“Every 17 seconds an American is diagnosed with diabetes.”
So reads the cover of an informational booklet that recently arrived in my mailbox. Written by the PEO (professional employer organization) that handles my company’s HR and insurance, this brochure espouses the goal of “improving the health of our employees.”
Despite their laudable intentions, the brochure’s diabetes prevention advice is the same hogwash that’s gotten us into this diabetes mess in the first place.
According to the experts who wrote this pamphlet, to help prevent diabetes, our diets should:
- Be rich in whole grains and low-fat dairy
- Limit saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium
- Limit added sugars
Now, why should someone who wants to avoid Type 2 diabetes avoid added sugars? Simple: because constantly ingesting a bunch of sugar that must be metabolized through an insulin response places an incredible demand on the pancreas, hastening beta cell burnout. (Beta cells are the insulin-producing component of the pancreas.) In addition, the elevated glucose level themselves destroy beta cells, which in a superb example of physiological irony, are especially sensitive to elevated glucose levels.
It makes perfect sense that someone wanting to minimize the risk of Type 2 diabetes would avoid added sugars. Why then, I wonder, does the same set of guidelines suggest that we eat a diet rich in whole grains when grains elevate blood glucose levels as much, or even more, than added sugars?
In other words, to minimize your risk of diabetes, limit added sugars because they elevate your glucose but be sure to eat plenty of whole grains that elevate your blood glucose as much as the added sugars do.
What to see for yourself? Go to the drug store and buy a glucose meter and some strips and check your blood glucose one and two hours after finishing that suggested whole-grain meal. Of course, despite the lip service that guidelines like this pay to “regular screenings” and “routine blood sugar testing,” they never suggest the simple step of buying a glucose meter and actually checking one’s glucose levels after eating. Heavens no. That would be crazy. It’s only after someone is officially diagnosed as a diabetic (in other words, when it’s too late to avoid diabetes) does the topic of testing one’s glucose arise.
And why do the experts recommend low-fat? Of all of the macronutrients available, fat is the friendliest to blood glucose levels. After recommending that we eat plenty of glucose-elevating whole grains, the experts now tell us to prolong the health of our pancreas by avoiding the one macronutrient group that doesn’t elevate our glucose levels?
There’s a saying, long past cliché, that says that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. While this obviously isn’t really the definition of insanity, it is the definition of stupid.
Not “oops! I missed some subtle detail,” stupid or “gee, I made a slight rounding error in my calculation” stupid. We’re talking the kind of palm-to-the-forehead stupidity that compels a person to sit in a corner, day after day, trying to cram a square peg into a round hole, the whole time thinking “if I just push harder it’s gotta fit this time.”
In the face of skyrocketing rates of diabetes, if we only push harder for people to just eat more glucose-promoting grains and the avoid glucose-friendly fats that were commonly eaten back when diabetes was a rarity, we can certainly reverse this diabetes epidemic.
Square peg, meet round hole.