Foods act like 'slow-acting poisons' but guidelines say nothing
DIABETES is the epidemic of our age and currently the biggest challenge for the Australian health system.
World Diabetes Day is next Tuesday and we should all use it to pause and consider why we are failing to control the prevalence of this life-affecting, life-limiting disease.
Diabetes Australia says 280 Australians develop diabetes every day, or one person every five minutes.
It is the fastest-growing chronic condition in the nation and so many of the cases are preventable.
Meanwhile, many patients are paddling hard against the stream, doing as they are advised, but losing the fight and developing complications that take eyesight, mobility, circulation and eventually lives.
Why should we care? Because it affects us, it is hurting us or those we care for and we are all paying the stratospheric costs of a disease that is too often preventable and reversible.
Of course, there are three kinds of diabetes: Type 1, which is an auto-immune disease that usually hits in childhood and young adulthood; Type 2, which is most often caused by obesity, diet and lifestyle choices; and gestational diabetes, which is something of a mystery but for which being overweight is also a risk factor.
Type 2 is deemed mostly avoidable and controllable, but people are falling like ninepins. More than 85 per cent of diabetes cases in Australia are Type 2, although all types are rising. Most agree that improper eating habits lead to the development of Type 2, but there are different attitudes as to what type of diet will prevent or improve diabetes control.
And this is where a shift in focus must occur.
After all, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is accepted as insanity.
Brisbane-based registered nutritionist Anthony Power says 80-90 per cent of his patients have diabetes, and they come to him because of complications: kidney dysfunction, eye problems, extreme fatigue.
People with diabetes are routinely told what they should eat and do to help control it and reduce the risk of life-affecting complications.
Of course, they are responsible for what goes in their mouths, but those diagnosed with a disease generally turn to authoritative advice. But so many are finding they can't reverse their condition no matter how rigorously they stick to the accepted guidelines.
Power says logic would suggest the guidelines are flawed.
No one can win a battle if they are sparring with the wrong enemy.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines, which tell people what to eat and how much in order to be healthy, demonise fats but not carbohydrates.
Increasing numbers of nutritionists are concerned that this practice is the main cause of our collective blow outs, and is particularly affecting those who have already developed diabetes.
The ongoing development and supposed refinement of the guidelines includes peer-reviewed evidence, but a disproportionate number of the studies that are included are sponsored by food companies.
Evidence is increasingly showing that processed food is a slow-acting poison in the modern body, yet the Australian Food and Grocery Council argued last time against upgrading advice to include limiting added sugar, for Pete's sake.
When people are eating Weet-Bix and freshly squeezed juice for breakfast and thinking that is balanced, we have problems.
Labelling also has a lot to answer for. When people think low-fat means healthy - because that is what they are told to go for - instead of understanding it is likely loaded with sugar to "taste right", more of us will continue to be sucked into the diabetes vortex.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines are used to inform all Australian government health advice. The guidelines must be updated every 10 years but can get a bit of a touch-up every five if things have gone too awry.
The next major edition is due to be published in 2023 but, by then, eight in 10 Australians over 20 will be overweight or obese and the diabetes diagnoses will have continued its upward spiral.
Given the diabetes train is well and truly off the tracks, a review next year - five years since the last - is desperately needed.
De-coupling or at least exposing the links between the processed food industries and authoritative advice will be a challenge, but it should be mandatory.
People need all the help they can get.
Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is the journalism co-ordinator at the University of the Sunshine Coast and health enthusiast.