I’ve just spent 10 days on the road–three of it involuntarily. The American diet is made plain in all its hypocrisy and oddness. When you shop and cook at home, there are choices. Not so much when you travel. Travel is about finding comfort, and in America, comfort is sugar. It is added into almost everything we put in our mouths, from toothpaste to condiments to juice, oatmeal, yogurt, frozen fruit and yes, salad dressings.
In America, 29.1 million people, or 9.3% of the population, have diabetes. Compare this to an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population, who have celiac disease. Yet every hotel I stayed in had gluten-free options at every meal. None had diabetic-friendly food. Breakfast at a typical hotel was donuts, danish, canned fruit, bread, gluten-free bread, fruit-flavored yogurt, waffles, gluten-free waffles, cereal, instant oatmeal, bagels, cream cheese, and jam. Diabetics have nothing to eat at that buffet. Add eggs, fresh fruit and plain yogurt, and we’d have choices. But those don’t exist on most hotel menus.
When I asked about the oatmeal, the hotel employee pointed to the sign that said “gluten free.” “That’s great,” I said, but I’m diabetic and I need something without sugar. The hotel employee smiled knowingly. “Gluten-free is better for you. Fix up that diabetes,” she said, in an incredibly certain (and completely wrong) statement.
Gluten-free is popular right now, thanks to the massive hype of companies that make rice products and the popularity of Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis’ book on the horrors of wheat. I’ve read the book and I am amazed at how he cherry-picks ideas, uses a smattering of facts and a heap of big words to confuse science-starved brains, and spins fear into gold (for himself). But it works. The guy is rich. So is his marketing company. He has persuaded people to demand gluten-free food. Because the culprit is wheat.
Diabetics, however, have only themselves to blame. Fat shaming works. Diabetics are afraid to speak up because
sugar tastes good and is addictive. My own medical doctor assured me I would never be able to control my diabetes with diet alone and encouraged me to take medication. My own health insurance company insists that preventive diet won’t work over time, despite the fact I have been a diet controlled diabetic for three years. They’d rather I take pills because it is “easier.”
The problem is less one of medication and far more one of a lack of marketing. Hypoglycemia was popular two decades ago, but no longer. There are health fads just as there are fashion fads. And right now, gluten-free is singing the siren song of losing belly fat. It’s hard to resist.
Please note that celiac disease is real and those who suffer from it have a serious medical condition. But most people eating gluten-free could feel just as good if they eliminated sugar substitutes from their diet, took cold showers, or walked barefoot to absorb energy from the earth. And those who demand gluten-free products and still eat pizza are fooling no one except themselves.
Back to travel. The American diet is loaded with sugar. There are lots of reasons for that having nothing to do with food (and a lot to do with economics and trade deals). Still, eating a sugar or sugar-substitute free diet is almost impossible. You have to have rock-hard resolve and know some science. It’s too much work for most people. But I do wish, with clear understanding, that diabetes had the marketing plan of the gluten-free crowd. It would be great to see diabetic-friendly options on a menu. To see signs proudly announcing “sugar-free” in the same size as “gluten-free.”
But in the world of supply and demand, sugar tastes much better than protein (gluten is a protein), and I don’t expect much to change.
—-Quinn McDonald is glad to be home from a long trip.