Amber Merrick as zombie doctor on Halloween

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

How to enjoy the Tricks AND TREATS this Halloween, while avoiding Type 2 Diabetes

What kind of sadistic monster talks about Diabetes on Halloween…well, surprise surprise, it’s Dr. Amber…aka Debbie Downer.  I will preface this diatribe with a caveat…enjoy your tricks AND treats this Halloween…but, in a way that doesn’t impact your blood sugar or waist-line (or your children’s either).

In March of this year, the World Health Organization issued a statement that we should limit our intake of sugar to <50g per day to avoid obesity and tooth decay.  The WHO’s recommendations cover free sugars such as glucose and fructose, and sucrose or table sugar added to processed foods and drinks. They do not cover sugar found naturally in fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.  Limiting sugar has the added bonus of reducing risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, chronic infections, cancer and cardiovascular disease.  Why is Type 2 Diabetes so bad anyway?  I won’t scare you too much (Halloween joke), but Diabetes can lead to a lot of complications if not addressed, like increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, impotence, kidney failure, blindness and even loss of limbs!

How does eating sugar contribute to weight gain and developing Type 2 Diabetes?

When we eat a sugary meal or snack, a large volume of glucose enters our bloodstream.  As a result, our body releases insulin to tell our cells to take up the sugar/glucose so our cells can use it for fuel.  Unfortunately, the more sugar we eat the more insulin we release.  This extra insulin will then hang out in the bloodstream with no sugar to support.  As a result, the insulin will do a few things…

  1. Contribute to FAT GAIN
  2. Cause hypoglycemia (“Hangry”)
  3. Stimulate further carbohydrate and sugar cravings

And over time, that extra insulin hanging around all the time gets really annoying to the cells.  Like that annoying houseguest that just WON’T LEAVE.  The cells then stop caring about what insulin has to say; they don’t open the door when he knocks, even if he “really has sugar for them this time”.  “Yeah right insulin, we’ve heard it a thousand times”, says the cell.  This is now Type 2 diabetes.

So, how can we treat ourselves this Halloween and not worry about the dreaded FAT GAIN and TYPE 2 diabetes?

By avoiding sugar spikes!

When you eat your candy, have it with your meals.  Ensure you eat it with enough:

  1. Protein: 1g protein/kg body weight (try for 1-2 palms per meal)
  2. Fat: about 2 thumbs per meal (coconut oil, butter, ghee, olive oil, avocado)
  3. Fiber: several handfuls of your fave veggies (not including potatoes)

Canadian Diabetes Association also recommends exercise.  Low physical fitness is as strong a risk factor for mortality (dying younger) as smoking.  Also, physical activity can be as powerful as glucose-lowering medication… but with fewer side effects!

Regular physical activity, in conjunction with healthy eating and weight control, can reduce type 2 diabetes incidence by 60 per cent.  Good news!  I would aim for 150 minutes per week of physical activity; some cardiovascular activity (interval sprints, either running, biking, jumping rope or climbing stairs), but with the emphasis on resistance training (building muscle using gravity, resistance bands, weights, or machines).  We are definitely not strong enough as North Americans, and increasing our muscle mass has a very beneficial impact on our long-term health!

Finally, give yourself a limit of candy per meal.  The daily limit of 50g is an easy number to reach, so try to avoid going overboard.  How much sugar is in your favorite Halloween treats you might be wondering…(here are some of my faves…all in mini Halloween sizes of course)

  • Peanut M&Ms – 9g sugar
  • Kit Kat – 6 g sugar
  • Smarties – 6g sugar
  • Skittles – 11g
  • Sour Patch Kids – 10g
  • Twizzlers – 6g

Seems to me each piece is less than 50g of sugar – more good news!

Pick your favorite candy from your bowl of leftovers (or from your kid’s stash) and get rid of the rest.  Have your kid pick their favorites, and give the rest away, or have them exchange it for a non-candy treat, like a new toy.  If it’s in the house, you’ll probably eat it!

So, enjoy some candy this year…but let’s avoid the sugar spikes shall we.  Have a spook-tastic Halloween!

“Halloween was confusing. All my life my parents said, “Never take candy from strangers.” And then they dressed me up and said, “Go beg for it.” I didn’t know what to do. I’d knock on people’s doors and go, “Trick or treat . . . no thank you.” ~ Rita Rudner


plate with cured meat, cheese, and pickles

By Dr. Amber Merrick, N.D.

Can I still eat bacon? A Naturopathic Perspective on the recent WHO colon cancer findings

The World Health Organization issued a statement today that eating processed meats, including bacon and sausage, can increase your risk of colon cancer.  As a lover of homemade cured meats, and charcuterie plates I was very upset by this news.   As a devoted naturopathic doctor, however, I decided that health is more important to my patients and myself.  Knowing colon cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer in Canada and the second most common cause of cancer death, I wanted to delve deeper into the findings.

The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, places processed meat in the Group 1 list as “carcinogenic to humans.”   Tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes are also on the Group 1 list.   Processed meat refers to that which has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.   The report’s authors said eating 50 grams of processed meat a day (about 2 pieces of bacon) increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.

18% sounds scary…but what do these numbers really mean?

An average human has about a 5% lifetime risk of developing colon cancer (1 in 20).  This risk increases if we are over the age of 50, if you are a man, have a family history of colon cancer or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s or Colitis).

An 18% increased risk for an average person means that we may increase our lifetime risk from 1 in 20 to about 1 in 16.  So basically, if 16 people ate a high processed meat diet, 1 might develop colon cancer while 15 will not.

Further, there are other factors at play here.  Obesity, and lack of exercise will also increase risk of colon cancer by 30% (1 in 15) in men, and 10% (1 in 18) in women.  This risk increases as waist circumference increases (as high as 1 in 10 for men).

Smoking, alcohol and sugar consumption can also increase risk.

So does anything decrease risk…the answer is an emphatic YES!

Fish, 80 g per day (about one serving) decreases risk of colon cancer by 30% (1 in 30).  2.5 servings of fruits and veggies per day can decrease risk by 60% (1 in 60).  If you have a low fiber diet, doubling your intake to 25 grams per day can decrease risk by 40% (1 in 35).  Also, calcium and vitamin D rich foods (whole dairy, not including milk) can decrease risk of colon cancer by 20% (1 in 25).

Also, 90% of colon cancer can be cured if caught early!  Currently, Cancer Care Ontario recommends regular colon cancer screening for those over the age of 50.  So see your doctor for a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), and/or a screening colonoscopy (for those at higher risk).

So, bottom line, should you stop eating processed meats? I’m not going to. My plan will be to continue to consume 3-5 servings of veggies and fruits per day, exercise for 3 hours per week, eat fish twice per week, drink some red wine and abstain from smoking.  When I’m 50 I’ll get a colonoscopy.  And I will continue to enjoy my cured meat charcuterie and bacon a few days per week.  Happy Eating!!

Amber Merrick as zombie doctor on Halloween
How to enjoy the Tricks AND TREATS this Halloween, while avoiding Type 2 Diabetes
plate with cured meat, cheese, and pickles
Can I still eat bacon? A Naturopathic Perspective on the recent WHO colon cancer findings