I didn’t used to talk much about my diabetes. Not only did it seem irrelevant, but it was important to me that people got to know me for me and not my disease.
This started to change in the last ten or so years when I became more and more interested in nutrition and food. My diabetes has always caused me to be hyper-aware of the food I eat and how it affects my body, but I started really researching this as an adult. A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about books I recommend, many of which were influential to me during this time.
Most of these books discuss the glycemic index as an important factor of nutrition and health for everybody. What I learned in these books helped me realize that my diabetes actually matters a lot to other people. In learning how to keep my blood sugar levels in control, I was learning the glycemic index.
It turns out, the foods I learned to avoid from experience are some of the foods with high glycemic index values, meaning that they raise blood sugar levels very high very quickly. The foods I learned to avoid early on were:
fruit juice and other sugary drinks (soda, sports drinks, etc)
I often hear about people cutting out sugar from their diet. Before making that decision for yourself, I urge you to learn more about the glycemic index. That banana you eat for breakfast everyday actually has more affect on your blood sugar levels than a slice of pound cake (want proof? check this out: glycemic index value of banana glycemic index value of pound cake).
Keeping this in mind, I want to reiterate the role that fat, protein, and fiber play in slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates. The key to eating a low glycemic diet is incorporating enough healthy fats, protein, and fiber to minimize the affect of carbohydrate-containing foods. It’s nearly impossible to avoid carbohydrates entirely while still living a healthy lifestyle, so balance is important. It’s tempting to focus on sugar only, but unfortunately it’s more complicated than that.
Another observation about my diabetes that might mean something to others is the fact that I crave sugar not only when my blood sugar level is low (and my body really needs glucose), but also when my blood sugar level is high. I can’t explain this one, but I believe there’s something to it. I feel best and can control my appetite when my levels are in the normal range and holding steady.
That being said, I want to remind everyone to focus on one thing: REAL FOOD. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by trends and factoids, but eating real food is a simple guideline that just makes sense.
When I was putting together this post, I thought for a second – what about the items on the list above? Aren’t they real food?
Interestingly enough, I believe that evidence may suggest otherwise.
1) White Flour: We all know (or should know) that white flour is wheat flour that has been stripped of its fiber and nutrients by a machine. And, there is evidence that modern wheat has been modified to taste sweeter and grow more quickly, causing it to contain higher amounts of starch and gluten.
2) White Rice: Same deal. White rice is brown rice that has been stripped of its fiber and nutrients by a machine.
3) Pasta (in most cases) is made from white flour.
4) Starches: Similar to white flour, starches extracted from potato, tapioca, arrowroot, and corn are stripped of fiber and nutrients. The extracted starches gelatinize to enhance the texture of certain foods. Consuming a food with a large amount of starch (like many gluten-free baked goods) causes a huge spike in my blood sugar levels.
5) Fruit Juice: The only time I consume juice is when my blood sugar is low (and my body needs the fast-acting carbohydrates). It does a great job of bringing my level back up to the normal range, as long as I don’t have too much. Obviously, pure fruit juice is a real food. However, most whole (un-juiced) fruits are high in fiber. If I eat fruit, it is whole and with the skin.
6) Candy: I don’t think I need to explain how this is not a real food. Chocolate is one exception. Dark chocolate is super healthy (more on this later) and has a low GI.
If you’re looking to eat a diet that is gentle on your body and minimizes spikes in blood sugar, I encourage you to focus on real foods and learn about the glycemic index. It is a very real concept that I put into practice every day.