“My family thought that I was going to die soon as I had stopped taking grains completely,” says 57-year-old Shashikant Iyengar. Iyengar had switched to low-carb diet soon after the diagnosis of diabetes in September 2015, but it did not go down well with his south Indian family that swears by carb-rich idli, dosa, chapatis and rice, three times a day.
His family was confident that he would be able to get his sugar levels under control as he was more aware of the condition. His work then revolved around medications for diabetes and heart health in a pharmaceutical company. But it took some convincing for his family to accept that he won’t be able to indulge in these regular south Indian household delicacies.
Speaking to Happiest Health, Mumbai-based Iyengar says, “Medications doesn’t address the root cause. With time, the doses and number of medicines only increase. That’s why I decided to address the issue mostly with diet and since 8 years, I’ve been able to maintain HbA1C at around 5 percent.”
He also says that initially his family was not convinced about his plan to reverse diabetes. “I told them then that it was just for six months that I’m trying to cut down on carbs. But when they started seeing results, they were convinced,” he adds.
An accidental diabetes diagnosis
Iyengar was in disbelief when he learned of his diagnosis even though he always knew he would most likely develop it one day due to his family history. “It was an accidental diagnosis. I had no symptoms. It was during a diabetes detection drive by my pharmaceutical company that I found my sugar levels were high. My fasting blood sugar was around 152 mg/dL, postprandial around 253 mg/dL and HbA1C 7.2 percent,” he says. He did the test again himself and was alarmed when he found his sugar levels 275 mg/dL, three hours after a meal.
That’s when Iyengar’s journey against diabetes began. He consulted a doctor, who advised him to start a low fat and low salt diet along with medications. But he thought they were not enough. He joined a diabetes community and did extensive research about the condition. “Then I was finally convinced with one approach of lowering carbohydrates intake to manage diabetes. Carbs are the only macronutrients, which raise blood sugar significantly, unlike protein and fat,” he says.
Cooking the perfect cure for diabetes
With a strict low carb diet and 30 minutes to one hour walk in the morning every day, he brought down his HbA1C levels to 5.2 percent in four months. He worked further on himself and brought down those levels to 4.7 percent. He is currently maintaining his HbA1C levels at 5 percent. “I did it by getting off grains, root vegetables, sugar and eating a lot of protein like paneer, cheese and yogurt,” he says, adding that being a vegetarian, he does not consume meat but adopted eggs in his diet to increase his protein intake. He coupled it with intermittent fasting with two meals a day.
Despite reversing diabetes, he continues to follow the same diet to date. He takes 4 to 8 eggs, yogurt or hung curd, non-starchy vegetables, avocado and some nuts for breakfast. He then only consumes black tea or black coffee or green tea and lemon juice throughout the day. “I then have an early dinner at 6.30pm. I take 150 to 200g paneer, sauteed with some vegetables. Sometimes if sambar or rasam is made at home, I take that too. My meals are very simple,” he says.
Spreading the tribe of diabetes slayers
He stopped taking medications over five years ago. He also lost around 10 kgs incidentally with his diet. He says he never focused on weight loss as he was always an underweight for his 5’9 height. But he had central obesity, which is not there anymore.
Since he reduced his sugar levels, he could also manage his other health complications like frozen shoulder, cervical spondylitis, fatty liver and osteoarthritis. They too were diagnosed around the same time as his diabetes diagnosis. The acute pain in the neck and legs disappeared and he says he can now run up the stairs again. “I also always had tinnitus, ringing in the ears. Sometimes, it would be deafening especially when there is dead silence in the room due to power cuts. But now, the intensity has come down to about 15 to 20 percent of what it was earlier,” he says.
Today, Iyengar is diabetes free and works as a metabolic health coach, creating awareness about the condition and helping people reverse diabetes. He has also set an example for his family. His 49-year-old cousin has been able to reduce his insulin dependency to a few units and his aunt has cut down on several medications as they now have been able to keep their long-standing diabetes under check.