Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

I am a science writer. I am not your doctor. If you have any questions about your health, ask your physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner. If you have any questions about what you should eat, talk to a registered dietitian. If you have any health problems or are taking any prescription medication, talk to your doctor before you make any make change in diet.

What is type 1 diabetes (thin diabetes)?

Type 1 diabetes (thin diabetes) means that your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep you alive. It means that you have to take insulin by injection. It used to be called juvenile diabetes or insulin-​dependent diabetes.

What is type 2 diabetes (fat diabetes)?

If you have type 2 diabetes (fat diabetes), it means that you are a naturally thin person. Your body is resisting the effects of insulin in order to keep you from storing more fat in your fat cells. Weight loss of any cause can reverse this problem. The best way to solve this problem is to switch to a low-​fat, high-​fiber, high-​carbohydrate diet. This diet will help you control your weight, your blood pressure, and your blood sugar naturally.

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates include simple sugars and molecules that are made up of simple sugars. When nutritionists talk about carbohydrates, they mean the substances that can be digested in the human small intestine, including several sugars and starches. The carbohydrates that cannot be digested in the human small intestine are called fiber. The normal bacteria in the large intestine can digest some fiber, to release short-​chain fatty acids. These short-​chain fatty acids can provide energy, especially to the cells of the large intestine.

What is glucose?

Glucose is a simple sugar. Glucose is your body’s favorite fuel. It is a particularly important fuel for your brain. Some foods, such as grapes, contain glucose. Your body can also get glucose by breaking down some other carbohydrates, such as table sugar (sucrose) or starches. If you eat no carbohydrates at all, your body can make glucose out of some of the amino acids from protein.

What is insulin?

Insulin is the hormone that a healthy pancreas releases in response to meal, or in response to high blood sugar. Insulin allows the heart and muscle cells to burn plenty of glucose, while glucose is plentiful. Insulin also encourages the liver and muscle cells to store glucose in the form of a starch called glycogen. As a result, insulin causes blood sugar to go down. Insulin tells fat cells to store fat. Because of this effect, you tend to store dietary fat right away. You do not start to burn much fat until you have burned through the carbohydrates you have just eaten. Insulin also encourages cells throughout the body to use amino acids to make protein. For this reason, insulin can be considered an anabolic (tissue-​building) hormone.

What is glucagon?

Glucagon is the hormone that a healthy pancreas releases in response to low insulin levels, which normally result from low blood sugar. Glucagon tells the liver to make glucose out of glycogen (glycogenolysis) or out of non-​carbohydrates (gluconeogenesis). Unfortunately, a person with untreated type 1 diabetes will have low insulin levels despite having high blood glucose. In response to the low insulin levels, their pancreas will release glucagon, which will cause blood glucose levels to rise even higher. If someone takes too much insulin, their blood sugar can drop to dangerously low levels because the insulin keeps their pancreas from releasing glucagon. Glucagon is now available as a drug to treat episodes of low blood sugar due to insulin overdose.

What is a calorie?

The calories in our food are actually kilocalories. A kilocalorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree centigrade. The calories from food represent the amount of energy that they can deliver to our cells, not the amount of weight that they deliver to our love handles.

Which is more fattening, carbs or fat?

It is easy to fatten on fats. It is hard to fatten on carbohydrates. One reason is calorie density. Fats are 9 calories per gram. Carbs are only 4 calories per gram. Also, fat repels water, while carbs are usually diluted with water and fiber. As a result, starchy foods provide only 1 calorie per gram. Also, sugars and starches satisfy your appetite, while fats do not. Fat is also much easier to store. When you eat a mixture of fats and carbs, insulin will cause you to store the fat right away. Only about 3% of the calories are lost in the storage process. In contrast, your body hardly ever makes fat out of sugar. When it does, about 30% of the calories are lost in the conversion process. To avoid this waste, the body will sometimes rev up its metabolism to burn the extra carbohydrates. For this reason, people on high-​carb diets stay slim, even if they manage to eat a few extra calories.