I am sure that everyone had this marked on their calendars, but for those of you who didn’t March 25th is the American Diabetes Association Alert Day. The impetus behind the alert day is to try to get people to take the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test to evaluate their risk level of developing type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, close to 26 million people in the United States have diabetes, however, of these there may be as many as 7 million people who are undiagnosed, and it is believed that 79 million adults have pre-diabetes, which means they are on their way to developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in 2007 in the United States. There are many risk factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes but the leading factors are, weight, genetics, age, lack of physical activity, and the one that I am going to discuss today, diet.
What is the right diet?
It seems like everywhere you turn there is some new recommendation about what to eat. Fad diets seem to be all the rage, and they sometimes present conflicting advice on what you should or should not eat. Examples include, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, and so on. There are also an astounding number of ideologies around what we should or should not eat, even if we are not trying to lose weight, including: vegetarian, vegan, raw, local, organic, GMO free, gluten free, low carb, low fat, and the list goes on.
One of the most recent books on this is one called the Grain Brain. In this book, Dr. Perlmutter, a neurologist, discusses how bad carbohydrates, and particularly gluten is for your brain and for overall health. He claims that “carbs are destroying your brain. And not just unhealthy carbs, but even healthy ones like whole grains can cause dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, and much more.” He also espouses a diet high in fat, even saturated fat, and high in cholesterol, which is a major component of brain health.
Though I am not a registered dietician, I did major in Health and Wellness with an emphasis in nutrition for undergrad, and I try to stay up-to-date on current research in the area of nutrition. After I heard Dr. Perlmutter speak, I was confused. What are we to do? One expert tells us to eat certain types of food and then another comes along and tells us to eat the exact opposite foods. Eat whole grains, low saturated fat and cholesterol, and lots of fruits and vegetables. No, eat no grains at all, high fat and cholesterol, and no fruits because they are too high in sugar. AHHHHHHHH! I have to say that after doing some research on grain and the brain, and gluten and the gut, I was thoroughly perplexed and actually scared. Am I harming my daughter by giving her oatmeal and local organic whole grain bread? Am I slowly killing us every time we drink juice, even juice that is watered down? I lost sleep over this and questioned everything I have believed…and then I stopped.
People love to cling to ideologies. Presenting a new alarmist diet regimen that contradicts the main stream is great a way to garner attention and fame. Furthermore, following a prescribed diet regiment or ideology may become tied to one’s identity, and this may make it difficult to approach other options objectively. So what is the solution? Yet again, I think it is as simple as moderation, and eating real food as much as possible. There is a lot of information out there that has been around for a long time that suggests that a plant based diet (and by “diet” I mean what to eat every day, not what we do to try and lose weight) is a really good option. Eating meat in moderation seems pretty reasonable as well, and again, it comes back to that word moderation. I am not really sure there is anything we should be eating three times a day (other than kale, maybe…). Even if Dr. Perlmutter is correct, will people realistically be able to cut every carbohydrate out of their diets, and should we really be telling people to not eat fruit because it is too high in sugar?
To bring it full circle, eating real food helps eliminate some of those processed carbs and trans fats that almost everyone agrees, contribute to health problems like diabetes. Diets can be scary, and there is so much contrary information in the media and even in our research. I think, for now at least, eating in moderation and focusing on plant-based foods seems like the best bet.