Commentary: Debunking the diabetes myth

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I love the heavy-handed pronouncements made in medical studies purporting to tell us what to eat to avoid getting sick—after which the readers of whatever publication is cluelessly regurgitating the study’s conclusions exhibit greater scientific expertise than the scientists themselves.

In fact, they practically compose my column by themselves. It’s a writer’s dream come true.

Here’s the latest Exhibit A in a long line of such occurrences: A new study, reported in the British newspaper The Daily Mail yesterday, trumpeted the following news: Eating too much meat ‘raises risk of diabetes’ even if they eat lots of fruit and vegetables too.

(Apparently, British tabloids have dispensed with punctuation altogether).

“Meat-lovers could be at higher odds of diabetes—even if they eat lots of fruit and vegetables,” the article began. “A long-term study of more than 66,485 French women who had their health tracked for 14 years has linked meat, cheese and other ingredients of an ‘acidic diet’ with type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes. The women who ate the most acid-forming foods were 56 percent more likely to develop the condition than those whose who ate the least,” according to a study appearing in the clinical journal Diabetologica.

“[Type 2 diabetes] is usually linked to obesity and sugary foods,” the newspaper stated, “but the latest study points the finger at meat and other foods that produce acid after being digested. Some 1,372 women had developed diabetes by the end of the study and diagnoses were particularly common in those with acidic diets. These include meat, cheese, fish, bread and soft drinks.”

That conclusion is horribly incorrect, which a slew of Daily Mail readers sharply pointed out, and which we’ll get to in a just a moment.

Telling the Big Lie

Type 2 diabetes, of course, is the form of the disease that accounts for about 90 percent of all cases, 2.9 million people in Great Britain and about 16 million Americans. It is a serious disease, a leading cause of disability and death and results in health costs running into the hundreds of billions.

But here’s the big lie, perpetuated by the national non-profits who make their living from campaigning to “find a cure” for diabetes: They utterly fail to acknowledge the real cause of the epidemic: the food we shove into our stomachs every day.

Instead, here’s the official explanation from the American Diabetes Association and NIH’s National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: “Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity and race/ethnicity.”

I don’t see a single word in there about diet. Nothing.

Of course, as all these studies do, this one ended in the usual fashion, with a “British expert” stating that “more research is needed to confirm the link.”

Dr. Richard Elliott, of Diabetes UK, said, “What we currently know for sure is that the best way to avoid type 2 diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight by getting plenty of exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat, salt and sugar.”

Wait—didn’t this study just say that eating fruits and vegetables won’t prevent diabetes? In fact, I believe that was in the headline of the story!

Okay, now let’s confront the real reasons that virtually every industrialized nation is grappling with an onslaught of type 2 diabetes—but we’ll let The Daily Mail readers do the heavy lifting. Here’s a sampling of their comments:

“I’ve been a vegetarian since 1989 and was diagnosed with Type 2 last year. It is more likely to be due to heredity, rather than meat-eating. I believe mine is part hereditary, and partly due to my B12 anemia (pernicious anemia), which has knackered my organs, including my pancreas and its ability to work correctly. Vegetarians generally eat a high-carb diet, usually with plenty of wheat, bread, pasta and potatoes. All of these things raise blood sugar levels, which in turn raise insulin [levels] . . . and before long diabetes 2 sets in. We didn’t evolve as vegetarians, and eating processed carbs is counterproductive to health.”

We could probably stop right now, but there’s more:

“The study said that some 1,372 women had developed diabetes by the end of the study and diagnoses were particularly common in those with acidic diets. These include meat, cheese, fish, bread and soft drinks. Did you spot BREAD and SOFT DRINKS in there? Which are already known links to diabetes?”

“Diabetes has nothing to do with acid; it’s to do with blood sugar, pure and simple. This article is an embarrassment. Anyone can cure diabetes type 2—yes, cure. Stop eating processed carbohydrates. No bread, no pasta, nothing wheat based. No starches. Avoid high-sugar fruits, such as grapes and bananas and eat plenty of naturally raised meat. Don’t be scared of fat—it’s an essential dietary nutrient, which helps with the absorption of vitamin A, D, E and K.”

“Why has meat been isolated as the only cause? Maybe because that is the fashionable thing to pick on? Funny how it’s the one thing that we were eating 100,000 years ago as we were evolving and developing these amazing brains. Could I suggest that we start looking at fizzy drinks and bread? These are the only things in the list which increase blood sugar and thus cause activation of insulin (the only way to get diabetes 2 is from over-activation of insulin). These scientists need a science lesson.”

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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