Wishful Thinking in Dietary Choices

November 5, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetes Management, Diabetic Menu Item, Mediterranean, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

At our home we eat a healthy diet almost all the time, but when we leave our home and eat at a restaurant, with our family or during our recent tour of China, our diet changes, sometimes dramatically. There are some controlling factors that make this true. For example, our house doesn’t have a selection of processed foods or junk foods; we don’t have any white flour breads, cereals, cakes, cookies or crackers; we do have a plentiful supply of vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, and whole grains. When we were in China for the month of September, we thought that we would be fairly safe, that is, safe from the American processed foods that can throw us a curve ball. What we discovered is that we never saw a single grain of brown rice or whole grain product (noodles, steamed buns and dim sum made with sparkling white flour). Unlike some of our tour friends, we avoided constipation (by taking psyllium dietary fiber supplements daily), and because we ate mostly vegetables and only small specks of meat. The silver lining of our struggle is that I can empathize with those of you that are trying to move toward the Mediterranean-style of eating. It’s not exactly an easy quest, given the food environment available in most of this world.

My empathy is sent to you, because the food processors and marketing geniuses seem to be lurking at every corner; making it a challenge at every turn. It seems to me that the food sellers and marketing gurus are preying on our wishful thinking. Our wishes to return to a bygone era, a time when we ate junk food, oblivious to the negative impact on our health; when we ate and enjoyed white bread, white rice, whole milk, bacon and burgers. To make my case about tricking people based on their wishful thinking, I will first discuss a Tufts University study, not about wishful thinking, but about the real impact of processed white flour on our health.  With this as a background, I will discuss a couple of magazines supposedly designed to help diabetic people find good dietary choices. I have to wonder if these magazines are not pandering to the wishful thinking of many, leading them to believe that they can continue to freely eat foods that are very unhealthy for them.

Two Studies of Whole Grains and Fiber

There has been ample evidence for years from studies in the US and Europe that dietary fiber may help protect us against heart disease. A study conducted in Japan and published in The Journal of Nutrition is verifying that those consuming more fiber were less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. When the researchers zeroed in on coronary heart disease the results were even stronger. Men who consumed the most insoluble fiber were at 52% lower risk and those eating the most soluble fiber were 29% less likely to die of coronary heart disease. Women were only a percentage point behind the men on both counts. Fruit and cereals (Cereals here means cereal grains, like wheat and oats.) were especially effective of reducing coronary heart disease risk.

In another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Nicola McKeown and her colleagues at Tuft’s University have discovered a really interesting twist on the whole grain story. First the researchers looked at visceral adipose tissue (VAT) – a type of fat around the abdominal organs. VAT accumulation is linked with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome. This includes hypertension and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism (prediabetes).  VAT fat is also associated with increased risks of both type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Tufts researchers expected to find a lower heart disease risk in the participants who consumed more whole grains. Interestingly they discovered that even those that were eating lots of whole grains lost much of the expected benefits if they also ate four or more portions of refined grains per day. The take away lesson from this research is that it is important to substitute rather than simply add whole grains to a present diet of refined grains. The other lesson is that learning to do without refined white flours is a very high priority.  Doing this is one of the most valuable changes a person can make.

Increasing whole grain intake is associated with lower harmful VAT; the researchers don’t really know why whole and refined grains influence different body fat distribution.

‘Instead of’ is the key concept here; choosing brown rice INSTEAD OF white rice; choosing whole grain bread INSTEAD OF white bread. My advice is to choose whole grains as often as possible – steer clear of processed grain products and you’ll be moving toward the substantial health benefits reported in so very many studies.

The reason that I chose this study is that it provides a moral challenge to the many food processors who are still playing games to trick us into purchasing products that are not truly whole grains. They are aware of the public’s knowledge that whole grains are far superior to processed grains. They continue to add some whole grains to processed products and feature the words “WHOLE GRAIN”. Some of them deceive by breaking down the processed grains into various types, so the whole grain will be listed first in the ingredients list, since it weighs more than any one of the processed grains. In reality, the processed grains add up to being the largest proportion of grain in these artfully misrepresented products. I see this as flat out deceit, so keep your eyes on the ingredient labels and learn to see past the tricks and make good choices. Even if the whole grain is listed first on the ingredient list, read the rest of the list to discover if there are processed grains listed after the whole grain. Let’s get the processed grains out of our diets!

Do Some Diabetic Magazines Pander to Wishful Thinking?

I received two magazines designed for diabetics within the past couple of days, unsolicited.

  • The first one is about diabetic living.  It caught my eye as being out of step with healthy diabetic living. It featured a cover picture of a chocolate layer cake, generously frosted with chocolate cream frosting, and sprinkled with broken peppermint candy and dark chocolate curls on the top. The title of the article is: “Cakes worth the carbs!”
  • The second diabetic magazine presented itself as being expert in diabetic diets.  It also has a dessert on the cover that was made with sugar and white flour, in a section called sweets for the season.

My question

  • I wonder if the marketing gurus design their covers to meet the wishful thinking of those with diabetes or those who are facing diabetes -- that craving to return to days of wild abandon with dessert. How can foods (i.e. chocolate cake) that are mostly empty calories be a good choice, even a possible choice, for persons seriously trying to eat appropriately for their diabetes? Many of the desserts in both of these magazines suggest that a sugar substitute be used instead of the sugar presented in the recipes, but there is no mention of the fact that white flour is used in the recipes, albeit sometimes hidden in an all-purpose baking mix; refrigerated pie crust; angel food cake mix (both sugar and white flour are not well-hidden in this product); pizza crust; and French bread. There is no mention that unlike whole grain products, white flour products turn into glucose very quickly, starting in the mouth.

If you’re only looking for a serving of dessert to have a few times a year, perhaps on Thanksgiving Day, your birthday or maybe another holiday, it may not be such a big deal. But do recipes in designed-for-diabetic magazines seem like they’re a good idea to have whenever you want? Isn’t presenting all that temptation and backing it with so-called good advice from experts a disservice to diabetics (regardless of how well it sells magazines to wishful thinkers)?

While it is true, that you can count your carbs and include desserts, even desserts with sugar, is it really optimal to have these empty calorie foods frequently? Carbs are not the whole story with diabetes and those trying to avoid it. ‘What kind of carb’ is a critical concern for those of us who want to avoid heart disease. Using the magazine cover recipe, if we have one slim piece of chocolate cake made with sugar substitute, it is still 22 grams of carbohydrate – which is 88 calories from refined carbohydrates. A second issue is the whipped topping that is an important part of the frosting. Cool Whip Lite has fewer calories, but the calories (10 per tablespoon) are made with high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oils. These ingredients are not at the top of any serious list for healthy eating.  Don’t forget that the recipes are sometimes divided into unnaturally small slices. The small 8-inch layer cake on the cover is to be divided into 16 pieces. Perhaps this nod to portion control is what makes it “diabetic friendly”. Certainly an abundance of white flours and simple sugars is not diabetic-friendly. Of course, if those in denial about the effect of these foods just really crave it, they might only divide it into 10 pieces. Then the carbs rise to 35 per serving, which comes to 140 calories from simple carbs. If you’re simple carb goal is to stay within The American Heart Association’s goal of 100 calories for women and 150 for men a day, or less; then the women should have one-sixteenth of the cake and not plan any ice cream or other sweets with the cake.  Note: another trick in presenting seductive but unhealthy foods is to overlook counting the decorations.

It appears that the crushed peppermint candy (straight sugar) and chocolate swirls on the cover cake are not calculated in the grams of sugar.

Let’s be aware that marketers and food companies may be using your hidden wishes to draw you to eating processed foods that are not benefiting your health. They are not doing this out of sheer meanness, nor is disregard for public health foremost in their minds. The fact is, their profit margin is much higher using a maximum of refined flours and sugars, because they are cheap and have a longer shelf life. Moreover, the purveyors of such products know that because of past cravings and pleasant associations the public has developed, they can predict that refined products will often be selected, especially if they can be disguised as being healthy. Be forewarned and forearmed. The first step is to recognize what is going on. The second is to choose whole grains and healthy sweeteners INSTEAD OF refined flours and sugars.

Savory Squash and Wheat Berries


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup onions, chopped

1 teaspoon rosemary

1 teaspoon rubbed sage

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

3 cups cooked winter squash or pumpkin, cubed

2 ½ cups cooked wheat berries

¼ cup water

¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese


If you don’t have cooked refrigerated or frozen wheat berries, cook one and one-fourth cup wheat berries in 3 cups water for about an hour to 1¼ hour, until desired tenderness.

Sauté onions in oil. Add herbs and stir in squash, and heat. Fold in the squash and cooked wheat berries. Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, until flavors have blended. Add a little water if necessary to keep it from sticking. Remove from heat and fold in the feta cheese. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Dice the roasted pumpkin or squash.

Saute the onions and add the herbs.

Stir in the wheat berries.

Fold in the squash.

Steam for about 10 minutes.

Add the feta cheese.

Arrange in serving dish.

Sprinkle with fresh Parmesan and serve.