I’ve always read nutrition facts, but now I analyze nutrition facts because I have to depend on the the carbohydrates to determine how much of a life sustaining (or ending) drug, insulin, to give my kid. The first trip to the grocery store after our three-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes was shocking. Our local grocery store has a nutritionist, and shortly after explaining why I was looking for certain products he said, “A grocery store’s a bad place to be if you’re diabetic.” He wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t already felt, but where else do you get food in March in the midwest?
I was at the grocery store for three hours, reading the nutrition labels for every food we typically eat. Freezing, I stood at the dairy case shaking my head at the yogurts, not because Henry couldn’t eat yogurt (he can), but because of all the added sugar in most every food we eat.
We’ve always been a family that cooks from whole ingredients, belongs to a CSA, and frequents farmer’s markets. However, we still have snack foods and sweets in our house. We’re pretty moderate— a little bit of most things, but having type 1 diabetes at our table has made our intentional choices even more intentional.
Reading nutrition labels and portioning food is a good reminder of just what and how much we should be eating.
I came across Eve O. Schaub’s memoir, Year of No Sugar. For one year, Schaub and her family of four ate only food with no added sugar. As they embarked on this year, the family had to discuss what the ground rules were and what defines no “added sugar.” Schaub was inspired to start the project after watching the amazing lecture, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” by Dr. Robert Lustig, a Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at UCSF.
In case you don’t watch the 90 minute lecture, here’s the take away. Since the 1950s Americans are about 20 pounds heavier. We eat more sugar and carbs than we use to, and here’s the science part (45:00 into the video): fructose is metabolized in our liver in a way that’s similar to alcohol. Dr. Lusting says chronic fructose exposure results in metabolic syndrome: obesity, lipid imbalance, and type 2 diabetes.
I know type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are two separate diseases, with two separate etiologies. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease and type 2 is a disease associated with the interaction of genes and lifestyle. Since our son lives with type 1, we’ve become more aware of just how much sugar is in everything we eat. Constantly reading nutrition labels is a reminder of just what we should and shouldn’t be eating. Focusing on carbs and sugars has also shown us that sugar is ubiquitous, so maybe it’s time to change the conversation around type 2 diabetes from one of shame and blame to one of regulation and education when it comes to the food supply in America.
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