In America, it has been estimated that 50% of the population is either pre-diabetic or diabetic. The UK statistics are better, but not much. Why is it that more and more of us are developing Type 2 diabetes and gaining more and more weight? The short answer lies in the publically endorsed diets of our day and age and the dramatic changes in our food habits, both of which have been profoundly changing our eating habits since the 60s.
We’ve grown up with health advice telling us that carbohydrates are the staples of our diets. We have been told to cut out the fat, which causes arterial disease, and bring on the carbs! We need energy from some source and if we aren’t getting much fat, we need to stock up on carbs. This advice has led to the catastrophic increase in chronic lifestyle disease that we are experiencing now.
Let’s get one thing straight first. The word carbohydrate is often misunderstood. There are plenty of carbs in vegetables, but vegetables contain fibre, so the net amount of carbs ingested is reasonably low. We are not concerned about people consuming too many vegetables! We are concerned about the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates (think flour) that are being consumed. The whiter it is, the more refined it will be.
So why is eating sugar and refined carbohydrates problematic? The reason is that they give rise to higher blood sugar levels (refined carbs are very quickly converted to sugar once ingested), triggering the release of insulin which in turn acts as the gateway for glucose to enter into the cells and be converted into energy. This is not a problem per se, the problem arises if our blood glucose levels are constantly elevated, resulting in our insulin response being permanently switched on, with the consequence that we develop insulin resistance. What is insulin resistance, then? It means that the cells no longer respond as effectively to the insulin that is trying to clear the blood of glucose because the cells are quite literally being bombarded!
So, we have concluded that our modern diets are doing us no favours. We eat copious quantities of sugar and refined carbohydrates. The way in which we eat also plays an important role.
Before the birth of the consumerist society that we now live in, where we can get everything on tap 24/7, people used to have meals. Snacking was virtually non-existent. Nowadays most of us don’t think we can get through the day if we don’t have a snack between each meal. In addition, many of us eat breakfast early and dinner late. This means that there is virtually no period of fasting, resulting in blood sugar levels being constantly elevated, and the insulin response equally elevated, around the clock. This is a big problem. If we only could stick to our meals, our bodies would have time to recover and the insulin response to a rise in blood glucose would not have to be constant.
To make things worse, our typical snacks tend to be the things that we can easily grab off the supermarket shelf, likely to contain highly refined sugar and carbohydrates!
Look out for future blogs on why fat is our new friend and the importance of recalibrating our internal body clocks.