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Sugar Nation
Category: Happy Eating


I finished reading Sugar Nation by Jeff O'Connell. Jeff is a fitness writer and editor who has worked at Muscle & Fitness and Men's Health among others. He's also diabetic. Not a stereotypical obese, sedentary diabetic but one of those active skinny guys who can eat whatever he wants and not gain weight. There was just the small matter of his pancreas going berserk and trying to kill him. I thought he would have an interesting perspective. I was mostly right. The book is a little uneven with certain chapters being completely riveting - his diagnosis, his diabetic dad, his discussions of other fit people who also have blood sugar issues, the specifics of how he handles his food and workouts. Yet, other chapters with longwinded tales about diabetes conferences literally caused me to fall asleep and drop the reader out of my hand. 

What's most disturbing about the book is how little doctors know about controlling the disease through nutrition and exercise, and how outdated and dangerous the official recommendations are from organizations like The American Diabetes Association. Basically, they stuff you full of carbohydrates and then try to control the wild blood sugar swings with drugs. 

"On its web site, the ADA recommends that diabetics divide their plate in half and fill one side with starchy foods such as breads, cereals, or potatoes, all of which will be readily converted to sugar in the body. The next step is to halve the empty space and fill one part with fruit, more fast-acting carbs. The remaining (optional) quarter is reserved for a breakfast meat. An egg, arguably the single healthiest food on the planet for diabetics, has no place on this table.

The ADA isn't done carb loading a nation of diabetics, however. They recommend washing it all down with an eight-ounce glass of non-fat or low-fat milk.  All told, that's the equivalent of eating several candy bars' worth of carbs, providing a feeding frenzy for the disease that the ADA seeks to prevent with its recommendations."

Jeff himself has learned to manage the disease through exercise and reducing his carb intake. Regular heavy lifting and high intensity interval training make his muscle cells more receptive to insulin and make it more likely that the carbs he does eat will be used as fuel instead of just zooming around in his bloodstream wreaking havoc. He keeps his daily net carbs below 80g per day even though that's breaking the rules.

"Following the ADA's lead, health organizations around the globe are telling diabetics never to consume fewer than 130 carb grams a day. They claim even that amount is extremely low, and that anything below that threshold literally will starve the brain and central nervous system. But after four years eating amounts well below their lower limit, my mind is sharp. My body feels great. I can power through forty-five-minute daily workouts. The only thing that seems helpless to function under these conditions, actually, is diabetes."

Sugar Nation is worth a read if you have blood sugar issues or care about someone who does. It will also appeal to nutrition book junkies, healthy eaters, and conspiracy theorists. I'm a little of each, so I found it worthwhile even though it had its ups and downs. It's truly horrifying what's happening. If we continue this trend of not exercising and living on processed carbs, he says, "One in every three people born in the year  2000 will become diabetic. For minorities, the rate will be one in two."  Yowza!

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