by Jane Quincannon Stanchich

Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, affecting more than 16 million Americans, with half unaware they have this life-threatening, debilitating disease. Diabetes is now the sixth leading cause of death in America and the first cause of blindness in adults. Diabetic symptoms are often disabling. Future prognoses look even less sweet. One third of Americans born in 2000 will get diabetes, report the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the American Diabetes Association. In this same report, estimates show that Americans are as likely to develop diabetes as they are breast cancer. Half of all Hispanic women and a large majority of minorities are predicted to develop diabetes. Billions of health dollars are devoured annually to treat diabetes, a largely preventable and controllable disease.

As I researched current medical opinions, I collected projections, preventions, and perspectives while gathering traditional, conventional, and holistic treatments for diabetes. Conventional diabetes diets and medication information are abundant and available. Effective benefits are reported frequently, yet standard practices often exclude or overlook time-honored approaches. I discovered that although diabetes is a very painful, very dangerous, debilitating, and very prevalent disease, hope prevails. The solution is a healthy lifestyle based on sound science, mixed with a good dose of logic and served with a hefty spoonful of healthy sweetener. Millions of people can find a way to better prevent, treat, and triumph over diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus is a major chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas no longer produces adequate insulin to neutralize excess blood sugar or when cells are unable to respond to the insulin that is produced. Kidney failure, heart disease, blindness, stroke, nervous system disorders, and limb amputation are among the severe health conditions that accompany both Type I and Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes mellitus Type I, also known as “Juvenile Diabetes, is an auto-immune disease affecting 10% of diabetics and beginning typically in childhood or adolescence. Type I diabetes usually has a sudden onset, occurring when the body produces little or no insulin and, thus is called “insulin-dependent,” requiring a daily injection of insulin to balance the blood sugar levels.

90% of diabetics have the more common Type 2 diabetes that develops later in life, often after age 40, thus named “age-onset diabetes.” Type 2 diabetes develops most often with people who are overweight and do not exercise. Type 2 is considered by some experts to be a more mild form of diabetes, as it can largely be controlled by diet and exercise. For some, oral medication is prescribed, yet Type 2 also quite serious due to its symptoms and the possible need for insulin injections. Approximately 2% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes and face a higher risk for chronic Type 2 diabetes. Now that we know what diabetes is, how does one know if they have diabetes?

As stated earlier, many people who have diabetes are not aware they have the disease. Symptoms include feeling tired and sick, excessive urination, extreme thirst, increased appetite, or weight loss. Type I diabetics may experience ketoacidosis that creates nausea, abdominal pain, rapid breathing, fatigue, and drowsiness that may lead to coma and death. Often the Type 2 diabetic may visit the doctor or health professional for seemingly unrelated symptoms including obesity, heart disease, urinary and gum infections, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in the feet or legs, or slow-healing wounds. Then, often surprisingly, blood and urine tests for glucose then reveal that they have diabetes.

Medical reports indicate that the causes of Type I diabetes include hereditary factors, genetic markers, and viral infection. In Type 2 diabetes, causes are commonly stated to be age, family history, and obesity. While we cannot change our age or our family history, we can change our weight through a healthier lifestyle. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include: Obesity, family history, being African American, Native American, Hispanic, or Native Hawaiian; having high blood pressure, cholesterol imbalance; having previous gestational diabetes or delivering a baby weighing over 9 pounds. Many common medications also interfere with the body’s use of insulin and can cause secondary diabetes.

The macrobiotic view of diabetes points directly to dietary causes. Americans annually consume over 120 pounds of refined sugar per capita, along with artificial chemical sweeteners, intensified vegetable and fruit sweeteners, and myriad sugar substitutes. A main ingredient in the majority prepared food and beverages, refined sweeteners have a shocking impact on human blood and all body organs, as well as contributing to obesity. According to Michio Kushi and Alex Jack in their book, The Macrobiotic Path to Health, “Consumption of too much sugar, honey, chocolate, and other concentrated sweeteners; milk, ice cream, butter, yogurt, and other light dairy foods; light refined pastries and flour products; tropical vegetables and fruits; spices; stimulants; alcohol and drugs and other excessive yin (energy that is expanding) substances can cause the pancreas to grow soft, loosen, or swell, contributing to diabetes.”

When the pancreas becomes too expanded, it loses its ability to secrete insulin. Simple refined sugars metabolize too quickly, causing an acidic condition in the blood, triggering the pancreas to secrete excess insulin to match the excess sugar. As these macrobiotic authors state, “Sugar begins to appear in the urine, the body loses water, and reserve minerals are depleted.” Complex carbohydrates such as low fat whole grains, beans, vegetables, and seeds are profoundly healthier for the body. As the Cleveland Clinic Medical Information states, “They (complex carbohydrates) are considered very healthy mostly because they are digested by the body slowly and provide a steady source of energy.” Reducing saturated fat is also recommended by the Cleveland Clinic. Complex carbohydrates also contain more fiber, shown to slow sugar absorption, thus helping to better control blood glucose levels. Education of such facts raises awareness while ignorance can raise blood sugar.

Logical sense tells us that excess sugar consumption equals sugar in the blood and urine. The body simply cannot properly process the intense invasion of excess refined sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners, used so widely, are not the answer for either health or weight control. Studies by Drs. Richard and Rachael Heller conclude that artificial sweeteners (refined carbohydrates), put your body in a fat-making mode, making it easier to gain and more difficult to lose weight. We need our sweets! Eating organic complex-carbohydrate whole grains and grain sweeteners such as brown rice syrup, brown rice malt, and barley malt, along with sweet vegetables, vegetable juices, and amasake rice beverages satisfies sweet cravings and are balanced for the pancreas and entire body and mind. The consumption of animal food may increase sweet (yin) cravings. A study and practice of macrobiotic way of eating and living is highly recommended for the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

Along with a balanced diet, several special recipes are recommended to prevent and help treat diabetes. Aduki beans, cooked with kombu sea vegetable, sea salt, and sweet winter squash is a classic macrobiotic dish to nourish the pancreas and spleen. Sweet vegetable drink prepared with sweet squash, carrot, onion, and cabbage calms sweet cravings and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. Millet is the best grain for the pancreas and spleen and can be made in a variety of delicious dishes. A slightly more yang macrobiotic diet is appropriate for diabetes, according to Kushi and Jack as explained in The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health. Cinnamon is also shown to help balance blood sugar levels.

Obesity is a weighty issue and an alarming problem in modern America where 61% are considered overweight. It is estimated that 1 in 4 Americans are obese. Obesity is becoming more and more common, affecting even adolescents at an increasing rate each year. Overweight is a contributing factor to the development of diabetes. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published a study revealing that a weight gain of just over 2 pounds each year over 10 years was associated with a 49% increased risk of developing diabetes. A weight loss of over 2 pounds per year for 10 years decreased the risk of developing diabetes by one third.  A 1992 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reports that children who drink cow’s milk increase the risk of developing diabetes. In addition, a lower fat diet consisting mainly of whole grains, legumes, and vegetables has been shown to reduce body fat as well as cholesterol, another risk associated with diabetes. People who immigrate to America from other countries are more likely to develop diabetes as well as cancer, indicating that America’s dietary and lifestyle influences dramatically contribute to these diseases.

Chewing well has profound benefits for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Carbohydrates must be changed in the mouth to be better processed and absorbed by the body. Lino Stanchich writes in his book, Power Eating Program: You Are How You Eat that chewing well helps metabolize carbohydrates by pre-digesting them in the mouth thus normalizing the functions of the spleen and pancreas to produce the right amount of insulin to stabilize blood sugar. After chewing well, until food is liquefied, energy increases, thinking sharpens, moods relax, and sweet cravings decrease, causing many to lose excess weight. Whichever diet you choose, chew your mouthfuls well. Of course, coupling a healthy whole foods diet with calm, thorough chewing is an unbeatable combination, a true foundation to a healthier, happier life.

Move it or lose it! If one wants to improve their total health and help treat their diabetes, exercise, along with a healthy diet works wonders. “Conventional wisdom dictates that a lifestyle change- eating modifications and exercise- can reduce diabetes risk as well as many, many health benefits,” says H. Resnick, PhD, a Washington D.C. epidemiologist. Jaakko Tuomilehto, MD, a professor at the National Public Health Institute of Helsinki, Finland, completed research that shows that weight loss and moderate exercise together can produce greater results. “Lifestyle modification reduced the incidence of Type 2 diabetes by 58% in people at high risk for the disease.” Yo Yo dieters, those who lose and gain again and again do not have lasting benefits. “It’s only when they become committed to improving their health that results become long-lasting,” states Dr. Tuomilehto. Stress reduction modalities such as dancing, yoga, or tai chi, as well as strolls in parks reduce blood pressure and induce feelings of well being. Finding a variety of pleasurable ways to bring sweetness into our lives brings satisfaction and joy.

“Ignore your health and it will go away,” reads a neighbor’s bumper sticker.

Indeed, it is up to each of us to study, research, and discover every way we can be healthier in this modern world. There are many paths, much advice, numerous influences, and myriad demands on our time. Yet without good health, life is certainly less sweet, less enjoyable, less fulfilling. The quest for health should be a top priority in our lives. There is so much we can do. Read food labels. Grow organic. Laugh much. Cook. Research well. Grab your life, your diet, and your health by your own hands and make the necessary lifestyle changes. Diabetes can be often controlled and prevented. Your health can be more than a sweet dream, it can be a sweet success.

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