Most type 2 diabetes patients can recall the “War on Drugs” of the 1980s that tried to knock down the illegal drug trade. And we all remember the “War on Terror” that was launched last decade in the wake of the 911 attacks. In 2017, we now have a “War on Sugar,” declared almost single-handedly, by science writer Gary Taubes in his new book, The Case Against Sugar.
Released last December, The Case Against Sugar, spells out the harmful effects of sugars on the human body, especially how they give rise to obesity and diabetes. In addition, Taubes’ new book is described in a recent Wall Street Journal review by author Eugenia Bone as a “powerful new history” on “the role that the food industry has played in covering up sugar’s contributions to our national health crisis.” While it is destined to be a controversial work, Taube’s Case Against Sugar screams out what most health care professionals have been complaining about for years – that the dangerous levels of added sugars in the American diet has caused a serious predicament in America’s health.
Hence, we need to wage a “War on Sugar.” Type 2 diabetes patients should be the ones leading the campaign!
For those who are not convinced that there is a national health crisis, we need only to look at the influx of diabetes on expatriate groups in the United States that have adapted to American eating habits.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reported in recent years a prevalence of diabetes in over 17% of major Hispanic adult populations (i.e. those of Mexican, Dominican or Puerto Rican descent).[i] The most recent ADA statistics also show that 13% of Asian Indians and 11.3% of Filipinos living in the United States have diabetes.
These figures are substantially higher than the overall national rate of 9.3%, as well as the non-Hispanic white rate of 7.6%.[ii] And they are attributable to the metabolic impact of the American diet.[iii] What’s more, the longer expatriates live in the United States, the more likely they are to develop diabetes.[iv]
We can also remember the data shared in previous blogs here, and that Bone also mentions in her review “Sugar: A Matter of Life and Death” - that almost 50% of Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
We need to declare this war, because, as Taubes argues, the powers that be in public health education have long told us that diabetes is the result of obesity, and obesity is caused by overeating and lack of exercise. The concept that consuming more calories than we are burning as the real cause of obesity and diabetes is – according to Taubes – an oversimplification bordering on quackery.
A spinach calorie, for example, does not trigger the “progression of obesity, diabetes and the diseases that associate with them.” Calories from spinach and other health foods are not the same as sugar calories. Yet, Taubes holds that the medical science community was swayed by the food industry special interest groups in focusing on fat and calories as the real culprits in causing obesity and diabetes.
Taubes’ historical account of the food industry’s success in “sugar-coating” the harmful effects of added sugars in our diet is both scary and interesting to the reader. For type 2 diabetics and the millions of pre-diabetics, it’s Taubes’ description of how sugar affects the body and triggers this national health crisis that we should focus on here. Understanding the real cause (and doing something about it) will be our greatest weapon in our War on Sugar.
As Taubes puts it,
- Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, and carbohydrates that we get from the foods we eat are the source of glucose in our blood.
- Glucose powers our cells (in the same way electricity powers a TV or computer), and the insulin hormone carries glucose from our bloodstream into our cells.
- Once in the cells, the insulin “signals the fat cells to take up fat and hold onto it.”
- In a healthy body, the cells have no problem handling the intake of glucose since each cell has the ability to reset for more insulin (like resetting the heat or air conditioning in our homes based on the weather outside).
- But when we eat meals and snacks with high levels of raw or refined sugar, along with maple syrup, corn syrup and other sugar substances, the pancreas reacts by producing more insulin.
- When this happens on a constant basis thanks to a high sugar diet, the cells adapt by forming a resistance to insulin. In other words, the internal system of each cell gets so out of whack that they start rejecting the insulin (the same way our heating and air conditioning breaks down when too many people are changing the temperature at one time).
- The glucose then builds up in the bloodstream, which causes the pancreas to make more insulin, thus signaling the cells to hold on to more fat. Now imagine all that bad fat building up in our bodies after living off the normal American diet for many years!
This becomes a vicious loop that results in obesity and type 2 diabetes. As Bone puts in her review, obesity and type 2 diabetes are so interconnected that the term “diabesity” has now been coined.
In an interview with Alden Mudge for Book Page: America’s Book Review, Gary Taubes proclaims:
“We are seeing worldwide epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and diseases associated with them – heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. It’s undeniable that as populations begin to eat Western diets, you see these epidemics come along. We now know that both obesity and diabetes are disorders of what’s called insulin resistance… and that is a fundamental disorder in what we call metabolic syndrome… The book is basically saying that the prime suspect of what is causing insulin resistance is sugar.”
The Mudge interview also reveals that as long ago as the 1920s, there were “very influential” public health authorities blaming the prevalence of sugar to the epidemic increases in obesity and diabetes. There is an earlier study on Arizona’s Pima Indians who experienced sudden increases in diabetes after adapting to a mainstream American diet. According to Taubes, this initial conversation all but vanished in favor of bad science driven by sugar and food trade groups.
In this new War on Sugar, it is the type 2 diabetes patients that have the most to lose (along with the millions of us who may likely be pre-diabetic). For all of us, it is a war that can be won starting at the individual level. And the good news is that – for most patients – type 2 diabetes is reversible (or preventable for those with pre-diabetic conditions).
In closing, there are many great ideas for reducing added sugar levels from our diet, but the best first tip for type 2 diabetes patients and the rest of us pre-diabetics struggling to cut added sugars from our diet is this – read Gary Taubes’ book, The Case Against Sugar. The good news is that proper education has contributed to slight declines in diabetes rates in the most affected populations, as well as improvements in health for people living with type 2 diabetes. Adding Taubes’ book to the Best Seller List can go a long way to raising greater national awareness and potentially reversing epidemic trends.
We owe it to ourselves to treat the addiction to added sugar in our diet as a national health crisis. Let’s help wage a “War on Sugar” that starts with each of us, and spreads through the household, the extended family, our places of work and our communities.
In our next blog, we will explore the addictive qualities of sugar, and what we can do to fight the personal and national addiction to added sugars in the American diet.
[ii] “Statistics About Diabetes,” http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/