Sugar and T1D: Friends, Not Foes

For someone who doesn’t eat sugar…. you sure do know how to bake….damn those were good

My coworker sent this to me via instant message as a way of thanking me for the cupcakes I’d brought into the office that morning. Before 11 A.M., a dozen and a half or so “butterbeer” flavored cupcakes I’d created were devoured by my coworkers, who gave rave reviews on their taste, much to the delight of this wannabe pastry chef.

This particular message of praise, though, made me simultaneously smile and cringe: It was that comment, again. The one about sugar and not being able to eat it.

Everyone in my office knows that I have type 1 diabetes. And because I make it my mission to spread awareness of how to react in certain situations that a T1D might encounter, most people I work with know that in cases of low blood sugar, fast-acting carbohydrates (i.e., sugar) are essential as they’re the fastest way to fix a low.

Calais University
Sugar saves my life from time to time…and no, that’s not an exaggeration.

But every now and then, I’m reminded that no, people don’t always remember what you tell them about diabetes. It goes to show that there’s always room for more advocacy…which is why I write about diabetes and won’t stop talking about it to those who want to know more.

As a result, I’m constantly telling people that I can and do eat sugar; in fact, it saves my life from time to time. Maybe that’s the subconscious reason why I love baking cupcakes, cookies, and more: For a girl who relies on sugar sometimes, I sure do know that a baked good every now and then is what helps me stay alive.

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My Low-Carb Baking Fail

Ever since I was old enough to be trusted in the kitchen, I’ve loved baking everything from cupcakes and cookies to cheesecakes and breads. There’s so much I enjoy about baking: measuring out ingredients so satisfyingly precisely, smelling sweet aromas waft from the oven, and naturally, sampling the tasty final products.

But this hobby of mine has been a bit hazardous at times, seeing as just about every recipe I’ve ever followed has been far from low carb. Mainly, this was due to the fact that I never really had low-carb recipes on hand; rather, I was following tried-and-true, blue-ribbon-winning recipes from my mother’s collection of cookbooks. Plus, I figured that family and friends would be more willing to try baked goods that were made from “real” ingredients, not artificial sweeteners or alternative flour mixes. There was never a reason why I wouldn’t be able to try my creations, either – that’s why I had insulin, of course.

Now that I have a kitchen of my own to experiment in, though, I find my interests turning to lower-carb cooking and baking. I don’t follow a low-carb diet, but I will occasionally cut carbs here and there to see whether my blood sugars benefit from it and to find out if my taste buds like it.

Besides my lack of experience, I was hesitant to try low-carb baking because it seems like the core ingredients needed for most recipes are so hard to find…and expensive! Coconut flour, xanthan gum, and erythritol aren’t exactly the most common items on the typical grocery store’s shelves. But thankfully, I am fairly close to an Aldi supermarket, where I’ve had incredible luck finding things that are priced significantly cheaper compared to other grocery stores. So, after a couple of slowly rotting bananas on my counter top inspired me to search for a low-carb banana bread recipe, I gathered up my low-carb baking supplies on a trip to Aldi and set about baking my first keto-friendly banana bread.

My Low-Carb Baking Fail
Maybe one day, I can make low-carb cupcakes that taste good AND are as pretty as the ones above.

It did not go as expected. I intended on baking two breads, seeing as the recipe called for one banana per loaf and I had two to be used. The actual process of making the first loaf of bread was actually very straightforward – mixing dry ingredients, then wet, then combining all of them together. The bread had to go into the oven at 350 for an hour, and when it finally was done, it looked totally normal and even tasted pretty good. The walnuts I’d mixed in added the perfect crunch and helped the banana bread taste like the “normal” kind.

So I felt fairly confident as I started to make the batter for the second loaf. The only difference this time was that I added dark chocolate chips, which I think are the perfect complement to banana bread. I even dotted the top of the bread with the chips in a pattern to add a little extra flair.

I knew something was wrong immediately upon taking the bread out of the oven one hour later. The chocolate chips I’d artfully arranged on the top had disappeared. WTF? It only got worse when I removed the loaf from the pan…because half of it stuck to it. That’s right, half of my banana bread was not salvageable, and the other half that came out was looking pretty damn ugly.

The taste? It was fine…not great, though. The chips had melted into the dough in an unappealing way. The bread itself seemed less like a banana bread and more like a weird banana-chocolate chip mush. It was definitely not the outcome I wanted. And no, I did not take a picture of the fail…I didn’t want the reminder that it was a bit of a hot mess.

Does this mean I’m done experimenting with low-carb baking? Absolutely not. I’ll take a little break from it for now and search for new, promising recipes at another time. But one thing I’ll do for sure the next go-around? I won’t get cocky and add any mix-ins…unless they’re specifically called for in the recipe instructions.

 

Brunching with ‘Betes

Confession: I’m a brunch lovin’ millennial who also really hates brunch.

The reason I hate brunch (besides waiting all morning long to eat my first meal, I get hangry) is that it annihilates my blood sugars.

Breakfast Alley
It’s not uncommon for me to spend several hours after brunch trying to correct a high blood sugar.

It probably has a lot to do with the aforementioned fact that the timing of a typical brunch is typically not favorable when it comes to my basal rates and insulin-to-carb ratios. On a normal weekday, I’m used to eating breakfast within an hour of waking up. My body and my blood sugars are very much so accustomed to this pattern, so when it’s interrupted, it shouldn’t be any wonder why they don’t respond well.

It’s not that I don’t try. I do everything I can to offset the lateness of a brunch meal by running a temp basal and ordering as low carb as I can. And it seems to work well, up until I get up to leave the table and head home. Often, I find myself correcting two or maybe even three times after brunch, and it’s extremely annoying.

Maybe I could help curb spiking blood sugar by ordering just one mimosa, as opposed to two or even three (or just skip drinking them altogether, but seriously, I’ve had enough mimosas in my life to know how to properly bolus for them). Maybe I could insist to my friends that brunch plans should be earlier and force all of us to wake up early on a weekend morning. Maybe I could skip brunch plans altogether.

But that would be accepting defeat. Just like I refuse to let diabetes ruin any aspect of my life, I won’t let it stop me from enjoying brunch with whomever I please. I’ll figure out how to avoid post-brunch highs, I just know it. It’ll just take a little more time and patience…and several more brunch outings. Yum.

Why I Refuse to Quit Carbs

This is an original post I wrote that was published on Hugging the Cactus on January 26, 2018. I am republishing it now because there’s been some buzz on the Diabetes Online Community recently about different diets people with diabetes “should” and “shouldn’t” follow…and this sums up my feelings on being told what choices I should make when it comes to my own health!

Recently, a random person on the Internet criticized my choice to incorporate carbohydrates in my daily diet. Thanks for the unnecessary judgment, stranger!!!

I’m not really upset about the comment, though, because it prompted me to reflect on why I consume carbs.

Have a slice!
*Oprah Winfrey voice* I. Love. Bread.

For me, it’s about more than just enjoying (relishing, adoring) the taste of carb-heavy substances both starchy and sweet. Carbs also help me achieve balance in my blood sugars. For instance, I find that consuming a serving of carbohydrates at dinnertime keeps me steady as I move through the evening hours. Say that I’m eating grilled chicken with a side salad for dinner. That’s a good meal by itself, but I like to complement it with a carb like half a cup of mashed potatoes or brown rice. I’ve noticed that the carbs kick in more slowly when they’re consumed with minimal or zero-carb foods, thanks to the power of the glycemic index.

The glycemic index is, in short, a measure of how quickly the carbohydrate content of foods will affect blood sugar levels. Since learning about it in college and subsequently researching the glycemic indices of various foods I eat, it’s been an immensely useful tool in determining the makeup of my meals throughout the day. Knowing the glycemic index of a wide array of foods also helps me figure out the timing of my insulin doses; in turn, preventing crazy spikes or crashes after eating.

I can’t shortchange carbs for the fact that they literally save my butt sometimes, too. When I’m experiencing a low blood sugar, nothing BUT carbs will bring me back up to a normal level. Whether it’s carbohydrates from healthy fruits or straight-up candy, it’s giving my blood sugar the surge it needs to keep me going. Like many things in life, it’s a matter of moderation – making sure I don’t consume TOO many carbs when I’m experiencing a low.

If you’re someone who thrives on low carb, high fat diets, that’s great! I know that many people find this to be a successful method in achieving target blood sugars. But for me, my tried-and-true technique of balancing carbs, fats, and proteins is always going to be my ideal strategy. Just because that’s what works for me doesn’t give anyone a right to criticize me for it. I’m here to live my best life, as we all should try to do. Shouldn’t we encourage one another to thrive, instead of judging?

The answer, if you didn’t realize, is YES.

Is it Possible to Eat Pizza Without Encountering Blood Sugar Problems?

My short answer to that question is YES. Yes, it’s absolutely possible to eat pizza – and just about any food, in my opinion – without experiencing turbulent blood sugars.

It all just comes down to serving size, timing, and method of insulin delivery. Piece of cake, right? (Or should I say, piece of pizza?)

Have a slice!

Well, it really isn’t THAT simple. Other factors include the exact type of pizza (Is it gluten-free? Are there toppings? Is the crust thick or thin?), whether or not other food/drink is being consumed with it, whether exercise or inaction will follow in the hours after eating it…truly, there’s all that (and more) that people with diabetes need to think about when eating any type of food.

But what’s different about pizza is that it has a particular combination of fat and carbohydrates that can make it a tricky food for people with diabetes to figure out how much insulin to take and when to take it. It’s a little easier for those of us who have insulin pumps, because we can utilize the extended bolus (or square wave) feature that allows us to give a certain percentage of a mealtime bolus at once, and select a time later on to receive the rest of the bolus.

If that last sentence didn’t make any sense, here’s an example of what I mean:

It’s dinnertime – 5:30 P.M. I have two slices of pizza that I plan on eating. One’s plain, the other has BBQ chicken on it. I figure that there’s 50 grams total of carbohydrates in the two slices of pizza. My blood sugar before eating the pizza is 130 mg/dL. I put that number into my pump, and also input 50 grams of carbs. My pump wants me to take 8 units of insulin to cover the pizza. Instead of administering the full 8 units at once, I hit the “extend” option and opt to take 75% of the dose now, and the remaining 25% an hour and a half from now. So I get 6 units of insulin at 5:30, and 2 units at 7:00. This extended bolus typically has the power to prevent my blood sugar from crashing and spiking hours after eating said pizza, and in turns, saves me from dealing with a massive headache and questioning why I ever ate pizza in the first place.

Granted, an extended bolus isn’t the end-all, be-all. It relies heavily on me and my ability to count carbs correctly and time my boluses perfectly. But I have had fantastic success using it, particularly in a recent situation in which I ate two large slices of whole wheat pizza, a side salad, and a bit of pita bread without spiking beyond 160. I can’t say whether it was the whole wheat crust that helped me out (maybe it has a lower carb count compared to regular crust?), or if it was just supremely accurate calculations on my end, but it really doesn’t matter to me in the end…because I know that I can eat and enjoy pizza – and again, virtually any food – without my diabetes ruining it for me.

 

Memory Monday: Carb Counting and the Calorie King

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…discussing carb counting and the role of The Calorie King with a nutritionist.

I’ve met with a nutritionist as part of my diabetes care a few times in my life. During my last visit, maybe six or seven years ago, the nutritionist gifted me with a book entitled The Calorie King. “It’s really going to help you with your carb counting,” she told me.

I remember staring at the book dubiously. It was a compact little thing adorned with bright, bold colors. A bearded man wearing a crown was the cover image, and I couldn’t help but think that it looked totally dorky. I was skeptical: How was a book about calorie counting supposed to help me with my carb counting?

Fresh and Organic
Have you ever heard of The Calorie King or used it yourself for dietary or nutritional purposes?

As it turned out, it could help me a lot.

The Calorie King wasn’t just a list of the calorie content of different foods – it was a comprehensive guide that told me everything about the nutritional content of food. It was like having a manual of nutritional labels, except it was in an easier-to-digest format. And it gave me something that I’d never had access to before: Carbohydrate counts of food that you can get at fast food places, sit-down restaurants, and the like. It gave me a better sense of just how ridiculous some restaurants’ portions can be, as well as how serving size is one of the most critical factors in determining a food’s carb count. My mind marveled at that silly little book’s treasure trove of information, which would be key in helping me determine how much insulin I should take for food in just about any situation.

These days, I use apps on my phone whenever I’m unsure about a given meal or food item. They’re far more convenient than lugging around a copy of The Calorie King. But it turns out my nutritionist kinda knew what she was talking about when she told me that it would open my eyes up to the world of more precise carb counting. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

Breaking up with P.B.

This is a sad, difficult post for me to write…

I had to end things with P.B. I’m pretty distraught over it, but I know that it’ll do me some good in the long run. Absence is supposed to make the heart grow fonder, right?

If you’re wondering who or what I’m talking about…P.B. is, of course, peanut butter.

the sushi place
Looking at the above image of P.B. is almost enough to make me drool.

It’s that time of year again – the Lenten season, otherwise known as the six weeks prior to Easter during which Catholics traditionally practice penance, prayer, and almsgiving. In addition to avoiding the consumption of meat on Fridays during Lent, it’s also common for observers to give up something in order to focus more energy on acts of kindness and charity.

Last year, I gave up alcohol for Lent and wrote all about it in this blog post. This year, I’ve decided to really test myself by forgoing peanut butter during Lent.

And yes, this truly is a toughie for me…anyone who knows me knows that I love peanut butter. I love it too much. I eat unhealthy amounts of it. If I have a bad day at work, I have a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter. If I need a quick boost of protein, there’s peanut butter. If I’m giving my dog a taste of peanut butter, then you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be giving some to myself, too.

I know there are far worse foods out there to be pretty much addicted to – but peanut butter isn’t exactly the healthiest. The kind we keep around the house is not the natural/healthy stuff free from additives. It’s the Skippy/Peter Pan/Reese’s peanut butter jars that we have in stock…it’s the good stuff that tastes sinfully sugary and fatty.

To intensify matters, peanut butter is my go-to food when my blood sugar is high but I’m craving something delicious. Now that I can’t have it for this window of time, I’m going to have to find an alternative that works…and no, I can’t just consume a different type of nut butter. I’m not eating any of it during Lent because I’m choosing to give up ALL of it. If I indulged on almond butter, I feel like that would just make me want peanut butter more, so I’m avoiding any and all temptation. Honestly, my reliance on peanut butter as a food to eat in just about any situation is making me curious as to how my blood sugars will respond without it for this length of time. There’s a chance they could improve; after all, peanut butter is not without carbohydrates or sugar. So I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be glad I gave it up for Lent. Hopefully, by the end of this period of time, the distance will have done some good and lessen the strength of my addiction, as well as maybe even help me lose some weight. Time will tell. As for now, anyone have any suggestions on what could possibly, temporarily replace P.B. for me?!