From your personal experience, as well as from your work with the Institute For Responsible Nutrition and the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation (HSF), how do sugar and processed foods contribute to how we feel, what we do, and how we relate to others?
Thank you for mentioning my work founding the Institute for Responsible Nutrition (with Dr. Robert Lustig). After merging that organization with EatReal.org, I decided to “swim upstream” in the field of metabolic health and nutrition, seeking a point in the development of chronic disease that was early enough to make a significant difference and prevent folks from advancing to more advanced states of metabolic disease (type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, etc.). Since blood sugar dysregulation, including low and high blood sugar (the “blood sugar roller-coaster”) is essentially a “canary in the coal mine” of diet-related disorders, the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation is a perfect match for my passionate belief in education, prevention, and advocacy.
I was extremely blessed to find Roberta Ruggiero, the Founder of the HSF, who had to learn the hard way that modern medicine has tragically overlooked opportunities to take conditions like hypoglycemia seriously, even though doctors and researchers have been urging that we pay attention to blood sugar health for decades. Forty years ago, Roberta was “just a mom” with no medical degree or advanced education – but she figured out that blood sugar health was foundational, not peripheral to our health – a “canary in the coal mine” of metabolic health. I was naturally drawn to Roberta and the HSF whose approach works from the grass-roots up, versus the top down approach that many health institutions take. Patient-advocacy is powerful to me – this area of work isn’t merely “academic” to me.
Born in the late 50s, I grew up in a food environment increasingly dominated by processed foods and sugar, and eliminating these substances from my life was like getting rid of old friends… one of my favorite memories as a child was collecting bottles along the road and going to the corner store and spending all the money from bottle deposits on soda pop, candy, and chips. It seemed like pure heaven – until I started gaining weight. Cycles of weight gain and loss have plagued me my entire life, and I didn’t really understand basic nutrition science until I was in my fifties. By then, I had become “pre-diabetic” and my doctors informed me that it was inevitable that I would become diabetic. It felt like a death sentence, so I got pissed off enough to seek out some real science from doctors who knew better…like Dr. Robert Lustig. I ended up founding the Institute for Responsible Nutrition with Dr. Lustig and with his tutelage, subsequently debunked everything I thought I knew about nutrition and metabolic health. Before I met Dr. Lustig, I had already experienced my first bout with diagnosed “situational depression” but ironically, not one doctor or therapist thought to mention diet… just prescribing drugs and couch therapy. Sadly, the link between hypoglycemia and mental health has been known for over a half century. Less than thirty percent of medical doctors are required to take just one course in nutrition in medical school, so it is easy to understand why doctors don’t talk about food as medicine. Ironically, most chronic disease is caused by dietary factors.
Today, whole new fields of science are emerging that underscore the connection between diet and health and the neurophysiology of the food mood connection. In addition to established fields of neuroendocrinology and other metabolic specialties, new fields are developing, such as nutritional psychiatry and nutritional cognitive neuroscience. The studies that have emerged so far in this new field are confirming what most of us already know intuitively and experientially – that what we eat profoundly affects both our physical and mental health. A new paradigm of nutrition science is also emerging called “personalized nutrition”. While the one size fits all approach to nutrition no longer makes sense in terms of diet, there are some common elements of all diets that make sense for all humans, such as reducing or cutting out added sugar and processed foods. One of my close colleagues and inspirations, Dr. Joan Ifland, has written a whole textbook on the subject of processed food addiction, so I’m aware how hard it is to come to terms with these new ideas of nutrition, especially when we are bombarded with processed foods laden with addictive substances on a daily basis (75% of the food on the shelf in the supermarkets has sugar added, for example).
I’ve been working in high-stress non-profit social service environments for four decades. In many workplaces, food culture exacerbates the problem or the stress of work drives us to eating unhealthy “comfort or coping foods”. It didn’t help to be fed processed foods daily while going to public schools my entire life. How we feel and relate to others is integrally woven into our food culture. Even if you do manage to break the mold and become “woke” about food, it is so hard to escape the constant bombardment of unhealthy foods that are shoveled our way – in family, school, and work settings. It is essential you find a healthy food tribe (social group) to support your healthy eating habits. Just like members of AA have “sponsors,” we need mentors and guardians who will look out for us and occasionally apply a little “tough love”. One organization called “The Suppers Programs” has actually figured out a way to inject love and support into the equation while also having a lot of fun. I was so impressed by their work, I traveled across country to get trained by TSP Founder Dorothy Mullen. You can also join the private HSF Facebook Hypoglycemia Support Group… nothing but love there!
Isn’t there a pill for that?
There is no single bullet or magic pill, just buckshot – in other words, many solutions all working at once. We don’t have to throw out modern medicine with its emphasis on drugs, devices and procedures, but we do have to flip the paradigm and place healthy food at the foundation of health care. The current model is really disease-care, and preventive medicine only gets a tiny fraction of the resources dedicated to treating chronic diseases that are mostly avoidable. In the sci-fi movie “The Matrix” we are offered the blue pill or the red pill; the blue pill symbolizing the manufactured reality created by an alien race that wants to extract our life force and the red pill that wakes us up to the real world, albeit not a very pretty one, but nevertheless one that allows to be in control of our own destiny. The processed food industry is making billions by literally sucking away our money and life force. There is only one way out – real food. Real food means plant and animal based foods with minimal processing and no additives. That sounds simple, but it isn’t. This is why I’m involved with a startup called “Perfact” that has created a technology to unmask the food supply and make it easier for everyone to separate real (healthy) foods from unhealthy ones. When you apply the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation filter, called “Rollercoaster Free,” you reduce over 200,000 food products down to less than 6,000. The foods screened out contain thousands of chemicals added to foods, sugar only being one of them.
Most of us are doing our best to make good food choices, but information can be overwhelming and often contradictory. How does one know what is best for them and for those for whom they are responsible?
You are right on about how hard this is! In fact, I have been conducting a survey about these very issues (please share this link, the survey is ongoing!). The “Perfact” Solution I mentioned is exactly what we need to solve this problem – you can try it for yourself – beginning July 1, 2019, we are offering free “BETA” access via the private Hypoglycemia Support Group we host on Facebook. The tool will allow you to apply a wide range of filters of your choosing, including the Hypoglycemia filter, including “no added sugar”, filters for allergies, etc. Here is a brief article about this.
If there is one takeaway or one small change for the reader to consider, what might that be?
If we can cultivate the joy of cooking whole, real, fresh food in your life, I believe this will have powerful impacts on many levels. According to one analysis, only 10% of consumers now love to cook, while 45% hate it and 45% are lukewarm about it. The percentage of Americans who really love to cook continues to drop. Cooking actually cultivates healthy social connections, and makes it easier for you to resist the ever-present marketing of processed and so called fast food. The slower the food, the faster you will work off stress, and contribute to the greater good of others and the environment. Yes, I am saying we can actually cook our way out of this mess. To the 45% of those say you hate cooking, I suspect the issue is mostly lacking adequate training and skills, as well as healthy-positive reinforcement around cooking culture. As much as one might hate cooking, I guarantee you will hate going to the doctor’s office even more. I was lucky to be raised by a single working mom who still found time to cook for us every day. If a single, low-income mom with three kids can do it, so can you. And if you can’t, please reach out for help…family, friends, community, or even an online support group.
Well, the next level up from cooking is growing your own food. Even just some sprouts or herbs on the windowsill can make a difference, but there are also community gardens, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) you can support. Go to the local farmers’ market, food coop, or neighborhood market selling locally grown produce. The closer you get to the source of the food, the happier and healthier you will be.