Nothing reveals a person’s true stripes faster than his/her reaction to the news of a health problem. What would you say, for example, if your healthcare provider told you your blood sugar levels were through the roof?
Perhaps, some of us would chalk it up to bad genes. “Both my parents developed diabetes, so I guess I was doomed!” Others might blame a summer of splurging on boardwalk treats. “I only ate that way because of the kids. But really, my normal diet isn’t that bad.”
And then there’s the bunch that is truly inspiring. They’re the ones who accept responsibility, re-evaluate their lifestyles and come up with a new exercise/diet plan that strips out the much-loved carbs and sugars. Yes, genes may play a role and it’s only natural to splurge sometimes (within reason). But, those who are honest with themselves about what they can do to improve their situation will be better off in the long run.
Unfortunately, though, it seems this latter group is the minority.
A Love Affair with Fats
I was floored to hear about some data on this very issue collected by researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine (1). The group looked at the eating habits of 2,757 type-2 diabetics who also were overweight. Surely, none of us are naïve enough to guess that everyone in this group is eating low-carb, high-fiber foods at every single meal. But, I think it is surprising to hear that the vast majority of this group is consistently eating all the wrong things. According to the researchers:
• 93% exceeded the recommended percentage of daily calories from fat,
• 85% exceeded the saturated fat recommendation,
• 92% regularly ate too much sodium, and
• Less than 50% got enough fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains. Instead, about 44% of their diet was coming from carbohydrates (!) and 40% from fat.
If these data are representative of the whole population of type-2 diabetics, then we’re in trouble.
Education in Context
Given the seriousness of this disease, one would expect diabetics to go out of their way to eat healthy. Clearly, many don’t. I can’t help but wonder if diabetes education is missing something. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum and must be juxtaposed with the fact that healthy eating is crucial—especially if you use prescription drugs or insulin to manage the disease. About 88% of the study participants took some form of diabetic drug. Did those taking diabetes medication also feel a sense of invisibility that contributed to their poor eating habits?
Let’s not ignore the false sense of comfort that some shoppers who also take prescriptions may harbor. Those who educate type-2 diabetics should underscore that prescription drugs aren’t safety nets in a world of unhealthy eating. Rather, they can be trap doors that lead to even worse choices if you don’t take the bull by the horns and make meaningful lifestyle changes. WF
1. M.Z. Vitolins, et al., “Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD) Trial: Baseline Evaluation of Selected Nutrients and Food Group Intake,” J. Amer. Diet. Assoc. 109 (8), 1367–1375 (2009).
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2009