Why are Asian Americans at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than Caucasian Americans, and prone to develop the disease at lower body weights? One part of this puzzle may lie in the transition from traditional high-fiber, low-fat Asian diets to current westernized diets, which may pose extra risks for those of Asian heritage, says George King, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin Diabetes Center and the senior author of the study.

A Joslin randomized clinical trial now has demonstrated that both Asian Americans and Caucasian Americans at risk of type 2 diabetes who adopted a rigorously controlled traditional Asian diet lowered their insulin resistance. (A leading risk factor for developing the disease, insulin resistance is a condition in which the body struggles to use the hormone insulin, which helps to metabolize sugar.)

Moreover, when both groups of participants then switched to consuming typical western fare, the Asian Americans experienced greater increases in insulin resistance than did the Caucasian Americans, says Dr. King, senior author on a paper on the study published in the journal PLOS One.

The 16-week pilot trial was completed by 24 East Asian Americans and 16 Caucasian Americans, who had an average age of 34 and were either of normal weight or overweight but not obese. All the volunteers had a family history of type 2 diabetes or another indication of diabetes risk such as gestational diabetes.

For the first eight weeks, all the participants ate a traditional high-fiber East Asian diet with 70% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein and 15% from fat, and providing 15 g fiber/1,000 kcal. The food was prepared fresh by local chefs and delivered every two days. “Three meals and one snack were included each day, and we made sure that they were nutritious as well as very tasty,” says Ka Hei Karen Lau, a Joslin dietitian and certified diabetes educator.

For the second eight weeks, 33 of the volunteers (20 Asian Americans and 13 Caucasian Americans) transitioned to a typical low-fiber western diet with 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 16% from protein and 34% from fat, and providing 6 g fiber/1,000 kcal. Seven volunteers (4 Asian Americans and 3 Caucasian Americans) stayed on the traditional Asian diet to act as controls for the study.

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“These results were very exciting for Asian Americans,” Lau says. “We are at high risk for diabetes, but we can use diet to help prevent it.”

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Asian Americans have about 20% higher risks of developing type 2 diabetes than Caucasian Americans. More than half of the adults in the world with the disease live in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, the researchers pointed out, and about 10% of adults in China now suffer from diabetes.

A book written by Dr. King, Diabetes Reset, will be publishing in early 2015. In the book, it talks more about the traditional Asian diet, and eight steps to prevent and control diabetes.

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  • Anglokraut

    You don’t suppose white rice has anything to do with their blood sugar issues, do you? That stuff is just bad all around.

    • Bob

      They’ve been eating it for thousands of years. I doubt it. It’s the Western diets. What is bad for whites may not be bad for them. E.g: Soy, Rice is bad for whites – not for them.

      • cherrie greenbaum123

        I think it’s the combination of the two. My Vietnamese sister-in-law ate a strict Asian diet and never had a problem with weight. The Vietnamese businessmen she was acquainted with were often big Western diet guys, eating potatoes, rice, desserts, etc. They also drank alcohol, which most Asians just can’t handle. My sister-in-law couldn’t even finish one beer. I think alcohol consumption is a huge part of it.

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    • Rice is just carbohydrates like potatoes or any other starchy food.

      • willbest

        If its chilled it becomes a resistant starch. The Asian diet has substantially more resistant starches which cultivates a different gut flora.

    • willbest

      Cold rice isn’t all that bad for you. Its got resistant starch which feeds your gut bacteria

  • LHathaway

    It’s Western food.

    • phillyguy

      good lets keep on serving it to them

  • IstvanIN

    both Asian Americans and Caucasian Americans at risk of type 2 diabetes
    both Asian Americans and Real Americans at risk of type 2 diabetes
    There, fixed it.

  • Alexandra1973

    I’d say *anyone* on a standard Western diet is at risk.

  • Don’t eat sugar. It’s bad for you, mmm’kay.

    • IstvanIN

      You mean Coloradans really talk like that????

      • No, of course not.

        • IstvanIN

          M’kay.

          • Us long-timers who grew up here really do say “Howdy”, if that helps any. My sister used to run the “mutton-bustin” part of the state rodeo, which was little kids riding sheep.

  • TruthBeTold

    One part of this puzzle may lie in the transition from traditional
    high-fiber, low-fat Asian diets to current westernized diets, which may
    pose extra risks for those of Asian heritage

    The reasons for minorities to NOT come to western cultures keeps growing yet they still keep coming.

    It seems they would rather suffer living among us than living among their own.

    • willbest

      Western diet isn’t all that great for westerners.

  • Diet affects the races differently? This study must be flawed because all the professors say that race is a social construct. Yep, must be a mistake somewhere in the research.

    • willbest

      Pretty sure its because they were oppressed by white people. That PTSD has caused a neurochemical imbalance resulting a diminished capacity to process sugar.

  • JohnEngelman

    From the transition from a paleolithic hunter to a neolithic farmer there was a considerable increase in carbohydrates, and a decline in protein. This is why races that have recently adopted an agricultural diet – like North American Indians, and Australian Aborigines – are more likely to get type 2 diabetes.

    East Asians have consumed an agricultural diet as long as Europeans. Therefore I am surprised that they are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes.

  • Ultimate187

    I think this is less about genetics and more about environment. Diabetes is rising in China because multinational food companies like McDonalds have expanded there. Rates are rising in Asian-Americans because of adopting western diets.

    • willbest

      The question though is how come Asians have higher incidents of diabetes at same BMI levels, and its because they feel the effects of the western diet quicker due to where their fat cells are distributed (more between the organs)

      • WhiteVeinKratom

        It’s because race is REAL.

  • IKUredux

    Gosh, it would seem that non Whites ought to stay out of White Western countries. Hey, it’s better for their health. I mean it’s REALLY better for their health.

    • willbest

      It also suggested that the “unique” food argument might be dangerous. Sort of like sticking regular unleaded in a car designed for premium. Sure it will run, but not well and it will cause problems in the long run.

  • Stiv44

    So much for diabetes afflicting only fat people. Asians-orientals are usually thin and small-boned.

  • Ultimate187

    The main Asian group driving up diabetes rates are South Asians (i.e,. Indians and Pakistanis). It’s cultural. South Asian cooking is heavy on fats and oils.