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Along the Unibetes Highway

Posted Jan 22 2009 6:31pm

By Barbara Berkeley

There’s a new study about diabetes that just came out in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association). Of course, it doesn’t apply to me. I’m not a diabetic.

Or does it?

Perhaps we should stop thinking about weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and triglycerides as problems that affect someone else. What they actually turn out to be are near-universal responses to our modern eating style. They are an octopus of diseases that effect all of us modern eaters to some degree: a kind of Unibetes. We are all on the Unibetes Highway. It’s just a question of how far along we find ourselves. Diabetes and its companion diseases are simply the ways that the body breaks down when overwhelmed by bad fuels. No matter where on the earth we come from, no matter what model our vehicle, we all have biological engines that respond similarly to poor fuel choices. So if we don’t want to find ourselves in a broken down vehicle somewhere along the roadside, we should start thinking in terms of Unibetes: an all-encompassing vision of the problem that comes from foods that don’t fit us.

The new study, which comes from the University of Toronto, is billed as one of the largest and longest looks at the effects of dietary choice on diabetics. 219 subjects were randomly assigned to eat either a diet that was high in those “healthy” whole grains and high fiber cereals or one that was deemed “low glycemic” (low sugar producing). The low glycemic diet substituted beans, nuts, lentils and other lower sugar substances like oatmeal for the brown whole grains like brown rice, potatoes with skin, and whole grain bread.

Subjects who ate the low glycemic diet had three times the drop in their average blood sugar levels and a measurable increase in good cholesterol when compared to those on the previously recommended whole grain diet. The major problem with this study, and with others like it, is that it did not go far enough. Had the researchers compared the low glycemic diet to a diet that removed mostly all of the grains and legumes, I believe they would have reported an even more dramatic improvement in diabetes control. This is what we see daily in our patients yet no one tests for it. In fact, the Toronto study is one of the very few studies to even begin to question the healthfulness of whole grains in the diet.

But of course, this was a study about diabetes. And I am not diabetic.

Nevertheless, I am part of the human race and, for most of my life, I ate the modern diet. That means that I fall somewhere in the Unibetes continuum. Lower blood sugar and elevated good cholesterol are good things for me too. They mean that conditions in my body are healthy. To return to the vehicular analogy: my dashboard is displaying two fewer warning lights than it did before. I like to remain mindful of the fact that diabetes is just one of the final turn-offs on a thruway I’ve already entered. A diet that benefits those who are further down the road than I am, may prevent me from accumulating more miles on that treacherous highway.

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