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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Diseases of Civilization and such...

Diabetes is the quintessential example of a disease of civilization.  Therefore, we can learn from diabetics.  Many studies--of large numbers of diabetics--show that those who keep their blood glucose under tight control avoid the complications that diabetes causes. I just read a “groundbreaking” article this morning that now reports Type II Diabetes is reversible.  Actually, many knew that already, but I am glad to see mainstream medicine catching up!   I commend this website to you and for those with this disease.

Clearly, high blood glucose (blood sugar) and resulting insulin equals disease.  While I have written much about why that is (chronic inflammation) today’s information is about blood sugar.

Just as a side note, why are diabetes (and others like heart disease) called the diseases of civilization?  Because primitive (uncivilized) people, the hunter/gatherers of the world do NOT get these diseases, only people of civilized societies do.

Since this whole blood sugar/insulin system is also involved in insulin resistance (the precursor of diabetes)  and the cause of metabolic syndrome and much of the woe of the middle aged middle, fixing insulin resistance interests me enormously. 

While official diabetes consensus says that a high-carbohydrate diet is best for people with diabetes (boy don’t I wish I could unravel the money interests behind this deadly stance), many more experts, led by endocrinologists like Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, recommend a low-carbohydrate diet.  Carbohydrates raise blood glucose to dangerous levels and they stress the body's insulin system and are probably the chief culprits in insulin resistance, obesity and chronic inflammation.  So this deadly and official stance has some challengers!  Thank goodness!

Enter the glycemic index and the glycemic load—scientific ways of measuring the impact on blood sugar that a food produces.  And by the way, ONLY carbohydrate foods have an impact on blood sugar.  Fats and protein do not convert to glucose, do not raise blood sugar and do not trigger insulin production.  Here’s the “official” word:  “In fact, recent studies indicate that neither protein nor fat have more than a minuscule affect on blood glucose.  This seems to be true for people both with and without diabetes.  The protein studies are particularly interesting as there was no increase in blood glucose levels after the protein meal.  Fat delays the peak but not the total glucose response of the carbohydrates in the meal.  And protein plus carbohydrate nets nearly the same results as plain carbohydrate, so protein just has zero impact.   

The glycemic index measures how quickly an ingested carbohydrate converts to blood sugar.  Some foods convert quickly some much more slowly. 

The glycemic load measures how much sugar is in a serving.  For example, watermelon has a high glycemic index (it turns to blood sugar quickly) but there isn’t much sugar IN it, so the high index still doesn’t make a high load.

The index is a starting place and the GI number must be multiplied by amount to give a useful number.  All the above by way of explaining that glycemic load numbers really matter:  Low is 10 or less (little impact on blood sugar and what your biology is designed for.  Medium is 10-20 and high is over 20.  Glycemic load numbers of what you put in your mouth might be the single best predictor of how you feel, how you age and your risk of all disease.  Remember, we’re talking long term health and wellness, not short term.  The whole insulin system is in part an emergency backup system.  That hunter/gatherer ancestor may have found a beehive and gorged on honey once a year and the body needed a way of dealing with a spike of blood sugar.  But when the system is forced to be in emergency mode every day, every meal, every week, month and year, disease is the only possible outcome.

For many years the glycemic index and load were difficult to come by.  Fortunately there is an easy website today that will give you the numbers easily.  You can search for particular foods and choose serving size.  Even this easy search option will take a little time for a few days or weeks.  Invest the time.  You will eventually know the majority of your favorites and not have to look up so many.  Remember, healthy blood sugar results from a glycemic loads of 10 or less.  And it is additive.  If you have a piece of watermelon and a plum, the loads add together in your blood sugar.

The next time you hear advertising or even an “expert” tell you how healthy whole grains are, do a quick search on the nutrition data website and just look at the glycemic load.  All grains—whole or not whole—are very condensed packets of blood sugar.  Tell me how healthy that can possibly be!  They are basically no different from eating a serving of plain table sugar.  Want to end up with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease?  Just eat more sugar, more whole grains!  The foods of civilization cause the diseases of civilization!

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