Recently I was on a trip to the other side of the country, and I found myself out for a morning walk down a rural road. As I ambled along and amused myself with all sorts of thoughts and self-talk (yes, some of it verbal but no one was around), I was startled by a sudden noise coming up the road behind me. I turned to see a bus bearing down on me and I leapt to the side of the narrow road as it roared by. A delicious cloud of diesel exhaust (I bet you know the flavor) enveloped me, and since I was walking uphill and needed to breathe, I inhaled (unlike a former President) and filled my soul with carcinogens. I managed to glance up at the bus disappearing rapidly in the distance and could just make out the bold letters on its side and back: “COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF AGING.” Me being me, I thought, “How funny, not only did this bus nearly take me out, it probably prematurely aged me with its fumes.” After a few more steps, I thought no more about any of this and returned to my previous ponderings.
Later that day, I had the opportunity to ask someone about the COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF AGING bus, never having witnessed such a thing before. This is the explanation I received: “Oh, that bus travels all around the countryside and small towns, picking up all the people with diabetes, and takes them to the Medical Center for their appointments. Then they all go out to lunch at McDonald’s before getting dropped off.” I was in a bit of shock. Because I live in a progressive western town, I perhaps have a skewed view of nutrition and activity. Over several additional days, I never saw anyone else out walking. None. The stores, like in many other areas of the country, were jam-packed with sugar-laden junk foods, and large advertising posters recommending their consumption, at their entries and exits. The radio and television commercials advertised treatment options for diabetes several times per hour. And I viewed this as a great example of possibly the largest health crisis in this country: what we now call the “diabesity” epidemic. Not only do we have sedentarism, but we have overconsumption of sugar causing obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease at an alarming rate. And we have government organizations using expensive and ineffective “band-aid” treatment methods as opposed to education and prevention. Why isn’t there a “COUNTY DEPARTMENT ON YOUTHING?”
If you are one of my regular readers (and thank you for helping my audience experience recent growth), I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir. But I think more importantly, we all need to share the messages and help everyone, everywhere, know how to get and stay healthy. We now know that Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle-related disorder which in almost all cases is completely reversible through (primarily) dietary improvements and activity/exercise. Gary Taubes, cofounder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, and author of “The Case Against Sugar”, recently wrote a compelling article in the New York Times entitled “Big Sugar’s Secret Ally? Nutritionists.” In the article, Taubes details how the sugar industry, over the last 70 years, in collusion with various universities (including Harvard) and government organizations (including the FDA and USDA) have manipulated the information that we have received regarding the true health and safety concerns of sugar consumption. And keep in mind we are talking about most carbohydrates, including bread and pasta, not just table sugar, candy, and soda. Carbohydrate is essentially a supplemental energy source for humans and it is not actually an essential macronutrient. We can not only function very well, but perhaps ideally, on less carbohydrate than most of us are consuming in the Standard American Diet, which pushes sugar on us like a drug dealer on an addict. This is not to say you can’t be very healthy eating some carbohydrate, and certainly we want that to be primarily from fresh vegetables, but the exact amount of sugar that each of us can tolerate, or requires, probably needs to be reduced. This is especially true, as Taubes indicates, when we have seen a 655% increase in the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in the last half-century!
While it is tempting to oversimplify and say “reduce sugar”, in reality things are never that easy. Health, and disease, are truly multifactorial, and not only do we need to be careful looking at one macronutrient (carb/fat/protein), a single micronutrient (vitamin C, iron, anti-oxidants, etc.), a so-called “superfood” (kale, acai berries, bone broth, etc.), we need to recognize that a healthy diet is just one part of the equation that leads to “youthing”. Sleep, stress, relationships, activity and exercise, and many other things lead to general life balance. And when life is in balance, so is our metabolism, our hormones, and our health. And all these things are proven to work better on less sugar.