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Diabetes — Who’s To Blame?

David Spero

May 2, 2012

Two weeks ago I looked at what’s a bigger factor in Type 2 diabetes, genes or food. Because I ranked food higher, several people accused me of “blaming the victim.” I don’t blame people with diabetes. But I do blame some other people.

First, I blame myself for oversimplifying the question. It’s not genes versus food as the cause of Type 2. It’s genes AND food, and stress, and physical movement (or lack of it.) And it’s also the load of chemicals in our environment and our food. So who is to blame for all of that?

I blame people in the food industry who create and market unhealthy food. Grown with chemicals, processed, stripped of most nutrition, filled with taste-good chemicals, packaged, and heavily marketed, this food promotes diabetes and other illnesses for profit.

Then there is the social environment that stresses people out, makes them feel overwhelmed and unloved, and then says, “Here, feel better with sugar and television.” Social, economic, and environmental stress hit poor people the hardest, which is why they have so much diabetes. But the same factors affect all of us.

There are the people who designed and built our environment to serve cars, but make it nearly impossible to walk. Some cities have no sidewalks; huge streets have no traffic lights to help you cross. I blame the auto industry and the people who built our cities this way.

There are all the toxic chemicals that are dumped into our environment and sometimes directly into our food. As Jan Chait wrote about here, plastics such as those used in water bottles can promote diabetes. So can agricultural chemicals and air pollution. I blame the people who expose us to all these toxins.

Most of all, I blame the medical establishment, including the American Diabetes Association (ADA). For forty years, they promoted starchy diets for people with diabetes. Until 2006 or 2007, they used to say “Make starches the star” of a diabetic diet. Until 1994, they recommended that 55% to 60% of calories should come from carbs, more than in the average American diet.

The reason they prescribed a low-fat diet was that most people with diabetes eventually die from heart disease or stroke. Back then, high fat and cholesterol were thought to be the causes of heart disease. So the “experts” preached low-fat, high-carb diets.

But we have known for 20 years now that high blood glucose levels are the main causes of heart disease in people with diabetes. Why haven’t they loudly changed the recommendations and told the world? Is it because they don’t want to admit a mistake? Whatever the reason, I blame them.

They also still tell people that you can eat anything on a diabetic diet, as long as you do it in moderation. Many people believe them, but I don’t. (What do you think?) Of course it’s no disaster to eat a cookie once in a while, but diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate metabolism. That means people with diabetes can’t handle carbs well, especially refined carbs. Insulin doesn’t work well or isn’t there. You eat refined carbs at your own risk.

It’s true that genes cause these insulin problems. I could probably eat all the sugar I wanted and never get diabetes. My A1C is 4.1%. (My genes have gone wrong in other ways.) Stress turns on those diabetes-promoting genes, usually in childhood, infancy, or even in the uterus. Chemicals in the environment make them worse. But even if those genes are turned on full-blast, they usually won’t cause diabetes without sugars and/or starches in the diet. It’s the combination of food, stress, lack of exercise, chemicals, and genes that cause Type 2.

Fiber and vegetables, on the other hand, help with blood glucose control and help the body deal with toxic chemicals. (So does vinegar.) So eat more of those.

I don’t blame people for eating food that is affordable, available, and promoted. I blame the people who promote it (whether the medical or food industry). I don’t blame people for eating what makes them feel better when they’re stressed. I blame the people who are stressing them.

But I do recommend that you eat what your genes want you to eat. Since we can’t change our genes, I recommend going high-fiber, no sugar, and low-flour. You may not be cured, but it can’t hurt, and hundreds of thousands of people say it’s helped them.

**

You might like my new post at Reasons to Live, “Compost That Bucket List.” It’s about how living for now and being who you really are is more valuable than going and doing. Click here.



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