Back when we lived in Iowa, and did not have a lot of child-centered activities in town, we would take Franklin to the public library for new books to read to him. He loved it, and it gave me a chance to check out the “New Books” section for something I could read while Franklin was playing by himself, or in the evening.
One week, I found a book called Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat It. I picked it up because I had been trying to drastically reduce my intake of carbohydrates (I’m mixing up Thrive, The Body Ecology Diet and Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint), but also because I like anything diet related. I’m a total health geek, and I love it!
The book was written by Jeff O’Connell, a journalist who worked for Man’s Health and Muscle and Fitness, and found out that he was prediabetic. Troubled by the news, considering that his father developed type 2 diabetes and had his leg amputated, he went out to find the answer to the epidemic that is affecting so many individuals. He rightly points out that a very large majority of people either has diabetes or knows someone close who’s affected by the disease, and that when they are diagnosed, even though they could control their blood sugar with diet and exercise, they go for a pill. How many people with cancer would do away with something as easy as diet and exercise if it could save their lives? Diabetics just don’t see their illness as a death sentence, when it’s really a slow, often painful death.
In Sugar Nation, Jeff uncovers many facts that may not surprise many of my readers but are still astonishing. For example, did you know that most comments received by the USDA before publishing their diet guidelines come from companies and organizations like the US Rice Federation, The Sugar Association, The Foundation for the Advancement of Grain Based Foods, The National Pasta Association and the US Potato Board? I don’t eat a lot of grains, and I definitely don’t buy packaged grain based products, but this piece of information makes me want to boycott the entire industry. Yet another reason to eat less carbs!
Jeff O’Connell first starts with a very strict Atkins diet where 20 grams or less of carbohydrates are allowed (if you can’t put this into context, believe me, 20 grams is tough!). He will later increase his carb intake due to his particular condition which leads to wild blood sugar swings and a resulting (and surprising) perfect A1C score. He notes:
Realizing how good these foods taste before all that junk is poured over them back in the kitchen will be a revelation. If you’re like me, removing sugary treats and other junk foods from your diet will unveil the simple pleasures of natural food, perhaps for the first time in your life. Red wine paired with fresh fish and steamed broccoli can become an exquisite pleasure. Rather than feeling deprived, I began enjoying food more than ever before.
I wish, oh I wish, that diabetics (and people eating an unhealthy standard American diet) could understand that real food does taste good! I wish I could be paid to get diabetics into my house and teach them to cook, teach them that good food does not equal unhealthy food, but it also makes you feel amazing, instead of sluggish and unmotivated. Caffeine? Who needs it? Sugar highs? Why? Why not have energy all day long rather than a temporary high followed by a crash?
Jeff O’Connell also reports many interesting diet facts, like this one:
Avocados may give eggs a run for their money as the king of all anti-diabetes foods. First, the measurements: 22 grams of very healthy fats, 3 grams of protein, and 13 grams of carbs, 10 of which are fiber! The single gram of sugar it contains, mannoheptulose, has a unique chemical structure that actually helps clear glucose from the blood.
The book has more than what seems like common sense to most health conscious people. He also discussed the fact that, contrary to popular belief, a good A1C (which measures your average blood sugar for the past 3 months) can hide the fact that you are pre-diabetic. Most doctors will send you home with a clean bill of health if your A1C comes back fine, but the truth is that you can have wide blood sugar swings and the very low sugars will offset the very high ones… and your average will seem perfectly healthy.
When I finished reading the book, I gave it my husband. My husband loves good food, carbohydrates and sugar. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes also run in his family. After reading a few chapters, the first thing he said was that Jeff was a very good writer — coming from my husband, that’s a huge compliment. Unfortunately, he wasn’t convinced to lower his carb intake as the author’s diet as a prediabetic was pretty dismal (fast food, doughnuts, sodas etc.) so it did not exactly shock my husband into reexamining his own diet. I wish he had focused on seemingly healthy diet, something he does only briefly when he argues that High Fructose Corn Syrup, while bad, is not that much worse than other types of sugar when it comes to overworking the pancreas and sending our blood sugar on wild rides.
I loved that book, pure and simple. When I was pregnant and was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I was furious. I was furious that my seemingly perfect diet did not prevent me from becoming insulin resistant (even if just for 3 short months), furious that Franklin now had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes as a result, and furious that no one had answers for me.
I searched the Internet with a fine toothed comb and asked many, many questions to my endocrinologist, and got no satisfying answers. I now believe that my diabetes was caused by a vitamin D deficiency that went undiagnosed and pregnant women are not routintely checked for it (really, don’t they think that a woman married for 7 years and pregnant with her first child has a higher risk of having a vitamin D deficiency than AIDS, which they tested me for?). But I found out about this gestational diabetes/vitamin D link after giving birth, while researching vitamin D and finding out that not enough of the vitamin impairs insulin production.
Jeff O’Connell is like me. He’s a man who’s not satisfied with the status quo, and someone who doesn’t take what the medical establishment says for granted. He knew that lifestyle plays an important role in whether someone is sick or healthy, and he did not want to take the easy way out — pop a pill and keep eating glazed doughnuts. He wanted health, he wanted truth, and he wants people to take responsibility for their actions. People like him are the kind I want to surround myself with.