Sugar Nation

sugar-nation-jeff-oconnell

Sugar Nation, a 2011 book by fitness writer Jeffrey O’Connell, is an honest, fresh look at the nutritional roots of insulin resistance and diabetes. Combining extensive research and personal experience, the author offers a compelling intimate account of his own battle with run-away blood sugar and its many effects. At the same time Jeff O’Connell takes on the advice of the medical establishment and drug industry which call for treatments which not only don’t help the condition but can make it worse.

Whether you have issues with insulin and diabetes or a genetic predisposition to it, this book is an informative and entertaining look at preventing a range of health issues and improving your well-being, simply by cleaning up your diet and increasing your fitness.

So Much More Than Sugar

Although the book is titled Sugar Nation, the author’s main point encompasses more than that: he uses a wealth of research to demonstrate that empty, refined carbohydrates and their prevalence in the modern food industry have caused an epidemic of insulin resistance, diabetes, and the accompanying conditions of high blood pressure and heart conditions.

This is both the book’s strongest and weakest point: while recognizing that other carbohydrates beyond sugar, such as potatoes, rice, and wheat products wreak havoc with the blood sugar, the author seems to overreach by condemning a whole food group. While everyone could benefit by introducing more whole foods and eliminating nutritionally deficient carbohydrates, the fervor with which the author advocates for avoidance of all carbs is reminiscent of the anti-fat and meat advice of those which he opposes.

Thin and Healthy, So What?

This book proves insightful because it presents an atypical case. Outwardly, Jeff O’Connell was the epitome of health: fit, slim, and active. As a fitness writer and head of a large fitness website, he prided himself on being informed about nutrition and health. Most would not expect, including the author himself, that his body was constantly in flux.

His condition also presented an atypical case of insulin resistance where a person’s blood sugar dips to extremely low levels. What do you do when, by all appearances you are healthy, but you can’t help feeling something is not right?

Pass the Meat

O’Connell struggled with blood sugar which was usually quite low, but after meals reached levels which would be considered diabetic. As a result he felt jittery, moody, and was always looking for his next carbohydrate fix. Wondering what was wrong, on one doctor’s appointment he received his diagnosis: pre-diabetes. Having a father who avoided treating his diabetes and faced the severe consequences later, O’Connell was determined to control his blood sugar and find a path to better health.

Noting that foods high in carbohydrates caused his blood sugar to destabilize, the author read more into the link between carbs and insulin resistance and decided to completely overhaul his diet. He cut out the snacks and fast foods he was accustomed to and based his diet on meats and vegetables. As he suspected, on his next appointment his health profile was better than it had ever been; most notably his blood sugar returned to normal range and A1C –the measure of your blood sugar levels over a few months– drastically improved.

While Sugar Nation can go off on tangents at points and isn’t without its flaws, it is an interesting read for the seemingly simple idea that it presents and achieves: that, equipped with the right tools, a person can take control of their own health.

 

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14 thoughts on “Sugar Nation

  1. Hey Miss Alee,
    I am definitely trying to include more fruits and vegetables, but will NEVER give up sweets. I also agree that people can take their health in their own hands, and exercise is medicine.

  2. For type 2 diabetics this is great, you can return to being a non diabetic if you control some things. It’s always been that way for type 2 diabetics, I’ve had type 1 for 35 years almost and I knew much of this long ago. For ppl who have pre-diabetes diet and exercise is what can prevent them from becoming a type 2 diabetic. I’m always surprised ppl don’t know this, I’ve known this for a long time.

  3. I also don’t believe it is totally necessary to cut out carbohydrates from your diet. Though it is important to greatly reduce the amount of carbs one eats in general and when one does have a carb as part of a meal, it should be a whole grain carb. As these are more complex carbs the body takes longer to break them down into sugars.

    PS. One might not have to give up eating sweets completely. If those are rarely had maybe once a month then the body will be able to deal with the sugar much more easily.

  4. Hi Sherry,

    “I am definitely trying to include more fruits and vegetables, but will NEVER give up sweets.”

    Lol, I’m somewhat the same way. I love sweet foods, but I’ve definitely cut back from what I used to have. Instead of eating sweets everyday, I might have it one day, out of 2 weeks. This way your blood sugar isn’t always rising so high, causing more and more insulin to be pumped out in response, which eventually causes insulin resistance.

  5. Eugenia,

    You’re right: this is old news. Lowering your intake of sugary and starchy food groups was actually the advice for diabetics before the whole grain/anti-fat advice began to be pushed. I like that this book (and others) are reintroducing this idea to the masses. A lot of people still don’t know about it though or need more info/research before they try it.

    Froggie,

    You’re right about the whole grain carbs vs simple carbs, but for those with insulin resistance or a high risk for diabetes, even whole grains eaten on a regular basis can aggravate blood sugar levels. But in moderation (true moderation!) it can work; it just can’t be the basis of your diet.

  6. My mom has a type 2 diabetes. (On top of high blood pressure and thyroid problems). I am not sure how much of this applies to food here. Though the basics is the same: no sweets, less starchy foods. At least this is what’s recommended to her. There is a problem that she doesn’t have enough money to truly eat healthy so it’s another problem. But she tries to stay away from sugar. She doesn’t like sweets but she likes fruit (for example, watermelon – ok, I know, it’s technically a vegetable but you get the idea), so it’s a problem.

  7. Hi Mira, long time no see!

    “Though the basics is the same: no sweets, less starchy foods. At least this is what’s recommended to her.”

    That’s interesting, because this same info isn’t really recommended to diabetics here nowadays. The sweet part yes, but for starches it’s more “replace white products with whole grain products”.

    “There is a problem that she doesn’t have enough money to truly eat healthy so it’s another problem.”

    Hmmm, she could replace that watermelon with green beans or zucchini. 🙂

  8. Hmmm, she could replace that watermelon with green beans or zucchini. 🙂

    In theory, yes, but the problem is that diabetes often comes with food cravings. Well, at least to her. So it’s difficult to resist.Though her doctor claims it’s better to take a small amount of something “you’re not supposed to eat” than to try to resist it and then give up and eat a whole lot in a moment of a food craving. As I understand, eating a little is less of two evils (food cravings can totally mess your whole diet).

    Hi Mira, long time no see!

    I’m mighty busy with my Master’s thesis. I’ve been lurking for a while but without commenting. Hope everything is alright with you!

  9. Alee, but sometimes I don’t realize since I’ve been a type 1 diabetic so dang long, almost 35 years, that I’ve got the insider’s view. I know all about diabetes, it’s my life so I stay up on type 1 news, type 2 stuff, then I get information from my doctor so yea I’m almost an expert. I should have gone to med school LOL. But I’m happy you’re getting this information out and people are writing books about preventing type 2. When I got type 1 diabetes in 1979 type 2 was barely on the radar only old people got it. It’s so preventable so as a type 1 it frustrates me that people don’t do better trying to prevent it. I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy and the havoc it’s wreaking on my body after having it so long is not even something I can prevent. It just happens, so yea if you can prevent getting type 2, do it, I wish I could do the few things you need to do to prevent type 2 to rid myself of type 1 I’d do it in a heartbeat. This junk sucks.

  10. Mira,

    It is better than nothing at all I guess. But giving up sugar becomes easier the longer you do it (I just go back to it for a “change” and then it becomes hard to quit)

    Froggie,

    Oh. Lol.

    Eugenia,

    *hugs*

    It is really disconcerting how common type 2 has become, and it’s a condition that a person has much control in preventing. I hope the news spreads far and wide.

  11. She’s struggling with it. Like I said, she doesn’t really like sweets but there are some foods she really likes so it’s difficult to resist them.

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