Sweet Fire, the Nutrition Crash Course

I have what I’d call a vaguely informed idea of the nitty-gritty of nutrition, i.e. how the body converts carbs into energy, uses protein to build and repair tissue, and flushes out fiber.  You know, all that stuff…  But over time, my vague knowledge seems to get more and more vague if I don’t brush up a bit.

So a few months ago — at a very yuppie campground here in N. Cal (the kind with electric blankets in the tent cabins and a yoga center) — I picked up a brochure to order a nutritional video called “Sweet Fire: Understanding Sugar’s Role in Your Health.”  It’s taken me this long to get around to sitting down andSweet_fire_dvd concentrating on watching the whole hour, but boy, I’m glad I did!  I expected it to be some ultra-alternative organic-food love fest.  But instead, it turned out to be a highly informative and practical crash-course in what different foods do to your body, and how to pick the foods that promote good health.

Mary Toscano is a former engineer-cum-certified Nutrition Educator.  On film, she comes across like that one biology teacher in high school that everyone loved: the one who could make the complexities of science accessible to even the most clueless jocks.  It’s actually entertaining to watch her talk about hydrogenated fats and essential fatty acids.  I learned, and was reminded of, a whole heck of a lot of important info about eating healthfully.  A few highlights, from my view:

* Good carbs/bad carbs – simple sugars are worst, complex carbs are better because they are paired with other substances your body needs, and they absorb more slowly.

* Do you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fats listed among the ingredients of that product you just picked up off the supermarket shelf?  If so, avoid it like the plague.  These trans fats raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your good cholesterol (HDL) at the same time. Double-whammy!

* Fiber is actually a type of carbohydrate, but is indigestible, therefore does not raise your blood glucose or provide calories. In fact, it helps clean out your system, if you know what I mean.

* Do you know why Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are good for you?  These are the fats that occur naturally in foods, like in fish, nuts and avocados.  Mary says that when it comes to changing your diet, “Think Add,” as in adding these beneficial foods. I like that approach much better than the “Think Avoid” approach we’re usually expected to take.

* Free Radicals may be a partial cause of diabetes.  Huh??  I had absolutely no idea that there was an established theory that these “unpaired electrons” — aside from affecting aging — may also be instrumental in causing chronic illness.  Yikes!

* Essential dietary supplements – Mary boils it down to three: EFAs (like Fish Oil); Chromium (believed to enhance insulin action – for T2s only, of course), and some form of antioxidant, to offset those damaging Free Radicals.  The latter should preferably contain OPC, or Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins, which help strengthen weakened blood vessels, Mary says.

Did I mention that the Sweet Fire video was NOT specifically designed for people with diabetes?  One thing that threw me off was Mary’s contention that HYPOglycemia (yes, low BG) is supposedly an early sign of Type 2 diabetes.  This goes against everything I’ve learned to date (?)

In any case, don’t come away thinking I’ve spilled the (nutritious, high-fiber) beans entirely, and that you won’t need to watch the video now.  ‘Cause there’s a whole lot more information packed in that hour!  It’s a $25 investment for the DVD, but I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get more our of it than your first half-dozen appointments with a dietitian (with all due respect).  This is just so much more convenient, too.  And you’ll finally understand how your body runs on sugar, but how it’s your job to keep that “sweet fire” in check.


8 Responses

  1. adam
    adam January 25, 2007 at 6:57 am | | Reply

    Did you read “Sugar Busters” ?

  2. Carey
    Carey January 25, 2007 at 10:48 am | | Reply

    Will check it out. Thanks for the information.

  3. Kendra
    Kendra January 25, 2007 at 12:41 pm | | Reply

    Regarding the hypo as a sign of diabetes to come – I have heard this from a few doctors, both conventional and alternative. I can’t go into great detail myself, but in general they explained that hypoglycemia is an indication that the body is not handling sugar very well and that hypoglycemia can progress into diabetes.

  4. spaceling
    spaceling January 25, 2007 at 2:35 pm | | Reply

    I’m not a doctor, but the way I understand the hypoglycemia being a precursor to type 2 diabetes is as follows:
    Someone who is pre-type 2 is likely to have a working pancreas, but be insulin resistant. So, if they eat something that raises blood sugar, their pancreas releases insulin, but the body is slow to respond. Their blood sugar remains high, so the pancreas releases more insulin – more insulin than the person actually needs. So when the body finally catches up and responds to the insulin, blood sugar can end up going low.

    I can certainly remember, before I was diagnosed with type 2, that eating a sugary snack would sometimes leave me feeling shaky and ravenously hungry an hour or so later. I do wonder what my blood sugar would have looked like if I’d ever thought to test under those circumstances.

  5. Felix Kasza
    Felix Kasza January 25, 2007 at 3:59 pm | | Reply

    Hi Amy,

    it’s the nit picker again, I am afraid ….

    Fiber comes in two flavours, soluble and insoluble. Only the latter kind is indigestible; the former is just slow to break down. But it will affect BGs — less, and over a longer time, of course — and it will count towards calories if one is on a diet. On a related note, “net carbs” (or “effective carbs”) are hogwash, for exactly the same reason.

    Free radicals: Lots of hypotheses, plenty of in-vitro experiments with massive doses of whatever comes to hand; but precious few results that actually point to anything applicable to humans and statistically significant.

    Chromium: A bunch of studies (including a very helpful review) attest to its effects — in T2 only, alas — but seem to find that much depends on Cr bioavailability. So, take it as Chromium picolinate. Also, the effects of CrPic and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) seem to enhance each other, and no known adverse effects are known to CLA; so why not go whole hog. :-)


  6. Chrissie in Belgium
    Chrissie in Belgium January 25, 2007 at 11:51 pm | | Reply

    Your review here was great, ie clear and concise, on the basics of nutrition! Thanks. Makes me feel good about taking my fish oil and PreVision tablets (which are high in antioxidents).

  7. Disgruntled Ladye
    Disgruntled Ladye January 26, 2007 at 1:53 pm | | Reply

    I’ve also heard that hypoglycemia is a sign of diabetes to come. My mother is Type 2, and was hypoglycemic for many years. Same with her mother. I’ve been advised by my mom’s doctor (when taking her to appointments) to watch my weight and keep my sugar intake low to avoid (or at least stave off) diabetes.

    I believe that spaceling’s explanation is spot on.

  8. E
    E January 28, 2007 at 12:16 am | | Reply

    My Mom and I both have type 2 diabetes and we both had reactive hypoglycemia for years before being diagnosed with diabetes. I used to react very badly to sugar and white flour, white rice and white pastas. I would go very low, and feel shaky, etc within half an hour of eating it, so I learned to avoid it completely. I guess my body was just pumping out too much insulin in response to it. We were both put on insulin fairly quickly after diagnosis.

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