Friday, June 8, 2012

America Diabetica

A segment on the PBS Newshour on June 6 presented some alarming cases and statistics concerning sugar. A 16-yr-old Pueblo Colorado teen was featured as one of millions of American teenagers now exhibiting Type 2 Diabetes—a disease that used to be limited to older adults. This vastly overweight girl was said to be socially isolated (she is homeschooled) and sedentary, with a working mother who cannot be around to monitor her food intake. The result is that she spends her time gorging on typical American junk. Doctors and professionals at the Centers for Disease Control are alarmed, since their projections now show not only that 1 of every 4 American teens already has type 2 diabetes (where insulin is either not sufficient to break down glucose, or the cells ignore the insulin that’s produced); but worse, that 1 of every 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop the disease!  That’s one-third of the country. A Doctor Zeitler laid out the grimmer prospects: whereas in adults with diabetes, the average time from diagnosis to a first major cardiovascular event—heart attack, the need for bypass surgery—is about 15 to 20 years,
Everything that we have seen so far suggests that these kids have a progression rate that's at least as quick, if not a little faster, which means that (for) this kid who has their onset of diabetes at 15, we may be looking at their first major cardiovascular event by the time they're 35. (this PC use of plural pronouns drives me nuts, but that’s what he said. LDS).
Read that again. Kids with diabetes now will be having heart attacks at 35, if they’re lucky. And if the projections are correct, that means 1 of every 3 Americans will be taxing our already overburdened health-care system with more surgeries than ever. Not to mention the other complications from diabetes like loss of toes, limbs, and insulin therapies.

            This trend, of course, has been accelerating since at the least the 1970s and probably since WWII. And the culprit is not hard to find: sugar consumption. One statistic I found showed that since only 1983, the average American consumption of sugar has risen every year to the point in 1999 (the year of the study) where it reached 158 pounds yearly per person—a 30% jump in 16 years. That may be about the time when the geniuses who operate the American food industry discovered that until-then unusable surplus corn could all turn a profit—by being made into high-fructose corn syrup. And what to do with all that corn syrup? Why lace every imaginable American processed food with it—especially our beloved soft drinks. The result is that by 2009, the American Heart Association was noting that average Americans were now consuming 22 teaspoonfuls of added sugar a day (that was average; teenagers 14 to 18 were consuming 34 teaspoonfuls of added sugar per day). Compare this to the recommended average of 9 teaspoons for men and 6 for women. And again, we’re not even counting naturally-occurring sugars such as lactose in milk or fructose in fruit; we’re talking added sugar—“the sweeteners and syrups that are added to foods during processing, preparation or at the table.” As in killer foods like cakes and cookies and puddings, plus the sugar in all our favorite goodies like ketchup and snacks and Thai foods and McDonald’s fries and chicken tenders and those super-sized soft drinks the state of New York has recently tried to limit (to 16 ounces; whereupon, from the outcry by the restaurant industry, you’d think mother’s milk was being rationed), and the city of Richmond CA has recently proposed taxing, with the tax revenues going to fund sports programs for sedentary kids (again with aggressive campaigns by the Beverage Industry to oppose the tax as more “government interference” in American lives.)

            No wonder we’re a nation of sugar-crazed, overweight diabetics.

            This brings to mind the very viability of carbohydrates themselves. Because while it was not long ago that runners and other athletes were recommending “carb loading,” there has more recently emerged a growing chorus of food gurus who insist that ever since humans invented agriculture, the major portion of our diet that comes from grains and other carbohydrates like tubers has led to a plethora of diseases like diabetes and arthritis. I heard one of these guys on the radio the other day, and he was quite convincing. His book, Neanderthin, argues that based on his own experience (and apparently little or no research), the optimum diet for a human is the “paleo” diet: mostly meats, plus tubers that you can dig with a stick, and fruits and veggies that can be eaten raw; all of these being foods that the guts of our hunter-gatherer ancestors allegedly evolved to process. At first glance, this seems reasonable. Grains are indeed inedible in their natural state. They convert quickly to sugars when eaten processed and cooked. And many of them have compounds that can be toxic. But looked at more closely, it appears that the easy notion that hunter-gatherers, like chimpanzees, were natural carnivores who got most of their calories from meats, doesn’t quite compute. It turns out that chimps get more of their calories from fruits and tubers and insects than from meats—a once-a-month rarity, according to Jane Goodall. Humans, similarly, are not naturally-evolved carnivores at all—our teeth are useless for tearing meat from a carcass or bringing down prey, and our jaws are designed for grinding rather than for tearing meat and swallowing hunks whole like carnivores. Nor are our guts designed with enough carnivore-type acids to easily process raw meat.

            In short, most of us need carbohydrates alright. The only question is, what kind and in what proportion should we eat them. The answer seems fairly simple. We should get about half of our carbs from ‘good’ carbs—the kind with lots of fiber. These are the carbohydrates that get absorbed slowly into our systems, thus avoiding those harmful “sugar spikes.” Sadly, these are the carbohydrates that Americans tend to shun: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. But shunned or not, we need carbs that are not processed ahead of time, or refined, carbs that come in their natural garments rather than in glitzy packaging designed to appeal to ignorant children. Because it’s the processing—the bleaching of flour, the polishing of rice, the mass production of easy meals that require only a minute in the microwave or that come in cardboard containers from the take-out counter—this processing is what powers the rapid ‘bad’ carbohydrate train to sugarland. And thus should be avoided. What is wanted are foods that have texture, substance, that require chewing and time digesting: brown rice and whole wheat and leafy vegetables and all the fruits and nuts loaded with the fiber that slows down that sugar train. The benefits being that slow carbs avoid the peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels that lead to diabetes; and, as a side benefit, tend to lower serum cholesterol in the blood. In sum, somewhere between half the calories in good carbs, some fat, and up to 35% protein (from meat, eggs, milk products, etc.) is a generally recommended balance.

            The trouble, of course, is that in our industrial-food marketplace, this is a balance harder to achieve than ever. Practically all food these days is processed (more profit)—if it’s not genetically engineered to be resistant to poisonous pesticides and herbicides (i.e. to allow poisons to be used with abandon). Still, the advantaged among us can still manage to find such a balance—if we can resist the easy fix of the microwave or the takeout counter, that is. For the disadvantaged, though, it’s a different story—and they are the ones most at risk for diabetes. For the disadvantaged, the neighborhoods they inhabit, such as those in Richmond CA, have been stripped of real stores, of supermarkets or even old-style mom-and-pop groceries carrying at least a few fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, they are left in ‘food deserts’ to rummage among packaged foods in liquor stores or fast-food restaurants peddling the worst fat-laced processed crap American ingenuity can package for them in bright colors fit for TV commercials. Super-sized drinks. Fat-laced, artificially-colored mystery meat stuffed between mushy-soft white-flour buns. Desserts as the logical extension of sweetened and fat-laden French fries. With some of these teens slurping down a super-sized coke with a package of chips for breakfast, and similar junk food all day long. All of it promoted 24-7 on TV and billboards as mom-centered, community-creating, fun-fostering purveyors of patriotic America. When in truth, the whole American food perplex, full of exotic choices, is the essence of the great shill, the great deception, the great epidemic, the logical apotheosis of diseased capitalism we now have and will have even more exclusively in what is to come: our own America Diabetica.

            And lest you hadn’t noticed, it’s all a perfect emblem for the corruption in this increasingly dysfunctional system, where the poor are targeted by the richest corporations on whom to dump their profit-making garbage; and any attempt to rein in this gross exploitation and outright murder is pilloried as “excessive regulation” of the “free” market by an overly intrusive government.  That is, government takes the hit, and corporations reap the profits from this sorry-ass spectacle: the richest society in planetary history mindlessly eating and polluting itself into an early grave.  All the while braying to itself and the world about its precious “freedom.”

Lawrence DiStasi

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Larry. it is pitiful and very scary! This might be off the beatin' track but during my 2000 study tour in Sicily in the heat of August which is major vacenza time, and everyone is running around in swim suits we took note of women, especially well overweight women who wear bikinis did not exhibit cellulite! I mean not a dimple from the natives!! We pondered for a while and came to the conclusion (of course without real resarch) that perhaps it was due to the American fast foodies didn't arrive until much later. I have also noticed more people in their 40's (my family) passing from cancer and heart attacks! SAD

    Thanks for the study!