Dr. Jody Stanislaw received her doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine in 2007 from the acclaimed holistic medical school in Seattle, Bastyr University. She is a Certified Diabetes Educator, Type 1 Diabetes Specialist, and a founding board member of the Low Carb Diabetes Association.
Below is the full text of her TEDx Talk titled “Sugar is Not a Treat” at TEDxSunValley conference. This event occurred in September 2017.
Take a few moments to think about your most vital organs in your body, those organs that you cannot live without. Okay, got them? Excellent.
You probably thought about your heart. I bet “brain” popped into your mind. Lungs.
But did any of you think, “My pancreas, I can’t live without my pancreas”?
I’m assuming most of you probably didn’t.
I’m a naturopathic doctor, and I love educating people about the importance of the pancreas, which is located right here, tucked behind your stomach, behind your left lower rib cage.
Inside your pancreas is a small cluster of cells called beta cells. You only have two grams actually; it’s the size of, like, two almonds.
Well, these life-giving cells surprisingly get no attention, yet if they were to wither away, in the absence of medical intervention, you would literally die within a few weeks. That is how important your beta cells are; you would die.
Here’s how they work: Anytime you eat sugar or highly-refined carbohydrates, that sugar circulates in your blood from your head to your toe, throughout your body.
The beta cells are the security guards for your blood, and as soon as they see this rush of sugar, they send the alarm bells off. They call in a team of dump trucks to haul all of that sugar out.
Well, the dump trucks are called insulin, and insulin’s job is to pick up all that sugar out of the blood and feed it to your liver, your muscles, or store it as fat because you don’t want all that excess sugar hanging out in your blood.
This seems pretty innocent, right?
But here’s the problem: Millions and millions today are overworking their security force. Overworking your beta cells doesn’t happen only with obvious foods, like cake and ice cream, but it also happens with highly-refined carbohydrate foods, like yogurt and granola, cereal, bread, pasta, alcohol – even when used in moderation.
Anytime you eat these foods, your beta cells send the alarm bells off to make more insulin. And this is scary because – just like anything that gets overused, from cars to computers – the parts eventually wear out, leading to beta cell burnout. This is another name for pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes which you really don’t want to suffer from.
Beta cell burnout can happen to anyone, and it has a lot to do with your food choices. As your beta cells weaken through the years, the blood sugar level starts to rise to a dangerous level, maybe even unbeknownst to you.
If the beta cells get really weak, and you don’t pick it up – your diet doesn’t change – you’ll likely need to take insulin injections every day for the rest of your life to stay alive.
But the good news — the good news is reversing beta cell burnout is entirely possible. Just with a few small dietary tweaks and lifestyle changes, especially when caught early; I specialize in diabetes. I also am an expert because I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was just seven years old.
So the effects of sugar have been a lifelong study for me.
Now, the cause of type 1 is very different than the pandemic of type 2 today that we’re hearing so much about.
In type 1, the immune system attacked and killed all of my beta cells. Killed them – they’re gone – when I was seven.
Why it did this is still not understood. But as a result, without my beta cells I take insulin injections every day, and I’ve taken over 100,000 in my lifetime, thus far.
Living with type 1, in a way, has been a gift, though, because I’m so motivated not to eat sugar. When I eat sugar, my blood sugar level skyrockets and I feel awful; I get a headache, I feel cranky – if the phone rings, I don’t want to get it because I am irritable – and I just want to take a nap.
Most people walk around oblivious to this direct correlation between what you’ve eaten and how you feel, so the negative effects on all of you living with beta cells – you’re lucky enough to still have them – is much more subtle, but potentially just as deadly.
The good news is saving your beta cells is entirely in your hands. You know, this talk wouldn’t have applied even ten years ago, when sugar wasn’t added to everything that we eat, and it was just used as a special occasion.
Are you aware that there are only 10 companies that own the entire world’s food brands? And the reality is the sweeter a food is, the more it sells.
So when you eat sugar, you might immediately feel a rush of energy and kind of feel good, think “Wow, sugar makes me feel great!”
But the reality is an hour or two later, if you pay attention, you’ll likely feel zapped. You might not be able to concentrate; you might kind of want to take a nap; or you might want to eat more sugar.
If we keep doing this over a lifetime, the beta cells get weak, the blood sugar level slowly starts to rise, and over time, high-blood sugar causes heart disease, kidney failure, strokes, gangrene, blindness, Alzheimer’s, lower-limb amputation, depression, violent behavior and more.
The amount of deaths called by sugar – all of these afflictions combined – leads to more deaths than automobile accidents.
Imagine that. At the rate we’re consuming sugar today, sugar is not a treat. Ladies and gentlemen, at the rate we’re consuming it today, sugar has become a gradual death sentence.
But the good news is, like I said, this is something, a major problem, that we have in our hands. My patient Pam, she was just freaking out; she thought something was entirely wrong with her. She said, “I’m just tired all the time. I feel good in the morning, but then I drag, and I can’t focus, and I’m cranky. Something is wrong with me. Will you check my thyroid? Do I have a brain tumor? Is that why I can’t think?”
I said, “Pam, before we run all those expensive tests, I just want to ask you, ‘What do you have for breakfast?'”
And she said, “Well, I have a vanilla latte – get a few extra pumps of vanilla because I love it – and then I have some zucchini bread,”
I said, “Well, okay, let me tell you something, Vanilla is syrup – you realize that, right? – it’s not the vanilla bean, it’s the syrup, lots of sugar, and zucchini bread – might as well call it zucchini cake. I mean let’s be real, okay? Zucchini muffin, whatever. It’s all cake – muffins – they’re just cake without frosting.”
So I said, “Before I run all these expensive tests, why don’t you just start your day with protein? Let’s just have a handful of eggs for breakfast, maybe some sliced apples with peanut butter. When you start your day with balanced blood sugar level, I think your energy is going to be a lot better, just saying.”
Two weeks later, I get an email full of exclamation points: “Nothing’s wrong with me. I feel great. I’m having protein for breakfast, and everybody’s like, ‘What have you done? You’re so happy now.'” Changing your life can be this simple; it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
But I get it. It’s so easy to fall into the traps laid by the $15 trillion processed-food industry today. They label so many high-sugar foods as healthy: Gummy vitamins – right? – they’re gummy bears, let’s not be come on Yogurts – many yogurts today, blueberry, strawberry yogurt – they have more sugar, ounce for ounce, than Coca-Cola.