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Food Dystopia: Low Blood Sugar

Are you grumpy before meals? Do you avoid meetings in mid-afternoon because you can’t concentrate? Is your family complaining about your moodiness? Are you carrying an extra 25 pounds?

If so, blame your diet. The food you and thousands of Americans are eating is making you sick and overweight. And it could be harming your children, too.

Being in a foul mood and being excessively heavy could be an indication that you have hypoglycemia, a precursor to the type II diabetes that afflicts twenty million Americans. In fact, studies have shown that at the time diabetics are first diagnosed, their bodies have already been handling sugar poorly for seven to twelve years.

Diabetes is becoming an epidemic, and it’s time to think more about the link between what we eat and how we feel. Our diets contribute directly to whether or not we develop Type II diabetes.

I can speak with some authority about these symptoms and many more because I have hypoglycemia. I spent too many years being moody, tired, irritable and fuzzy-headed. I was often so tired that I had trouble staying awake at work or in the car. I often had intense cravings for sweets or chocolate, and I seemed to be hungry all the time. Small wonder I was 35 pounds overweight.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is an indication that our bodies are not coping well with the sugar we take in, and many of us end up on the “sugar roller-coaster.”

The coaster gets started when we eat sugary foods or highly processed foods that turn into sugar very quickly in our bodies. Our bodies over-react and produce too much insulin, resulting in low blood sugar again, and that makes us crave sweets again. High to low to high to low blood sugar — all within the space of an afternoon.

The North American diet is so poor that this isn’t just happening to adults. We used to call it “adult-onset” diabetes because it was confined to adults over 40 who had eaten poorly over the long term and had gained too much weight.
But now it’s becoming more and more common in children. Kids as young as eight are now being diagnosed with so-called adult-onset diabetes, and many are significantly overweight.
It mystifies me that we all seem to understand that, in the computer world, “garbage in” results in “garbage out” without understanding how it applies to our diets. We need to translate that to our care of our bodies — starting with our children’s bodies.

Start by taking the french fries out of the school cafeterias. Remove the vending machines. We can’t shut down every McDonald’s franchise, but we can make our schools “safe food zones”.

We all know that, given the choice, many of our kids will eat nothing but burgers and fries and pizza. And they will drink pop every day. We know that some kids will eat the healthy cafeteria food (if any is offered) some of the time, but there are some kids that really will eat french fries every day. 
Does that mean that we have to stop trying to teach them to eat vegetables and fruit?

It’s time to recognize that we are eating a very strange diet and that it’s an aberration in the grand history of human eating habits. It is only in the last 50 years that we have been so enamored with fast food. There are more celebrity chefs and cooking shows than ever before, but we seem to watch them as if they are exotic animals at the zoo. They look interesting, perhaps delicious, but surely they can only do that on TV. At home we use pre-packaged meals and we eat out a lot.

I would probably be in this trap myself because I don’t like to cook, but two factors have saved me. One, I have food allergies and hypoglycemia, so I have to be more careful about what I eat to avoid progressing further down the slippery slope to diabetes. Two, my husband is a good cook and, over the years, he has saved me from Swanson more than once or twice.
It’s nice to imagine that we could all stop buying junk food and stop eating at McDonald’s. In this fantasy, the hamburger makers and the candy makers would all go out of business. Very unlikely, I know. But we can all take the first small steps to eating better and feeding our kids better.

All of us have dreams of utopia. Mine involves community gardens and neighborhood potluck dinners where no one brings KFC or Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We could go back to learning about each other through our native cuisines as we enjoy a leisurely meal together.

In my world, kids would spend more time on their bikes than on their X-boxes. And there would be no 200-pound 12-year-olds on insulin.

Anita Flegg is a writer and editor and the author of Hypoglycemia: The Other Sugar Disease. For more information about hypoglycemia and her book, please visit www.theothersugardisease.com