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Beware the Food Police

By David Mendosa

Last Modified On: February 10, 2003

The food police are everywhere. You can find the food police in the company cafeteria, at parties, anywhere food is served. They even sit across from you at your own dinner table. They might pop up any time you put something in your mouth.

Even if you watch what you eat, you can be sure that there's someone else out there that willing to do the same. But most of those people who become our food police are well meaning. It's important that we react with that in mind.

They often don't know enough to give us good advice, but think nevertheless that they are helping us. We can either educate them or smile politely and ignore them. There's no sense in getting upset over their telling us what or what not to eat.

Many people still believe that those of us with diabetes have to avoid simple carbohydrates like table sugar. For so many years medical people told them that we should eat "complex carbs" like potatoes instead.

Now we know that potatoes can raise our blood glucose levels more than sugar and that the concept of complex versus simple carbs is not as meaningful as high and low glycemic foods. Back in 1994 the American Diabetes Association stopped recommending that people with diabetes avoid sugar. But we should substitute sugar for other carbohydrates gram for gram and not simply add it to what we eat, the organization said.

Loretta is a friend of a friend of mine. She uses insulin and knew that her blood glucose level was low. If she didn't do something about it, she would go into hypoglycemic shock. So she stopped at a country store, grabbed a candy bar, and began munching it down. She muttered to the clerk that she had diabetes and was having a reaction.

The clerk leaped on her and grabbed the candy bar away. He screamed, "Diabetics aren't suppose to have sugar!"

My friend Peg has diabetes as does her mother-in-law. She recalls a Christmas Eve gathering of the family a few years ago.

"My sister had made homemade chocolate covered cherries. I decided to try one. Just one. My mother-in-law started lecturing me about how I couldn't eat it, because of my diabetes. I replied that I had my diabetes under control and that a small amount of sweet wouldn't do any real harm. Meanwhile, she was scarfing down fried chicken including the coated skin, mashed potatoes, and bread like there was no tomorrow."

Peg follows a low-carb diet. She's a nice lady. But to some people with diabetes the low-carbers are themselves members of a squad of food police.

"You should include the low carbohydrate zealots that monopolize several diabetes mailing lists," says someone whom I will call Charles, because he doesn't want any threatening phone calls. "They talk to each other and throw rocks at anyone who disagrees."

Joanne wonders why someone who has a friend whose mother had diabetes thinks that they are the expert on what she should or shouldn't eat. "I try to convince them that diabetes is unique in the way it manifests itself in each person and what they eat," she says. "I know that I can eat anything, but just not much of some things. I can plan for that little Christmas chocolate ball and not go excessively high."

Like Joanne, most of us know our limits. Of course, our diet is not always perfect. But we have our internalized food police to tell us that, and we don't need others to nag us.

For the record, all foods can fit in the diet of people with diabetes, says Gail Frank, a registered dietitian, professor of nutrition at California State University, Long Beach, and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Just watch the overall calories and the percentage of calories from carbohydrate, fat, and protein that you work out with your physician and dietitian, she says.  


This article originally appeared on mendosa.com, February 10, 2003.

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