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.