Favorite Things Friday: Zeno Bars

In this edition of Favorite Things Friday, I share a new snack find of mine that I really enjoy: Zeno Bars.

I received this 3 bar sampler pack at no cost to me, shipped out by the Zeno Bar team. This is an unpaid review of a free product. This is my honest review of the product. My words were not influenced.

Now that we’ve got the full disclosure stuff out of the way, let’s dive into my review of…Zeno bars! I saw these bars in a post published by Beyond Type 1 and was instantly curious about them. They claimed to be not only delicious, but also low-carb, low GI (glycemic index), gluten-free, and vegan. In my experience, it’s rare for a bar to actually taste good but also be a healthful treat. So I decided to contact the company to see if I could get my hands on some bars. A major thank you to Sue Papuga, one of the co-founders, for making this possible and for her warm correspondence via email.

Without further ado, here’s my thoughts on each of the three flavors I tried:

Strawberry Nut – This was the first Zeno bar that I tried. As I unwrapped it, I was instantly reminded of another kind of snack bar: Lara bars. The texture and appearance of the Zeno bar was practically identical to a standard Lara bar, which made me excited because I love Lara bars. I don’t buy them often, though, because they have a high carb content that can make them tricky to bolus for.

But this wasn’t the case with the Zeno bar. I ate the strawberry nut flavor one afternoon as I was out and about running errands. I didn’t take insulin for it and, sure enough, my blood sugar didn’t budge for hours (until I ate some ice cream for a late lunch, that is). The bar was the perfect midday snack – soft, chewy, slightly sweet and zippy from the strawberry flavor. It almost tasted a bit like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, minus the bread. So far, I was off to a good start with the Zeno bars.

My rating: 8/10

4EAE8FFE-A8B3-4FC8-9E01-C0B0FA31002A
Flashing a big smile after enjoying the Strawberry Nut Zeno bar!

Cocoa Chip – Like Strawberry Nut, I really enjoyed how Cocoa Chip tasted. It was reminiscent of a Chewy chocolate chip granola bar, except I found the Zeno bar to be much more satisfying (and with hardly any carbs compared to the Quaker-branded bars). The only reason why I didn’t score it a touch higher was that it tasted like many other granola bars out there that also have the chocolate chip flavor profile. But just like the Strawberry Nut flavor, this one was soft and chewy, and didn’t raise my blood sugar at all.

My rating: 7/10

Almond Nut – This one REALLY surprised me, because I assumed almond nut would be the blandest flavor of the bunch. I’m happy to report that it was actually my favorite. It was practically like eating almond butter, which I’m crazy about, but in bar form. What’s not to love about that? Just like the other two Zeno bars, Almond Nut only had a few net carbs overall, and I experienced zero blood sugar spikes after consuming it.

My rating: 9/10

6D6DCE63-54CB-4B75-9764-1C118E707669
All 3 Zeno bars from the sampler pack.

All things considered, it’s safe to say I had a great experience with Zeno bars. All three were yummy, made for quick and convenient snacks on the go, and (the best part) cooperated well with my diabetes. I’m especially looking forward to stocking up on the Almond Nut flavored bars, because they were so unique compared to other snack bars I’ve had, but also totally delicious.

After reading this blog post, I’m sure you’re wondering how you can obtain some Zeno bars to try yourself. Check out their website, zenobar.com, to order some bars and read more about their origin story.

Advertisements

French Fries Are (Still) Evil

In Hugging the Cactus’s infancy, I wrote a blog post called French Fries Are Evil. In this post, I came to the conclusion that french fries are evil because they’re fatty, slow-releasing but high carb little jerks.

I’m here today, almost two years after that post, to let you know that these feelings toward french fries have not changed one bit.

Yep, they’re still evil.

5AAAA8B0-FFAC-4A77-AE61-327D89B16DB5
French fries…a.k.a. little sh*ts.

They straight-up tricked me into thinking that I was bound for a night of beautiful blood sugars not too long ago, despite the less-than-healthy decisions I was making regarding food and drink.

Why did I (naively) think that french fries would play nice with my blood sugars?

Well, for starters, I was doing my best to cut carbs the rest of the carbs I’d be consuming for this particular meal, which was a pulled pork sandwich with a side of fries. I ate less than half of the bun and I certainly didn’t finish the heaping portion of fries. But I did eat a lot more than I normally would (and savored every single one), making sure to bolus semi-aggressively for the indulgence.

And I was literally coasting for hours afterward – I didn’t budge above 130 for at least three hours post-meal. I was confused, but elated! Did I finally figure french fries out? Did I master the correct portion of carbs/protein/fat to eat with them? Or maybe my pancreas decided to resuscitate itself for a narrow window of time that particular evening?

I’m gonna go with the latter.

Because a bit after midnight – a witching hour, indeed – that’s when the crazy corrections, and excessive cursing on my part, started. The french fries had made a proper fool of me again, and I couldn’t believe I’d really fallen for their conniving ways again.

Needless to say, I won’t be ordering french fries with my meal again any time soon. Some foods just aren’t worth it when it comes to figuring out how to make them play nice with my diabetes, and french fries don’t quite cut the mustard.

Oh, and YOU’RE WELCOME for the really silly pun.

Adventures in Low-Carb Snacking

I’ve logged a lot of miles on the road this summer. From planned trips back to my home state of Massachusetts to weekend getaways to neighboring states, I’ve spent many hours in the car. Conversations with my partner and friends on the phone, as well as podcasts, have helped time pass…but so has snacking on a variety of road-ready foods.

I admit that I often don’t choose the healthiest road trip snacks. I tend to gravitate towards “comfort” foods – anything from peanut M&Ms to cheese-flavored chips. I wish that I craved something better for me, like carrot sticks or celery stalks, but my intense dislike for long hours on the road coupled with the need for convenient foods only (i.e., nothing that needs refrigeration) results in me making less desirable snack choices.

In turn, my junk food cravings are typically disastrous on my blood sugar. I do bolus for the junk, but since I’m forced to sit idle in the car, I face more frequent and intense blood sugar spikes than I would if I were able to get some movement in shortly before or after consuming the food. So not only do I end up eating food that’s bad for me, I also have to deal with the consequences on my blood sugar, and it’s a lose-lose situation.

That’s why I created a little game for myself during my last long car ride. When my boyfriend and I stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank before driving for four hours, I decided to go into the convenience store that was located there and scour the shelves for the lowest-carb snack foods I could find that were also remotely appetizing.

Enter…”pork skins”.

low carb snack
The big selling point of this snack? The fact that it’s 0 carbs per serving!

The name itself is positively revolting, but the actual snack is a savory wonder for a T1D. It’s got 0 carbs in the ENTIRE bag. It also happens to be chock full of protein and is relatively low in calories. What a find! We totally crushed the entire bag in about two hours flat.

Other findings from this particular trip include a lower-carb bag of trail mix that was incredibly satisfying. I was pleased to have found one that wasn’t a mix of 20% nuts and 80% candy/dried fruit, because the latter is what always messes up my blood sugar. I also snagged a bag of beef jerky, because I can always count on that to be a delicious low-carb treat.

And my drink of choice? I found a blue Gatorade Zero, which I’d never had before because it’s not sold in stores I go to when I’m up north. I loved it and was especially appreciative for it after a weekend of not getting enough fluids.

All in all, it was kind of fun to see what kinds of snacks I could find that wouldn’t do damage to my blood sugar. I wound up finding some stuff that’s bound to become staples for future road trips, and was so sated by the combination of them that I didn’t even need to cook dinner when I got to my apartment. Turns out that low/lower-carb snacks pretty much rule!

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.

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.