At the start of every new year, lists abound detailing what we should and should not eat. These how-to eat-healthy headlines beckon as the one thing standing between us and perfection. Thankfully the lists target everyone, not solely those of us with diabetes, but I’d had enough when I spied a Reader’s Digest article touting the 50 Best Healthy-Eating Tips of All Time.
The phrase “of all time” is probably what threw me over the edge.
The problem with making big sweeping statements about what we should eat is that we are all radically different. Regardless of the commonalities we might share––taking insulin, watching our weight, avoiding gluten––we are of different genetic makeup, weight, age and gender.
Tufts University recently came out with a study that showed that low glycemic and high glycemic foods react differently in different people. I always assumed that if two people ate a ripe banana they would have the same basic reaction: their blood sugar would rise quickly. But, in “repeated tests involving 63 healthy adults, researchers found that individual blood sugar responses after consuming a fixed amount of white bread could range across all three glycemic index categories (low, medium, or high).”
A similar study out of Israel that tracked the blood sugars of 800 people after eating certain good and bad meals, came to similar conclusions. “The huge differences that we found in the rise of blood sugar levels among different people who consumed identical meals highlights why personalized eating choices are more likely to help people stay healthy than universal dietary advice,” said Professor Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science, which conducted the study.
Interesting right? Even what we think is definitive isn’t, and even the studies we point to for proof can have other studies that report the inverse, which is why I think that following broadly stroked diet recommendations is potentially harmful. Remember those famously low-fat SnackWell’s cookies? Nabisco replaced the missing fat with sugar, which elevated the carbohydrates and it eventually backfired. Today people are embracing fat and eschewing sugar.
I won’t address everything in the Reader’s Digest list, because many of the tips are common sense suggestions, like making berries your go-to fruit. They’re right. Berries are high in fiber and protein and they don’t pack the carb punch of those bananas in my previous paragraph. But, there are a few very misleading tips that I take umbrage with.
Here’s the worst: Pasta actually doesn’t spike blood sugar.
Here’s what they write: “Because pasta is extruded to make shapes, it takes longer to digest, so even though it has the same ingredients as white bread, it doesn’t cause a rapid sugar spike,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, who is the president of Oldways, a non-profit focused on nutrition. But Baer-Sinnott is an administrator without a medical background and Oldways is funded largely by big business, including pasta companies like Barilla and General Mills.
In her “alternative facts” line of thinking, maybe we can also eat licorice because that’s an extruded shape?
To set the record straight, I talked to endocrinologist Dr. Mariela Glandt, who confirmed that pasta, regardless of its extrudedness, will raise blood sugar. Sorry, folks, but rigatoni tubes are not going to be your panacea.
Baer-Sinnott does have one valid point, which is that “overcooking or overeating pasta will still raise blood sugar.” I’ll focus on overcooking, which does increase the glycemic index of your pasta because of how starches develop with prolonged cooking. (Dr. Glandt confirmed not only that eating pasta will raise blood sugar, but also overeating will).
There are a few other suggestions on the Reader’s Digest list that I also find misleading like this one about turmeric: “A dash of turmeric can prevent cancer.” Cancer? Come on now. First, they don’t tell you that you need to eat fresh turmeric, not the spice and not tablets. And while there are many who will say turmeric helps their internal inflammation––testing for inflammation can be done with a blood test looking for elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, but other reports are purely anecdotal––no one has reported it to prevent cancer. There’s also a recent study that reports that “no double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful.” Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric.
Celine Beitchman, an instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute tells us she tends to “shy away from dietary substances,” and, while seductive, “their effects rarely hold up over time.” Her questions are many: Do we need to eat them whole? cooked? raw? and at what dosage? “There seems to be little harm in using them, they may complement a prudent diet, but there’s no consensus on how much to take for specific benefits.”
My last gripe is the statement that organic isn’t the healthiest option. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the expert for this “tip,” has a good resume but his opinion, that “there’s little science showing that [organic or local foods] relate to health” is ridiculous. I don’t know how Mozaffarian can claim that there is “little science” to choose organic over conventional. There are numerous studies that report on both higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic produce as well as lower levels of pesticide residue. Perhaps when all of our produce is grown indoors in vertical farms we might see organic and non-organic become interchangeable, but for now, if you don’t know the farmer and you can afford it, organic is the better option.
Not wanting to be the only voice here, I asked Amie Valpone, author of Eating Clean, what she thought. “Organic foods have less pesticides, herbicides and chemicals on them that tax our livers and overall health,” she says.
I know we don’t all have time to heavily research every little morsel we eat, but beware, if it looks like a catchy headline—listicles, best-of’s, top superfoods—chances are you should take it with a large grain of organic, sustainable, locally grown salt.
P.S. Cinnamon doesn’t cure diabetes.