Diabetes Self-Management Blog

It was nearly 60 years ago, but I can still remember “helping” my grandfather in his garden when I was a little girl. First came tomatoes, then the neat rows of corn festooned with pole beans climbing up the stalks in his garden beside the Kanawha River in Glasgow, West Virginia.

In retrospect, it’s probably good that Glasgow is upriver from “chemical valley” where, beginning at the western edge of Charleston, West Virginia, chemical plant after chemical plant march one after the other and, at least at back in the day, spewed their waste into the Kanawha River. A Charleston, WV, newspaper once developed film in water from the Kanawha and got fuzzy, but recognizable, images. I shudder to think what it was doing to food grown by farmers down-river.

Food was pretty much “pure” when I was a little girl. New strains of plants were developed by cross-pollinating different strains. Foods were preserved by canning or drying. Freezing was later added.

In more recent times, however, the drive to make it bigger, do it faster, make factory-like farms more efficient, develop fruits and vegetables that can travel hundreds — even thousands — of miles without harm, has brought about changes in the way foods are developed and grown. And, while we can buy any food all year around — not just when it’s in season — it just doesn’t seem to taste as good as when I was a young’un. (About factory-like farms: Don’t believe me? Watch this.)

I peddled my grandfather’s excess tomatoes, beans, and corn to his neighbors. I helped my grandmother can some beans and string others on long strands of doubled thread to hang on nails and dry in the water heater shed attached to the back of her house. A friend’s grandmother hung her “leather britches” in the attic. Corn, beans, tomatoes, and tomato juice in Mason jars lined the shelves in her pantry and, best of all, there was a crock of delicious pickled corn sitting on the floor in there, too.

And today? Genetic engineering (even in the seeds plants are grown from), food additives, food animals injected with growth hormones, antibiotics in animal feed — they make plants more resistant to diseases and able to travel for longer distances, get a greater percentage of food animals to market sooner and…well, who knows what else is going on out there. If a food is out of season here, it’s in season somewhere else and on our grocery shelves.

But there’s a price we pay. And that’s what biochemist Dr. Barbara Corkey and a handful of others are working on: Are the “foreign” substances in our foods among the environmental triggers causing today’s diabetes and obesity epidemics?

She has found some substances that cause the pancreas to release excess insulin, which contributes to obesity and diabetes. I’ve gotten an interview with her to go more into depth on that. I’ll be talking to her later this week and running that blog entry next week.

In the meantime, what can we do? I don’t know.

Last week, I talked about bisphenol A (BPA), which has been connected to diabetes and other health problems. The US Food and Drug Administration declined to ban BPA (although Canada labeled it a toxic substance in 2010) in late March, but consumers’ voices are being heard by manufacturers. If you look, you’ll see labels proclaiming some items as being BPA free. My double-walled plastic glass with a lid and straw came with such a label. (I’m clumsy, plus I have eight cats. ’Nuff said.)

So one day, when researchers have figured out what food additives are toxic in some way, consumer outcries could result in similar labels proclaiming foods “X free,” even if the FDA says it’s really OK.

When I bought or ordered seeds and plants for my garden, I got the heirloom varieties as much as possible.

I wash all of the fresh fruits and vegetables I buy from the store. You don’t know what they were washed in, or what else might be on them.

I cook from scratch as much as possible. Interestingly, this is Passover, when it’s darned near impossible to eat processed foods because you can’t eat corn products and everything has corn something in it, so it’s scratch all the way. I’m noticing my blood glucose is down a bit. Or it could be coincidental. (You know how that darned diabetes can be…)

Hopefully, there will be more on the testing of processed foods next week. About those substances Dr. Corkey has found that cause the pancreas to release too much insulin? You’ll be amazed at what one of them is.


  1. The latest Discover magazine has an interesting article about Howarth Bouis, an economist who is using old-fashioned plant breeding techniques to outdo genetically modified products to improve agriculture in Africa. Instead of genetically engineering plants, he and his colleagues crossed varieties of plants for specific desirable traits such as increased vitamins and increased hardiness. He is hedging his bets by investing about 2% of his budget in genetics research, but what he’s doing is making a huge difference now. Would that we could do the same in the US.

    Posted by Deb |
  2. What an inspiring story! Self-discipline is truly very important in combating and preventing diseases.

    Posted by Scott Alexander |

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