My friend Cheryl Baker recently pedaled a bicycle 150 miles from Oak Ridge to Harrogate, TN and back along with others to raise money for diabetes education. For more on how you can help, skip to the end then come back. We don't want to lose you.
Meanwhile, I told Cheryl I'd write about diabetes this week so here goes. Boiling down all I've read, seen, heard and experienced to one line, here it is:
It's the carbs, stupid.
Carbohydrates will kill you if you let them. That's what more and more research is showing. Over-eating of potatoes, fine white flours, sugars and high-energy substitutes--such as fructose--are major causes of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and their symptoms, including high cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure.
It is not fats and proteins making people obese, heart-diseased and diabetic, new studies show, including two in the current New England Journal of Medicine that support the Dr. Atkins low-carb, high-protein and high-fat diet.
Like many others, I became interested after tests showed my triglyceride levels were way high. I tried to bring them down by running and cutting back on fat intake, but found myself always hungry and periodically gloomy about food, as the levels rose even higher.
Then one night, as I pored over a menu at a local restaurant, a friend said, "Don, cheer up, you don't get fat from eating fat. You don't get cholesterol from eating cholesterol."
I probably just gave about a dozen doctors coronaries by repeating my friend's assertion, but even doctors can be woefully ignorant about nutrition. I know of one who told a Type II diabetic she should start eating more pasta and less bread. When the diabetic responded, "Isn't pasta about the same thing?" the doctor said, "Oh yeah, I guess it is." A less assertive patient might have gleefully added spaghetti to her diet and lost a few toes by now, if not her life.
I'm no doctor, I'm no nutritionist, but I do have an inquiring mind, a distrust of dogma, and I intend to live a long long time, Lord willing. I also have a diabetic mother and a diabetic sister who won my undying admiration by becoming knowledgeable about how sugars and starches interact with insulin, both the kind produced by their own pancreas and the kind injected with needles, and who have taken responsibility for their own health. Following their examples, I've started paying attention to recent studies and my own experience.
What I've noticed is that lots of folks are losing weight, while lowering their sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and triglicerides through diets like "Sugarbusters," "The South Beach Diet," the "Protein Power Life Plan," the "Dr. Atkins Diet" and other, low-carb, high-fiber, high-protein-and-fat diets. I live with two vegetarians, so I've taken a modified "Sugar Busters" approach. Before starting any such diet make sure you own a good set of healthy kidneys. Too much protein can be damaging. For most of us, though, low carbs is the way to go, books, studies and experience show.
Recently a friend sent a copy of an article she read in "The Protein Power Life Plan," by Drs. Michael and Mary Eades. It was about a study conducted by Stanford University and the Geneva, Switzerland, Hospital, in which doctors divided 43 obese adults into two groups and restricted both groups to 1,000 calories per day--far too few for most of us. Both groups ate about the same amount of protein, but one group ate twice as much fat and 35 percent FEWER carbs. The results were jaw-dropping. Insulin levels in the high fat-eating group declined by a whopping 46 percent as compared to 8 percent in the high-carb group. In addition, the high-fat eating group had LOWER triglycerides, cholesterol and blood sugar, prompting researchers to "find it reasonable to question the advocacy of this low-fat dietary approach." Reasonable indeed.
The main thing I've learned from analyzing most everything I've ingested the past several weeks is this: The fewer carbs I eat, the less I want to eat. Got it? No? Then let me say it another way. It's not the patty, it's the bun.
If you gorge out on high-carb breads, cereals, crackers, potato chips, corn-chips, light-bread, French fries, milkshakes, raisins and candy, you're more likely to be hungry at the end of the day than if you had eaten far fewer calories in, say, shrimp, beef, whole-grain breads and chips, salads and other low-carb and high-protein or high-fiber foods. That's because carbs ignite surges in the body's blood-sugar, which trigger spikes in insulin, which can wear out the pancreas. And it's insulin that lays on the cholesterol as well as those inner tubes around the waist. As sugar-spikes abate, they leave you like a heroin addict--craving more. Unlike heroin, there is never a shortage of carbs in our society--a topic for another day. Oh by the way, last time I checked, my triglyceride levels had dropped 40 percent. Bottom line: Fewer carbs, more exercise. Now go take a bike ride.
Learn more by calling the American Diabetes Association toll-free at 888-DIABETES (342-2383) or visit www.diabetes.org/tour.