Type 2

Type 2 Diabetes: Eat This, Not That

I know I’m not the only type 2 who now looks at every “expert” judgment about diet with a big, bulging, skeptical eye.

After years of pounding into us the need to avoid fat and high amounts of protein, and turn to carbohydrates instead, the experts are now shouting out a big “Never mind!”

They’re not at all sorry about telling us for almost 50 years to disdain fat and turn to eating more bread, cereals, and other carbohydrate-rich foods. In their scenario fat was a stealth foe, waiting in dark recesses of our bodies to suddenly emerge, pounce on our hearts, and clog them irreparably.

The anti-fat model forced farmers to focus on producing much leaner pork and beef. The result has not been a good one. Pork soon became like chicken, a bland meat that depends on the sauce surrounding it or the rub on it to impart flavor. The luscious fat edge that used to come with pork chops or pork loin is a distant memory. If you want meat like that now, you have to go to custom butchers who work with specially bred fat pigs or beef raised deliberately to have lots of marbling.

Or you can go to a steak house and order a prime piece of meat instead of the “choice” grade we find these days at the supermarket. Prime used to be what any of us could buy back in the bad old days before fat became a menace to public health.

Why did it take so long to reverse the official take on fat? Several things, all attributable to human nature, including the big one, self-preservation:

1. Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion says that objects that are moving tend to remain moving—until something powerful enough stops them. This law of inertia explains 99 percent of how institutions or organizations can start out with blazing, sky-high energy, determined to solve or cure something, then reach a point where their survival becomes their chief concern—original purposes be damned. In other words, they are objects that want to keep moving.

2. Government agencies have every reason to peddle a certain point of view because the longer they can keep it up, the closer their executive officers get to a nice pension and a job in the private sector. This has been called “Don’t Rock the Boat” and “You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Yours,” and there are very few humans who don’t get caught up in it.

3. Some scientists who are operating with government-funded money tend to confirm what their sponsors believe or want to believe. This is where the expression “junk science” comes from. For instance, how about decades of erroneous advice about carbohydrates and fat?
When experts reverse themselves, how can we protect ourselves from any future pronouncements they make? I’d say take them with some skepticism (not cynicism). When experts declare something to be true, I send my mental jury out to deliberate and follow these simple rules:

1. I look for the “too good to be true” elements in a diabetes-related announcement. The ones based on a preliminary study will honestly state that their experiments need more research before they can declare any breakthroughs.

2. I always look for the hand of publicists or press agents in what I read. They are hired both for their ability to explain study results in clear language and provide a positive spin on the news. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make your employer shine, but I find it best to keep in mind that gilding the lily is what PR people do.

Newspaper accounts come in two varieties: 1.) The paper simply prints the press release, or 2.) its resident science writer interprets a study’s result and adds some background information that clarifies the study’s implications. The second is much preferable to the first, but the drawback these days is that newspapers are getting hammered by the Internet and social media. Having a science writer on staff has become a luxury.

3. Sometimes an endocrinologist will advertise in the Sunday paper seeking type 2 patients to participate in a study of the effects of a new, as yet not introduced diabetes drug. These solicitations are legitimate. Endocrinologists often agree to test drugs on volunteers to see how they affect diabetes management and whether they perform as well as the manufacturer hopes.

There are some upsides here: Usually participation in such studies is compensated ($40 or $50 per visit), and physical checkups during the study are free. Another benefit is that the drug being tested, aside from lowered A1c’s, may have some positive—although not guaranteed—side effects, such as weight loss.

4. But there are bogus Sunday paper ads as well. These are the “Come on down to XX Hotel next weekend and learn about how to reverse your type 2 diabetes!” Not only is the offer too good to be true (see No. 1 above), it’s often offered by presenters whose professional degrees are lightyears away from that of an endocrinologist or GP doctor. If you wouldn’t let the sixth grader down the street do your taxes, why would you let somebody you’ve never met and know nothing about—other than what they claim—tell you he’s going to cure your diabetes?

The Buddha might have called what we’re talking about here “taking the middle way,” by being good at navigating between naiveté and despair. I’m happy to say that almost every type 2 I’ve met does a pretty good job of that.

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