Eating with diabetes

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about what you can and can’t eat as a diabetic. This blog focuses on Type One diabetes and those lucky enough to have Type Two might find their experience differs. But probably not much.

When I was first diagnosed with Type One a few years ago, part of my crash course in diabetes was a session or two (easy there!) with a lovely dietician called Debbie.

By the way, it’s worth noting at this point that “dietician” is a protected term in the UK – much like “solicitor” or “architect”. You can’t call yourself a dietician (or a solicitor or architect) unless you are suitably qualified. However, the same is not true for the term “nutritionist” in the UK (it’s different in other countries though).

Essentially any old snake-oil merchant, quack or loony can call themselves a nutritionist in the UK. This is why pretty much anything written or sold by a “nutritionist” in the UK can almost exclusively be discounted as complete rubbish.

Anyway, that aside, Debbie and I had a lovely time and mainly chatted about my homemade Baileys ice cream and spoke about carbohydrate counting and a diet made up of foods with a low glycaemic index. I’ll talk about carb. counting in another post so ignore that for now, but the glycaemic index thing is worthy of mention as I think it’s possibly the most relevant part of the Type One diet.

Glycaemic index

As you probably know when you eat your deep fried mars bar or delicately sautéed fois gras your digestive system breaks down the foody-goo and releases its various constituent parts. Of interest to us diabetics are the carbohydrates or sugars which are released into our blood stream.

All foods are not equal in terms of the rates at which your body can process them and release them into your ruby-red blood. Essentially, and very broadly, the more pre-processed the food the less your body has to do and therefore the quicker it will be broken down and released in to your bloodstream (and so this food is said to have a high glycaemic index). The less processed it is, the longer it will take to be broken down and released (a low glycaemic index).

So why do we diabetics care about this? While it’s not entirely vital to your well-being, the theory is that low GI food makes managing your food / insulin balance easier. Rapid acting manufactured insulin, like humalog, kicks in pretty quickly – but not as quickly as your own stuff. Therefore if you iron out the peaks and troughs life will be easier.

There are number of GI-related books and web sites which give you the relative GI values of various foods. But a general and quite useful rule-of-thumb is foods colourfulness. The more colourful the better (by better I mean lower) in terms of GI. Tthough this rules does break down when we get into extremes of lime green and violent orange.

For example, wholemeal pasta (generally nice and brown with bits through it) is lower GI than boring, white pasta. A nice green apple is better than processed, clear apple juice.

Okay, the rule isn’t perfect – but you get the idea.

Eating every day

For the purposes of this article I’m going to assume that you too are not some sort of half-wit who doesn’t know how to boil an egg and lives off deep fried pizzas, so I won’t chat about the basics.

Because my wife and I like cooking we’ve got a load of cookbooks – both general cookbooks and those specifically for diabetics. Having cooked from both, I don’t really notice any significant difference in content between the “diabetic” books and the non-diabetic books, so there’s no point in specifically splashing out them.

Books by people like Nigel Slater or Nigella Lawson are great if you want to show off and Madhur Jaffrey is bloomin’ marvellous if you want to cook for large groups in style.

But we’re more interested in every day normal cooking and I like the following because they have quick and easy recipes for the busy young professional and you can knock ’em up in twenty minutes or so while swilling back a glass of wine and chatting the day over with your loved one:

Interestingly enough, as the wife and I are both control and organisation freaks, we organise our food by sitting down on a Sunday evening and working out a menu for the week ahead. This is actually quite fun. No, honestly, it is one of the less-onerous household chores.

What it does mean is that throughout the week every night you know you have something healthy and tasty in the cupboard or fridge and you won’t be tempted to pop down to the chippy for another deep-fried pizza, which can only be a good thing.

Speak your brains