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The Glycemic Load Diabetes Solution
SIX STEPS TO OPTIMAL CONTROL OF YOUR ADULT-ONSET (TYPE 2) DIABETES
By ROB THOMPSON
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Rob Thompson, MD
All rights reserved.
A Gift from the Fertile Crescent
About ten thousand years ago, something happened near the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea that changed the course of human history. Like all prehistoric people, the inhabitants of that region were hunter-gatherers. They lived on wild game and vegetation. The problem was that they had become so efficient at hunting animals and gathering vegetation that they began to deplete their food supply. To thrive, they needed a new source of calories. They found one in an area that encompassed parts of modern Syria and Iraq known as the Fertile Crescent.
The Fertile Crescent had a unique climate. The summers were so hot and dry that they were deadly for most vegetation, but the winters were temperate and moist—ideal for plant growth. Those conditions fostered the evolution of a particular kind of plant, one that could mature fast enough during short growing seasons to drop its seeds before being killed by the scorching summers. The wild ancestors of wheat and barley flourished in the Fertile Crescent. The secret of their success was their seeds.
Wheat and barley seeds are loaded with starch, a white substance that provides energy for seeds to grow into sprouts. The unusually large amounts of starch in these seeds helped jump-start seedlings so they could mature quickly enough during the short growing seasons to drop the next generation of seeds before the deadly dry season set in. Tough husks protected the contents of the seeds from the scorching summer heat and from predators. Ideally suited to the climate of the Fertile Crescent, wild wheat and barley covered the plains of the region, producing copious amounts of starch-rich seeds.
Starch consists of hundreds of sugar molecules linked together to form long chains. Although Mother Nature intended starch to be used to provide energy for plants rather than food for animals, the intestinal enzymes of many animals, including humans, are capable of breaking the loose bonds that hold together the sugar molecules in starch and using that sugar as a source of calories. Indeed, the starch in wild wheat and barley seeds represented a potentially enormous source of calories for our prehistoric ancestors. The challenge was getting to it. The seeds were encased in impermeable husks designed to foil predators.
Approximately ten thousand years ago, some resourceful humans in the Fertile Crescent figured out how to separate the contents of wheat and barley seeds from the husks by grinding the seeds between rocks and letting the wind blow away the chaff. Eventually they learned to make the kernels more palatable by pulverizing them into flour, mixing the flour with water to make dough, and cooking the dough into bread. This bit of crude technology gave them access to an endless source of calories that had never before been tapped by humans.
The ability to use grains as a source of calories turned out to be far more than a way to supplement the hunter-gatherer diet. It spawned the beginning of Western civilization. Because the seeds of wheat and barley had evolved to withstand long periods of drought, they could be stored for months if kept dry. With access to a seemingly endless source of calories that could be stockpiled between growing seasons, humans in the Fertile Crescent no longer had to roam in search of sustenance. Because they didn't have to disperse themselves to find food, they could take advantage of the benefits of living in communities. Having an abundant food supply allowed members of these early societies to engage in activities other than procuring food, including organizing, governing, and defending themselves, and eventually establishing armies of conquest. The agricultural way of life that began in the Fertile Crescent spawned a civilization that along with its reliance on grain ultimately took over the Middle East, Europe, and the New World.
Similar phenomena took place in other parts of the world with similar climates and similar grains. Rice and millet became staples in the Far East, and corn became a staple in America before the arrival of Europeans. As in the Fertile Crescent, the cultivation of starches fostered agricultural civilizations that eventually dominated their respective regions of the world.
Thousands of years later, the indigenous peoples of South America introduced European explorers to another rich source of starch, the potato. Although potatoes are roots rather than seeds, like other starches they can be grown in abundance and stored between growing seasons. Potatoes eventually became a staple of the European and American diets.
In the meantime, East Indians figured out how to extract the juice from sugarcane to make crystalline sugar. Humans had been using sugar in the form of honey to sweeten things since prehistoric times, but supplies were limited. They could produce cane sugar in much larger quantities. Like starch, cane sugar is easy to store and transport. Its popularity quickly spread to Asia, Europe, and the New World.
Your intestines can't digest these carbohydrates in their natural forms. They have to be processed or "refined" first. Thus, they're referred to as "refined" carbohydrates.
Of all the foods humans eat, starch provides by far the most calories for the least investment of land, labor, and capital. People in most parts of the world now depend on it for their very survival. Wheat, rice, corn, and potatoes have come to provide most of the carbohydrate—indeed, most of the calories—for the majority of humans on earth. We modern humans consume hundreds of times more glucose molecules than our prehistoric ancestors did.
But there's a problem with our newfound dependence on refined carbohydrates. The shift from the hunter-gatherer diet of meat and wild vegetation to one consisting largely of starch represented a profound change in the chemical composition of the human diet. When humans started relying on starch rather than animal products and fresh vegetation to supply most of their calories, they became shorter in stature, less muscular, and prone to what are known as diseases of civilization, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Digestive and hormonal systems evolve over millions of years to handle foods specific to each species. Considering that humans didn't start eating significant amounts of starch until about ten thousand years ago—a brief period in the span of human existence—whatever genetic adaptations might be needed to accommodate that change have not had time to occur.
Obesity and diabetes have been around since humans started relying on starch for sustenance. However, these problems were much less common as recently as forty years ago than they are today. What happened in the last forty years to make so many of us fat and diabetic?
These are things I didn't think about much until 1999 when I discovered my own diabetes.CHAPTER 2
Lowering Blood Sugar the Old-Fashioned Way
The diagnosis took me by surprise. My family and I were on a ski vacation in Idaho when I found myself waking up several times at night, thirsty and needing to urinate. There's nothing unusual about a fifty-four-year-old man getting up to use the bathroom or having a few sips of water before going back to bed, but I was waking up three or four times a night, and the thirst was compelling. I didn't want to just sip water—I wanted to guzzle it. I knew something was wrong, and I figured adult-onset diabetes was at the top of the list.
Until then, I hadn't considered myself a candidate for diabetes. It tends to run in families, and nobody in my family had it. Most adult-onset diabetics are overweight. I was carrying a few extra pounds, but
Excerpted from The Glycemic Load Diabetes Solution by ROB THOMPSON. Copyright © 2012 by Rob Thompson, MD. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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