A top nutritionist has criticized the NHS soup and shake diet, which scientists this week praised for reversing diabetes.
The plan, which involves consuming 800 calories a day for up to five months, can put patients in remission for at least five years.
Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of nutrition company ZOE, told MailOnline that the extreme diet could help “a very small number of highly motivated individuals” to reverse their diabetes.
However, it is “completely the wrong message” to tell people desperate to slim down that they can use ultra-processed substitutes to do so, according to the author of the Sunday Times bestsellers Food for Life and Spoon Fed.
Meal replacement shakes and soups are classified as ultra-processed foods because they are made from ingredients not found in a typical kitchen, such as sweeteners.
Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of nutrition company ZOE, said it is ‘entirely the wrong message’ to send to people desperate to slim down
In an effort to get to grips with the UK’s diabetes epidemic, researchers from the Universities of Newcastle and Glasgow, supported by Diabetes UK, launched the DiRECT study six years ago.
It saw some 149 volunteers with type 2 diabetes consume about 800 calories daily from Optifast strawberry, vanilla or chocolate shakes and tomato, vegetable or potato and leach soups.
The groundbreaking study showed that remission of type 2 diabetes is possible through diet change, with 36 percent of participants being free of the condition two years later.
As an extension of the study, 95 volunteers – about half of whom were in remission – received support to maintain their weight loss over the next three years.
Results from that trial, released this week, revealed that 11 of those already in remission (23 percent) remained that way at the end of the study and had lost an average of 8.9 kg (19.6 lbs).
But Professor Spector said: ‘Of the original 149 participants, only 11 managed to reverse their diabetes.
“The positive thing here is that this study does show that it is possible to get a very small number of highly motivated individuals into remission through calorie control.
‘But 800 kcal in soups and shakes is certainly not suitable for most people.
“At ZOE, we believe using real foods is the answer to long-term health, not these low-calorie, ultra-processed (UPF) food substitutes.
“It’s a completely wrong message to give people who got into trouble because of their poor diet in the first place a UPF diet (which they can use) to solve the problem.”
The researchers behind the study say their results provide further evidence that lifestyle changes, rather than medication, can help beat the disease, which was described last week as a ‘rapidly escalating crisis’ in the UK.
They believe losing weight and keeping it off is the key to curing the serious condition, which has increased alongside obesity over the past decade.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly, leading to high blood sugar levels.
It affects about 4.5 million people in Britain and 37 million in the US. Although obese is driven, about 15 percent of all patients are “normal weight.”
Leading charities have warned that rates will skyrocket in coming years. The NHS already spends £10bn a year on diabetes treatment – about a tenth of its budget.
More than 2,000 people have started treatment under the NHS England low-calorie diet programme, which is offered by about half of England’s health authorities.
In addition to the meal replacements, those on the plan also receive support from a nurse or dietician to reintroduce healthy foods and maintain weight loss while medications for type 2 diabetes and blood pressure were discontinued.
The full expansion of the program is expected to be completed by March next year, and doctors hope it will save tens of thousands of people from developing the condition each year.
Dr. Elizabeth Robertson, research director at Diabetes UK who funded the study, said the findings confirm that it is possible to stay in long-term remission.
She said: ‘For those who put type 2 diabetes into remission, it can be life-changing and provide a better chance for a healthier future.
“For those who can’t go into remission, losing weight can still lead to major health benefits, including improved blood sugar levels and a reduced risk of serious diabetes complications such as heart attack and stroke.”
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, Head of Diabetes and Obesity at NHS England, said: ‘The NHS is already making the most of this research for patients through our low-calorie diet programme, which has shown fantastic initial results.
“We plan to expand the program nationwide to give thousands more the opportunity to shed the pounds and improve their health.”
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood sugar level becomes too high.
It is believed that over 4 million people in the UK have some form of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you are more likely to get it if it runs in your family.
The condition means that the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin — the hormone that controls the absorption of sugar into the blood — and can’t properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.
Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes because the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels and also makes the body more resistant to insulin.
Weight loss is key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.
Symptoms include fatigue, thirst, and frequent urination.
It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, eyesight and the heart.
Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more severe cases may require medication.
Source: NHS Choices; Diabetes.nl