Even if you avoid most sweets, the food industry sneaks sugar in to just about everything on the shelves these days. Just take a look at your favorite whole wheat bread. Chances are, it’s got high fructose corn syrup in it. (This stuff is still sugar. I think of it as sugar on steroids.)
Sugar is bad news, no matter how you slice it. When it enters your blood stream, your body goes into overdrive trying to get rid of the stuff. Your pancreas releases insulin to help get rid of it. Eventually, it’s converted into glucose and used up by the body as energy (or stored as fat).
But when you eat lots of refined sugar (or carbs)—such as a white bagel, a soda, or a bowl of cereal—your body goes into overdrive. It starts releasing lots and lots of insulin to deal with the sugar. As a result, your blood sugar drops way too fast and goes way too low.
By this point, you may start to feel low after your sugar “high” (headaches, fatigue, etc). Plus, because your blood sugar dropped so low, so fast, you may feel cravings for more sugar. Over time, your body gets addicted.
The ticking time bomb
Say it’s your birthday and you treat yourself to a big slice of chocolate cake. But you’ve already spent years honing quite a sweet tooth.
When your body receives the signal to respond to the chocolate cake, the party’s already over. Your pancreas has called it quits. It doesn’t produce the insulin (or can’t produce enough). So your blood sugar stays high…and voila…you have type II diabetes. But you’re not alone. Today, almost 24 million Americans have got it.
Reversing the damage
The good news is…you can prevent and even reverse type II diabetes. The key is to control your sugar and carb (which turns into sugar in the body) intake.
In 2003, researchers at Duke University Medical Center examined the effects of a low-carb diet on blood sugar in diabetics. They found that 95 percent of patients who followed a low-carb diet either reduced their need for insulin or discontinued it all together after 24 weeks.
I recently read another study about how you can help your body cope with type II diabetes. Researchers at Harvard studied the effects of taking the mineral zinc on women between the ages 33 and 60. A trace mineral found in the body, zinc helps maintain a healthy immune system. It keeps your skin and hair glowing. And it also influences your cognitive and muscle functioning.
Researchers analyzed nutritional data documenting the women’s zinc intake over a 24-year period. They found that high amounts of zinc reduced a woman’s likelihood of developing diabetes by up to 28 percent. This is a pretty recent study, so I’m sure one with men is probably in the works. I would gamble that zinc performs equally well for men, if not better given the male metabolism.
Unfortunately, the scientists could not zero in on the mechanism that caused this drop in diabetes risk. More research is needed here as well.
But the data certainly makes the case for getting more zinc into your diet if you’re at risk for developing type II diabetes. (Interestingly, though not surprisingly, we know that sugar uses up all the zinc stored in our tissues. So if you’ve got a lot of sugar in your diet, it’s not surprising that you’d have low zinc stores as well. And since zinc is vital for healthy skin, it’s also not surprising that a sugar junkie probably doesn’t have a healthy glow.)
Getting more zinc
You’ve got to get rid of the straight sugar in your diet. That’s a no brainer. But whole grains may still work for anyone who’s yet to develop full-fledged diabetes.
Whole grain foods contain lots of good nutrients, like zinc. And, whole grains get metabolized much slower than refined flour products. So you’re much less likely to incite an insulin invasion.
Throw out all the refined flour products in your cabinet. (Refined flour products remove all the healthy nutrients, including zinc.) Keep only the real whole grain breads, crackers, pasta, and cereals. You’ll have to become a serious reader of the ingredients list. Look for whole grains such as “wheat” as the first ingredient. And make sure the products don’t contain “high-fructose corn syrup.”
As a final note, you’ll find zinc in any good multivitamin. But I’d also recommend taking 50 to 100 additional mg of zinc per day, especially if you’re concerned about your blood sugar. Go for zinc in the chelated form or as zinc picolinate. Also, zinc can deplete your stores of copper. So you’ll also want to take roughly 1 milligram of copper for every 15 milligrams of zinc as a precaution.
But don’t get carried away. Zinc by itself is nontoxic within these limits. But one study that I know of has linked high doses of zinc over 10 years to an increased risk of prostate cancer.