Do you like Chinese food? Not the kind deep fried and dripping with sugary sauces, but traditional Chinese cooking full of exotic spices, lots of vegetables, whole grain rice and a variety of delicious seafood. Well, then you’re in luck! Researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center recently found that by sticking to a traditional high fiber Asian diet you can lose weight, improve insulin resistance, and even reverse gum disease.
When you think of complications caused by diabetes, teeth aren’t always the first things that jump to mind—vision loss, kidney damage and amputations usually take center stage. But 40 to 50 percent of adults with diabetes over the age of 60 suffer from gum disease, known medically as periodontitis.
Gingivitis is a precursor to periodontitis and is characterized by inflammation of the gums. In these early stages, a patient may notice their gums bleeding when they brush their teeth. As the gingivitis advances to periodontitis, the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets. These small spaces between teeth and gums collect debris and can become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line.
Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque as well as the body’s own immune system start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As the periodontitis progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. When this happens, teeth are no longer anchored in place which makes it easier for them to fall out. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
Since people with diabetes are more prone to infections and inflammation, that puts them at greater risk than the general population for developing gum disease.
“One of the major causes of periodontal disease in the country is due to diabetes,” says George King, M.D., Director of Research and Head of the Section on Vascular Cell Biology at Joslin, as well as a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. King collaborated on the periodontal study after publishing a similar research project on traditional high fiber Asian diets.
In the study, the diet focused on maintaining the same daily caloric intake as a Western diet (calories were personalized to each individual’s needs) but has twice as much fiber. Western diets usually top out at about 15 grams of fiber per day while the traditional Asian diet has a whopping 30 grams per day.
One of the perks of this diet is it doesn’t leave you feeling hungry. “Because of the complex carbohydrates and high fiber the food is also high volume,” says Dr. King. “So it satisfies you very quickly; you feel very full.”
The staple foods of the diets tested in the study consist of a variety of noodles (like rice based dumpling skins or buckwheat soba noodles), brown rice, a variety of vegetables, and lean meats like poached chicken, tofu and shrimp. To follow a similar high fiber, low fat meals in a Western diet, a meal will have whole grains like oatmeal, English muffins and bread, dairy products like Greek yogurt and skim milk, nuts, and proteins like tuna, turkey and lean hamburger.
Despite a common preconception that a higher fiber, low fat diet is not tasty, the participants liked the flavor of the traditional Asian diet. After following the Asian diet for two months participants showed an improvement in insulin sensitivity, lost 3 to 4 pounds, and showed a decrease in their inflammatory markers.
In the related study looking specifically at gum disease after the two month diet, all participants had a decrease in gum pocketing, stronger tooth attachments and less gum bleeding.
So if you’re suffering from diabetes-related gum disorders or other complications, should you switch to a traditional Asian diet?
“We’re not saying this is for everybody,” says Dr. King. “But I think it’s worth a try.”
He explains that there are many beneficial diets out there like the high protein diet or the Mediterranean diet. If you’re looking to switch to a new meal plan, Dr. King recommends one that decreases your calories, improves insulin sensitivity, helps with weight loss, can be used for years to come, and most importantly one that you like.
“For some of people the answer may be this traditional Asian diet,” says Dr. King. “But as long as they can stick with a diet and lose weight they’ll be fine. That’s the main message.”
If you want to see what the traditional Asian diet looks like, Dr. King and his collaborator, Ka Hei Karen Lau, a registered dietitian at Joslin, have posted sample menus and recipes from the study on Joslin’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) website. Give it a try and see if it works for you!
Support the AADI at a Taste of Ginger, and help them continue their culturally specific research and care. This year’s Ginger event will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 pm on Monday, March 23 in the Arts of the Americas Wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Click here to buy tickets.