It’s counting the number of spikes you have, so it’s a long-term measure and because red blood cells live for 3 months, it’s pretty much a reflection of what’s been going on for the last 3 months.

The critical issue with a lot of people is sugar addiction. Sugar produces the same pathways in the brain as heroin. It is addictive. So it’s not just about knowing what to do, there’s a serious withdrawal process. The thing is that if you achieve stable blood sugar, you’re not hungry and the craving goes away. It actually only takes about 5 days, but it can be a little bit rough for the first 2 to 3 days.

4.    What makes your life sweet?
I love being in nature, so it’s lovely to come to Cape Town. I like to get out into a natural environment. That feeling of connection. I also love being with my family and friends.

I really believe that our bodies are incredible, and everything that we enjoy we enjoy through our senses – what we can hear and see and touch and smell. And the body is made directly from food, and food comes directly from the earth. So part of this is realising that everything you enjoy comes through the body, and you need to treat your body with respect because it’s the only one you’ve got.

And that actually means feeding your body with food that it’s designed to eat. So it’s not just about what you eat, but also making that connection and spending a bit of time to select the right food and enjoying cooking them. And even the simple act of saying grace – even if you’re not religious – is important, it’s a way of stopping and saying thank you for the food.

Find out more about Patrick Holford here.

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.