Type 2 Diabetes and Carbohydrate Diet Staples

The eating habits of the Western nations have in no small way contributed to the rising incidence of type 2 diabetes that has reached almost epidemic proportions.  Like so many ills that threaten the more developed nations, type 2 diabetes is a product of affluent lifestyles and malnutrition – malnutrition in the sense of a poor rather than inadequate diet.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body’s cells cease to respond to the hormone insulin, which should stimulate them to take up glucose from the blood and store it.  Research continues into why this happens, but obesity and a diet rich in high-glycemic foods would seem to be important in its development.  As with so many diseases afflicting the affluent nations of the West – and increasingly those of the developing nations – it seems to be a result of mankind moving from his original and natural diet of raw and unprocessed foods.

Our ancestors were probably less healthy on the whole than we are; infections went untreated, parasites flourished and pregnancies were carried through without any proper care.  But in terms of their diet, they were in a much better situation.  All food had to be won at the cost of physical labor and was natural and largely unprocessed, in contrast to the modern “couch potato” who never stirs from that couch except to fetch a fresh bowl of ice cream.

The carbohydrate staple in the West tended to be bread, and as long as this was made from traditionally milled flour and included large proportions of fiber and wheat germ, it was a healthy choice.  However, historically wholegrain breads have been seen as “peasant food” and richer people insisted on having finer, whiter breads for their table.  Although brown bread has become more popular in recent times, it is a pale substitute for the wholegrain breads of the past and is often little more than white bread dyed brown.

White bread is a particularly poor diet choice in terms of the risk of diabetes, for two reasons.  Firstly, it has a high glycemic index – it causes blood sugar to spike, followed by a reactive insulin spike, and the blood sugar then falls again.  This not only causes the consumer to feel hungry again quickly, but the constant high-low-high blood and insulin levels may be implicated in the development of diabetes.  Furthermore, because white flour has been industrially processed, it has been stripped of all its nutrients, contained in the outer husks and wheat germ.  Whole wheat is an excellent source of chromium, which is beneficial to the pancreas and to the production of insulin.  Cakes, cookies and other confections made from white flour are of course an even unhealthier choice.

Other carbohydrate staples present a far healthier choice.  Potatoes, which have also been a staple in the West, are rich in nutrients and fiber, particularly when eaten with its skin on.  Obviously it is better eaten steamed or baked, rather than as fries.

Rice is another staple which, like wheat, is better eaten in a less processed form.  White rice, which has had its nutrients and much of its fiber polished away, is no better than white flour, while studies suggest the regular inclusion of brown rice in the diet can cut the risk of developing diabetes.

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