It’s 9:20 on a Monday morning, and I just popped the cork on a bottle of Malbec and poured myself a glass. (Obviously, my wife is still asleep.) I’m sitting down to review Theodore Berland’s new The Diabetic Wine Lover’s Guide, and I could hardly do that accompanied by a cup of coffee, now could I?
At 100 pages with a hair over 10,000 words (plus 4 pages of footnotes) the slim volume is a fast read. But is it a good read? Unfortunately not, at least not globally.
The book purports to talk directly to folks with diabetes, but I felt the author was talking down to us. He uses the now un-PC term diabetic, never once using person with diabetes. And before you accuse me of being the pot calling the kettle black, I acknowledge that I’ve used diabetic in a number of my books in the past. But times have changed, haven’t they? The Person With Diabetes (PWD) crowd has won that fight, PWD is state-of-the-art in diabetes writing, and any book for people with diabetes with a 2015 copyright should have figured that out by now.
And it’s more than just linguistics. Have you ever heard the word diabetic used in a way that makes it sound like a racial slur? Berland’s writing came across that way to me. In fact, in my notes I actually wrote, “It’s clear that if he knows any D-folks, he knows them poorly.” That proved to be wrong. Very wrong, but more on that later. Still, as I read the book, his outdated style ruffled my feathers and left a bad taste in my mouth.
Berland’s notions about diabetes treatment are outmoded, too. He talks of diabetic diets. The need for “grim determination and consistent follow-though.” He tells us diabetics that we need to keep our teeth “scrupulously clean,” and to “not yield to such temptations as greasy food, sweets, and laziness.” Oh. My. God. Elliot Joslin has been reincarnated -- but without the scientist cred.
I think I need a second glass of wine.
Beyond the belittling voice and tone and outdated therapeutic advice, the overall bouquet of this wine book is pure pharma. It reads much like the “educational” literature sent out by drug companies. Disappointing!
Inside the Bottle Book
The book is broken down into seven chapters. There’s a not-too-interesting History of Diabetes, followed by a somewhat fascinating History of Wine. This is where Berland’s real knowledge starts to show through, and whenever he talks about wine it’s with something akin to true love: “During fermentation the yeasts enrich wine in other ways, enhancing the complex, distinctive, and divine flavors of the grape skin.”
For background, in the 1980s medical researchers became interested in what became known as the French Paradox, the question of how a population whose diet is so high in fats and cholesterol can have such low rates of heart disease. The suggested answer? Perhaps the “significant quantities” of wine consumed by the French was somehow protecting them.
Despite much research since, this notion remains controversial, with alternate theories ranging from statistical illusions to the types of cheeses common in France. But naturally, the author of the Diabetic Wine Lover’s Guide is championing the case of wine being behind the French’s healthy hearts.
Now, there is some interesting stuff in here. Ever wonder why wine starts out as sugary grape juice and ends up a BG-friendly drink with almost no carbs? It turns out that the sugars are devoured by fungi, mold, and yeasts during the fermentation process. Alcohol is the byproduct of their feast, their waste, essentially. Wait… so are we drinking fungi, mold, and yeast in our crystal? Nope. Once the alcohol level reaches 16%, according to Berland, the alcohol actually kills the yeasts. Huh. They die choking in their own sewage. How unappetizing.
I think I need a third glass of wine just to shake that image.
Berland follows this up with a chapter called Your Sugar, that’s packed with the grimmest possible statistics on diabetes complications, and he also gets some of his anatomical facts wrong when it comes to the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Then the meat of his thesis begins to take shape—more than half way through the book—with chapters on the alleged health benefits of alcohol and wine’s microingredients. He quotes studies suggesting that the resveratrol in red wine raises good cholesterol, and reduces risk of breast cancer, prostrate cancer, and some forms of dementia. Oh yes, and it may also prevent type 1 diabetes. So pour your kids a glass of wine with their happy meals. Oh, wait, that study was only in mice, although the author neglects to mention that.
The final chapter is made up of excerpts from 11 clinical studies of wine, all supporting wine’s positive health benefits. To Berland’s credit, I checked the actual studies cited, and found he was quoting them accurately, and in proper context.
He wraps up his book with an appendix listing the sugar levels of 32 American wines. Huh. Why only American? The French Paradox started this, right? Why no French wines? It had to make me wonder if the author was sponsored by the Wine Institute, that powerful advocacy organization for California wines.
The Author's Diabetes Connection
So who is Berland, and what qualifies him to write this book? In Berland’s author photo, we see he’s an upper middle-aged man with the first hint of a receding hairline. He’s dressed in a pinstripe shirt and a sweater vest, and naturally he’s holding a glass of red wine in his left hand. Either the photo is out-of-date or Berland is proof of his thesis, as an internet search shows he’s 86 years old.
Writing books is what Berland mainly does. He claims to have penned over twenty, including such obvious best-sellers as How to Keep Your Teeth After 30, Acupuncture: Myth or Medical Treatment?, Diet for Life, and a score of “Living with” books such as Living with Your Ulcer… Your Bad Back… Your Hemorrhoids… Your Allergies… Your Emphysema… and so on.
Berland does admit to some connections to the wine biz. He states that he was a dear friend of the late Harvey Posert, father of Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck. Berland also tells us he was “given the privilege” of organizing the first International Symposium on Wine and Health in 1968. Berland says he was chosen for the task because he was a “well-known, much-published medical writer,” and was somehow connected to the Wine Institute, “which footed the bill.”
Sadly, it turns out that Berland does have the kind of connection to diabetes that none of us would wish upon anyone.
I told you at the start that Berland wrote as if he’d never met a person with diabetes. That’s not only untrue, but it’s tragically untrue. Berland has actually been personally touched by diabetes in the most awful way imaginable. At the end of his book, buried in the acknowledgments he poignantly writes: “This book was begun during the decline of my wife Cynthia, to whom I was married for 52 years. She was fighting the plague of diabetes, which ultimately killed her. It consumed her after 10 years, despite pills, four or five daily blood tests, and four or five daily insulin shots.”
When it comes to wine and love, Berland sure can write. I light a blue candle for his beloved Cynthia, and raise my wine glass to toast him. I just wish he’d co-authored this book someone who knows how to talk to its audience.
There’s a case to be made for wine and diabetes. Berland’s facts are compelling. But his presentation will drive away the very readers he popped the cork for.
You can buy this Diabetic Wine Lover's Guide in paperback on Amazon for $16.10, but before you do, imbibe a bit more on the words below...
A DMBooks Giveaway
Interested in winning a free copy of the "Diabetic Wine Lovers Guide," by Theodore Berland? Here's how to enter:
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Good luck, diabetic .... errr PWD wine lovers!
This contest is now closed. Congrats to Amber Clour, who Random.org chose as the winner of this giveaway!