I think that’s the first question for most newly diagnosed people. The answer is simple, regular “real” food.
The issue is carbohydrates, they are what need to be controlled and decreased. Of course most of the foods that we love and grew up on contain them and they’re also richly abundant in “comfort” food. You really have to change your entire mind-set when it comes to food when you’re diabetic. What you used to think of as a “healthy” diet, may no longer be healthy for a diabetic.
You’ll hear “only eat healthy whole grains, nothing white”. That’s a good idea nutrition-wise, but all grains contain about the same amount of carbs whether they’re whole grains or not. They all need to be counted and controlled.
Fruit juice of any kind is also a bad idea, no matter how healthy. It’s very high in carbs with no fiber and the carbs are quick-acting. About the only good time to drink juice is when you’re treating a low blood sugar.
Sugar is just a carb, like any other carb. You don’t have to count it separately it’s usually included within the carb count on most food items. You also don’t have to completely avoid it. Just fit it in with your regular carb allotment. I’m not about to give up my small daily serving of dark chocolate every day. I’m also not about to eat anything “sugar-free” yuck! Beware of sugar-free items! In many cases they have as many or more carbs than the original sugared product. They also usually contain sugar-alcohols which can have a laxative effect on many people. The old-fashioned idea of diabetics having to avoid sugar is wrong, you have to avoid too many carbs in any form, sugar is just a carb.
Most diabetics are the most sensitive to carbs first thing in the morning. Actually most people are in general, but non-diabetic bodies work well with their insulin to avoid high numbers. Most diabetics can’t handle cereal in the morning. And, of course, cereal is the most popular breakfast item! It’s bad news, truly, plus the milk that you add to it just increases the carb amount. Usually your body will handle carbs better later in the day or the evening. Many dedicated cereal people switch and eat it for dinner when their body can handle the carb-load better. They also switch to a brand of soy or almond milk that has many less carbs than regular milk. In all instances let your meter be your guide (see Testing 101 link.)
Another often asked question is “how many carbs should I eat a day.” The answer is what your meter tells you by testing. Every person’s body is different and what works for one might not work for another. Don’t look at it as carbs per day, look at it as carbs per meal. You need to evenly distribute the carbs throughout the day to keep your numbers from spiking. You can’t eat no carbs all day and have a carb-fest at dinner. It doesn’t work that way. Each meal and snack is a separate unit and carbs are counted in that manner, not daily. You’re an individual, not a “group” or cookie-cutter “type”, you have to find what works for you by testing.
As your numbers become more normal and you lose weight (if needed) and increase exercise you’ll probably find that your body can handle more carbs without spiking. These changes also decrease insulin resistance, which allows your body to be able to use the natural insulin that it produces. Medications can also help with this, including insulin-stimulating drugs. Many people shy away from medications, but if they help you maintain good numbers in a manner that also helps you to stick to a meal plan that you can maintain for life (because this isn’t a diet, it’s a way of eating for the rest of your life) than the medications can be very helpful for many people.
Fruit is a tricky subject because a lot of fruit is high in carbs. You’re told to eat fruit, but you’re also told to lower your numbers. Grrrrr! Berries are usually a good choice, most berries are also pretty low in carbs. Melons can work too, test them to see if they work for you. Many people can only handle a half of an apple or orange at a time. You have to test to determine just how much you can handle. Bananas are bad news for most, some people can only handle a quarter or less of one and don’t think it’s worth it. Any type of dried fruit is also usually bad news because the sugar in them is highly concentrated. I love raisins, but can only add a few at a time to things because of this.
Starchy veggies are another slippery slope. Corn, potatoes, limas and some others. Again you must test to determine how your body reacts to them. I’m lucky in the fact that I can eat a good-sized potato without spiking. Of course I only do this in the evening when my body can better handle the carb load. Other people can’t even look at a potato without their numbers shooting high. The same is true with rice and pasta, except for a special pasta that I’ll tell you about later. Most non-starchy veggies are fine and a great addition to your diet for both taste and variety. If you don’t like veggies, get over it!!! Try a new one every week for at least 3 times. You’re bound to find some you like. It will increase your food options.
Most meats, seafood, poultry, eggs and cheese consists mainly of protein and fat. This will have very little effect on your BG (blood glucose) numbers. Many people are concerned about the amount of fat, but with foods such as eggs it’s been found that the fat in them has little impact on your cholesterol. Saturated fat is the culprit here, and I try to choose meats and dairy products that are lower in fat. I also tend to shy away from any type of processed meat. It’s not that hard to cook folks, and do you really need all of the preservatives?
Nuts and beans are also a good choice. Beans have carbs but are also high in fiber, which is your friend. Nuts are high in fat, but it’s a “good” fat that’s actually good for your heart.
Now, surprise—You can have pasta!!! There’s a special brand of pasta called Dreamfields that many diabetic use. It has a special coating that keeps the carbs from breaking down into your bloodstream. It tastes exactly like regular pasta. Here’s a link to the site: click here. The only rule is that you have to be really careful to not over-cook it. I usually cook it several minutes less than the package says. It’s also tricky to reheat and if you use acidic sauces with it you shouldn’t try to reheat it. Many stores now carry it, if yours’ doesn’t you can order it on-line too.
Bread, another popular item full of carbs. There are brands that are relatively low-carb. They don’t always say “low carb” on the label though. Many just say “lite” or light. Look on the labels, you’ll become an expert label reader soon LOL. The brand that I use is Nature’s Own – Double Fiber. It’s not too bad, it works for me. Wraps are also a good choice, there are many low-carb tortillas available that make good wraps.
Carbs can truly be addictive. They not only raise your blood glucose but also temporarily increase the “feel good” hormone serotonin in your system. Why do you think most comfort food is so high in carbs??? The bad thing is that this effect doesn’t last, and it makes you crave more and more carbs.
Be cautious of any food that advertises “diabetic”, it’s usually higher in carbs and costs a lot more!!!! Sometimes it’s higher in carbs than the non-diabetic version! This also applies to Glucerna products. I’ve never found them to “slowly digest”, you’ll have to test them yourself. They’re very expensive too. Try the Atkins products instead, they really are low-carb.
You may be told by many nutritionist and dietitians that you must have a certain amount of carbs to live, or your brain will dry up and blow away. This is not true! If your body can’t get the energy it needs from carbs it will convert to using fat (yes, low carb is also a good weight loss method) for fuel. I’ve been living low-carb for close to a decade and I know many others who have as well. We’re still alive and our minds are doing fine. Our physical condition is also excellent. Many medical people won’t advocate low-carb because they think that people just won’t stick to it. Sadly they’re right. Most people think they’ll just take a pill and eat whatever they want. This is not true. It doesn’t work that way. Medication can be helpful, but it always works best with diet and lifestyle changes. Sometimes those changes work better than medications. And faster too!
A lot of people also don’t truly realize the awful complications that can occur if they don’t keep the numbers close to normal. A leading cause of blindness, amputations, kidney failure, heart attacks, sexual disfunction…….is uncontrolled or poorly controlled glucose numbers. I’m really not a person to dwell on the negative, but there are lots of negatives to dwell on with diabetes, it affects all aspects of your body including your skin and teeth. To live your best life you must change your lifestyle.
Now for some good news. After a few weeks of low-carb eating you stop craving carbs. It’s really true!!! No one was a bigger carboholic than I, but I’ve been living low-carb for close to a decade now and doing just fine. I’ve also completely lost the taste for things I used to love. I don’t eat them now because I just don’t want them, no will-power involved. The key is getting through the first few weeks when your body is shouting at you to eat that bread, potato, cake……… Just say NO!!
A big help are the on-line communities dedicated to low-carb. BTW, never buy a “diabetic” cookbook, they usually have far too many carbs. Instead buy a low-carb cookbook if you have to buy one.
The ADA boards I participate in have a whole forum dedicated to low-carb cooking and eating: click here for the link to the “Eating Right” forum. I’ve added some recipes there myself. There are also many other low-carb communities.
It’s a new way of life, but it doesn’t have to be a deprived or boring way, it can be very delicious and satisfying!
© EMO 3/12
Knowledge is Power