Don't Believe Everything You Hear in the Media: The Truth About Diabetes

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • Two recent news reports illustrate a problem I’ve discussed before: the fact that health news reporting is often misleading.



    The news media pounce on some study showing a small effect of some food or supplement and tout it as if eating that substance (or not eating it) is going to prevent diabetes or heart disease or even cure it in people already diagnosed.



    Quite often, some substance is reported to be healthy this year and unhealthy the next.



    One of the recent reports suggests that eating fruit may increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The other says that eating one kind of fish may increase the risk of heart disease.

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    What’s going on here? Weren’t we told we should eat more fruits and vegetables and all our problems would be solved? Weren’t we told to stop eating red meat and to eat more chicken and fish?



    Of course we were. Luckily, I never listen to advice like that. Years ago, when we were told to stop eating butter and to substitute “healthy” polyunsaturated plant oils in margarine instead, I didn’t pay much attention. I think butter tastes delicious and margarine tastes vile and -- in the good old days when I could eat bread, sigh -- I would rather have eaten my bread without any spread at all than slather it with margarine.



    Later, they found that margarine that included trans fats was actually worse than butter. Now they’re finding that too many omega-9 fatty acids in “healthy” polyunsaturated plant oils are dangerous if you’re not getting enough of the omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish, flax seed, and a few other foods.



    That’s the basis of the tilapia fish story? It turns out that according to scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, farmed telapia, which are fed corn-based feeds, don’t have as much of the currently-thought-to-be healthy omega-3 fatty acids as some other fish, like salmon and sardines. In addition, they have a lot of the other polyunsaturates, the omega-6 fatty acids. Some people say the ratio of 6’s to 3’s should be about 2:1. In telapia, the ratio of long-chain 6’s to 3’s is about 11:1.



    And the problem is that farmed telapia is one of the cheapest fish. So when people on a tight budget are told to eat more fish, they’re apt to eat more telapia.



    The fruit story just says that fructose tends to cause abdominal obesity, and fat around the internal organs in the stomach is the dangerous kind that increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease. Fruit tends to have a lot of fructose, although it also contains other sugars.



    In this study, scientists put overweight people on diets in which a quarter of their calories contained fructose, and another group of overweight people on diets in which a quarter of their calories contained glucose.



    Both groups gained the same amount of weight, but those in the high-fructose group gained most of the fat in the middle. Those in the high-glucose group gained fat distributed throughout the body.


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    The telapia fish story also shows how reporters, or the scientists who feed them the information, can put a spin on things. The telapia story says, “Tilapia has higher levels of potentially detrimental long-chain omega-6 fatty acids than 80% lean hamburger, doughnuts, and even pork bacon, the article [in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association] says.”



    The subtle implication is that hamburger, doughtnuts, and bacon are unhealthy foods, and telapia has more omega-6 fatty acids than these “unhealthy” foods. But no one ever said hamburger, doughnuts, and bacon were filled with polyunsaturated omega-6 fats. Their reputation for being unhealthy comes from their saturated and trans-fat content. So this statement is really irrelevant.


    I think these studies both illustrate an important point: Use common sense when choosing your diet. When you hear a news report that this or that food is “healthy” or “unhealthy,” listen to the report. Then perhaps modify your diet slightly. But don’t go overboard.



    Eat a varied diet as much as possible while keeping your blood glucose levels down. Use your meter to see how different foods affect you. Testing at 1 or 2 hours after eating should give you a good idea of this.



    If you eat fish, don’t eat salmon or telapia or any fish three times a day. The same goes for other foods. Whenever possible, eat real foods rather than processed foods. Whenever possible, eat local foods. If you can afford it, eat organic foods.



    Even better grow your own. [I’m trying, but a groundhog just ate most of my garden: all my broccoli plants, which were just starting to head, all my brussel sprout plants, all my snowpeas, and the leaves off some of the zucchini plants. I hope he got indigestion. And I’m scouring the Internet for groundhog stew recipes.]



    If you can’t grow your own, try to make sure that what you buy is the best quality you can afford. Wilted lettuce or moldy vegetables might be cheap, but they’re not a bargain in the long term. Sometimes frozen vegetables, which are picked and immediately flash-frozen, actually have more nutrients and fewer poisons than “fresh” vegetables shipped from some far-away country that doesn’t have many controls over pesticide use.



    Eating a variety of foods means that if some food like telapia turns out to be not such a good choice after all, or if some food turns out to be contaminated with pesticides or something, you won’t have eaten too much of it.


    I realize that not everyone has the financial resources to eat wild-caught salmon and organic vegetables. I realize that people raising little children as well as holding down more than one job just don’t have time to garden and cook everything from scratch. But those should be your goals, even if you can’t reach them right now.



    Aim for Variety, orgAnic, Local, Unprocessed, and Excellent quality. Then you’ll get real VALUE from your diet.

Published On: July 21, 2008