My Close Encounter with the Keto Diet

Remember that time that Oprah Winfrey did a Weight Watchers commercial and proclaimed loudly and proudly before the cameras that she loves bread? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the link to the ad with a little doctoring done to it – it is worth a watch.)

Well, I can relate to Ms. Winfrey – except my obsession with carbs extends beyond bread. I love cake, candy, chocolate, pizza, pasta, sushi…and just about every other carbohydrate-laden food that exists. So while I think it’s awesome that many of my peers with T1D choose to follow low or close to no-carb diets, that’s not the kind of thing that works for a girl like me: I’m happy managing my diabetes in tandem with a moderate carb intake. But that’s not to say that I don’t eat lower carb sometimes or that I don’t have an interest in the principles of the keto diet, just because it’s so restrictive.

At least, that’s what I used to think about it.

Would my love of carbs prevent me from trying out aspects of the keto diet?

When my boyfriend decided to go on the keto diet back in May (he’s had experience with it before), I was simultaneously impressed with his dedication to it, but also a little worried. We have dinner together a few times each week and since I wanted to show him that I support him 100%, I knew that I’d have to change up my cooking so it adhered better with the dietary guidelines of keto.

So for the last two months, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the keto diet, and this is what I’ve learned about it:

  • It’s not as restrictive as I thought it would be. I figured that eating strictly keto meant that the only food groups we could eat were meats/proteins, fibrous vegetables, and cheese. That wasn’t 100% true. While we stuck to proteins and vegetables for most dinners, we also had plenty of snacks that kept things fun and interesting. I developed a mild addiction to cheese crisps and chicharrons (otherwise known as pork rinds). I also had a lot of fun trying different keto dessert options out there, including cookies, ice creams, and peanut butter cups (the latter being my absolute favorite).
  • Snacks can get expensive. One of the keto peanut butter cups that we ate cost $10 for a bag of 7. That’s an insane price. When you factor in the cost of other more expensive grocery items, like beef jerky or nuts, things add up quickly, which is definitely a downside to the keto diet.
  • My blood sugars tended to respond well when I ate keto…for the most part, anyways. Eating keto dinners was mostly great for my blood sugar and it stayed relatively steady more often than not. On the occasions it didn’t, it was because I was trying to bolus for the amount of protein or the negligible amount of carbs in the veggies I was consuming at dinner, and I would go low as a result. There’s an art to bolusing on the keto diet, for sure, but since I was half-assing it (really quarter-assing it) and not following it all the time, I never got a grip on how to account for minimal carbs.
  • Keto can inspire creativity in the kitchen. The best thing I made, ate, and loved throughout my experience with the keto diet was cauliflower crust pizza. I found the best recipe for it that was so easy to make and yielded delicious results. I always assumed that cauliflower pizza crust would be too difficult to make or not satisfying in the same way that pizza is, but that isn’t accurate at all. I grew to appreciate the challenge that keto presented me to come up with new things to eat that were tasty and filling, which I didn’t expect but liked.

More Adventures in Low-Carb Snacking

Snacks are one of the great joys in my life.

I refer to myself as a “grazer” – I’m constantly nibbling on food in between meals and I’m definitely no stranger to nighttime snacking while relaxing/watching television. If there are snacks in a room, I won’t ever be too far away from them.

I’m shameless when it comes to my love for snacks, but I can also admit that it’s not the healthiest habit. That’s because most snacks, at least the ones that appeal to me, contain carbohydrates that require me to take a bolus. Sounds like no big deal, right? It’s not, but for some reason, I usually neglect bolusing for snacks. I know better, but I can justify it to myself by saying, “Oh, it’s just a small handful,” or “Take a 15-minute walk when you’re done to burn off the carbs.” Most of the time, my blood sugar doesn’t go up too alarmingly high, but I’ve definitely experienced a few 250+ readings that shouldn’t have happened or could have been avoided if I had just bolused.

So I’ve made it a mission to track down the yummiest low-carb snacks out there (that aren’t cheese, deli meats, nuts, or celery, to name a few staples of mine that have become boring).

I’m happy to report it’s been a (mostly) tasty experiment.

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These snacks are so good and low-carb. Now if only they could make delicious, zero-carb cheesecake. And chocolate. And pizza. And…

I wrote about my success with pork rinds – the name still makes me cringe, but dammit, they’re good – over the summer. And I’m here today to share three more snacks that I’ve discovered are total wins.

Let’s start with the roasted edamame. These are fantastic. One serving has 9 grams of carbs, but 6 grams of fiber. Since I always subtract fiber count from carb count, this means there are 3 net carbs in one serving of edamame – such a win! I also love that they’re high in protein. Besides boasting enviable nutrition facts, they’re salty and satisfy in the same way as a handful of peanuts – just with significantly less fat and more protein.

Next, there’s the parmesan crisps. I know what you’re thinking: cheese! I just said above that cheese was getting boring for me as a snack, so what are these doing here? Well, they’re different from the old cheese stick or standard slice of American. These crisps are just like chips. But instead of tasting like potatoes, they taste like crunchy discs of cheese. What’s not to like about that? Oh yeah, they also have 0 carbs in an entire bag. Yaaaaaas!

Lastly, there are the seaweed crisps. I hope you didn’t just cringe when you saw “seaweed”. I was skeptic at first, too. How could anything containing that stringy algae that always gets wrapped around your legs when you venture into the ocean possibly be considered tasty? These might be an acquired taste for some, but I was surprised when I discovered right away that I liked these. The seaweed is somehow both salty and sweet at the same time, and combined with the sesame seeds, they’re lightly crispy and quickly become addicting the more you eat. These have 3.5 carbs in a serving of 12 crisps, but there’s fiber in these, too, so the overall carbohydrate content is minimal.

While higher-carb snacks like crackers, trail mix, and the occasional piece of bite-sized candy won’t be leaving my lineup any time soon, it is nice to know that there are some low-to-no-carb options out there that are actually delicious.

 

How to Find Out Whether Your Soda is Diet or Regular

Life is a little crazy for me at the moment and I’m unable to publish new content, which makes me sad! But until things slow down, please enjoy posts I’ve written previously and chose to share again because they contain useful information.

Have you ever ordered a diet soda, sipped it, and immediately doubted whether it was truly diet? Then you might find this little tip useful.

Whenever you’re not certain that your drink is diet or regular, try grabbing your glucometer, putting a test strip in it, dipping your finger in the drink, and wiping it onto the strip – just like you would do when checking your blood sugar. If the drink is diet, then you’ll know because your meter will display an “extreme low” result, or something to that effect. The key is to not panic and remember that it isn’t your blood sugar you’re looking at, it’s the sugar levels in the drink! It’s just the opposite in the case that your drink is regular/sugary – you’ll get a “high” reading that’ll make it obvious that your beverage isn’t what you ordered.

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Photographic evidence of my soda test results.

Whenever you’re in doubt, remember this helpful hint as the perfect way to make sure your beverage is sugar-free instead of sugary.

My New Low-Carb Obsession

The whole freakin’ Internet knows how much I love carbs (as documented in a previous blog post). But that doesn’t mean that I don’t try to eat low or lower carb from time to time, especially when I find a recipe that sounds appealing.

So when I heard about “chaffles” a few months ago, I was intrigued.

The word “chaffle” is actually a portmanteau: It combines “cheese” with “waffle”. I love both of those things, but I was kind of confused as to how they could come together to create something that tasted good. After all, waffles are usually sweet, and cheese is savory…but then again, I’ve tried stranger combinations, so why not give chaffles a chance?

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Who would’ve thought that cheese and egg smooshed together by a waffle iron could taste so dang good?

Not too long ago, I broke out my mini waffle maker (best ten bucks I ever spent) to whip up my first batch of chaffles. The recipe was laughably easy. All I had to do was combine half a cup of shredded cheese (I went with mozzarella) with one large egg. And that was it! These are two ingredients that I have on hand almost always, so I was very pleased that the recipe didn’t require anything special. But then again, it’s the kind of recipe that’s just begging to be tweaked, added to, and played with according to taste and craving – more on that later.

I mixed my ingredients and added a spoonful of coconut flour (a little research online taught me that adding it in would yield in a more waffle-like texture, and I happened to have some on hand). Within a few minutes, I’d made two chaffles and was eager to try them. I’d also read online that people eat these with syrup, just like normal waffles, but I decided to try them plain.

I was wowed from my first bite – somehow, the cheese-egg-coconut flour mixture really did taste like waffles. I didn’t really care about the how or why behind it: All I knew was that I was a big, big fan of chaffles.

I’ve made them several times since, and I see no end in sight to my love for chaffles. How could I not enjoy something that’s actually satisfying (I couldn’t believe how full I felt after eating two), doesn’t annihilate my blood sugar, and is so stupidly simple to make? It’s also the perfect recipe to play around with – I can add a splash of vanilla and a dash of cinnamon to make them sweeter, a bit of garlic powder, marinara sauce, and pepperoni to make personal chaffle pizzas, or I can use chaffles to replace bread for a sandwich. The possibilities are endless, and I’m a sucker for versatility.

The funny thing is that chaffles have apparently been lauded by the keto community for many months now…they’ve basically been the biggest food trend since staples like impossible burgers and celery juice. While I’m far from a “keto person”, I do appreciate the different experiments with food that stem from that diet choice and will happily incorporate any winning recipes into my regular lineup. As for chaffles, they get a giant thumbs-up from me and will be appearing on my plate for a long time to come.

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.

 

Diabetes, Diets, and Holidays are Naughty, Not Nice

Ahh, the holiday season…it’s been in full swing for just about a month now, and with that arrived a bevy of parties, potlucks, and poor dietary decisions. In a week, the new year will be here and it’ll bring a fresh start with it, but for now…I’m trying to find a way to make peace with all the indulgences I’ve enjoyed in the last several weeks.

Takeout Chinese food, pizza, homemade roasts, and baked goods galore are among the gamut of glutinous grub responsible for transforming me into a guilty gourmand over the course of the holidays. (Can I get a round of applause for that alliterative sentence?) I wish I could say that I had the willpower to resist the temptation of these foods that have been provided at the various holiday parties I’ve attended; alas, I couldn’t stop myself from noshing on them just as much as the other guests at these gatherings. A fair share of my fellow party attendees commiserated with me about diets flying out the window this time of year, but very few of them could understand that the fattening fare impacts more than just my waistline.

My blood sugars, of course, have been a victim of holiday feasting just as much as my size six jeans.

Feel the joy!
Instead of sugarplums, I’ve got visions of wacky blood sugars and too-tight pants dancing in my head. Fun!!!

Truthfully, they’re not as terrible as they’ve been during past holiday seasons. But that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with them, or okay with the fact that they tend to rise and crash at equally rapid paces when I eat too much of the carb-y stuff and correct accordingly with insulin. The roller coaster ride combined with the feeling that I’m turning into the Pillsbury dough girl is what I’m fed up with, and I’m trying to figure out a way to stop punishing myself for it. After all, a new year IS right around the corner, and like many others in the world, I can and should use it as a reason to start eating more mindfully and healthfully, leaving the dietary mistakes of 2018 in the past.

It’s definitely cliche, but I’ve got to get back into the routine and replace all the cookies and fancy chocolates I’ve been consuming with leafy veggies and lean proteins. It won’t be easy, but I know that it’ll be worth the improved blood sugars and looser pants that are bound to follow.

 

Yes, I Can Eat Those Christmas Cookies

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Check out that spread. You’re looking at an assortment of nine different kinds of Christmas cookies, all baked fresh by my mom, aunts, and cousins for our annual cookie swap this past weekend. And I can attest to the fact that each of them were effing delicious.

Now, if you’re thinking that people with diabetes can’t or shouldn’t eat cookies, sweets, or carbs in general…I’m here to (gently) tell you that you’re wrong. It’s a myth, a grain of utmost untruth, that people with diabetes cannot have carbohydrates of the sugary or starchy varieties. It’s fake news, y’all!!!

The FACT of the matter is that people with diabetes don’t have limits on what foods they’re able to eat. But there are matters of condition and preference to take into consideration here. First and foremost, carbs MUST be counted before they’re consumed. This is crucial because it determines how much insulin a T1D must inject. And then things like personal taste, diet, and comfort levels come into play that account for the variations in eating habits among people with diabetes. And that is the reason why you’ll meet some who are low carb, high fat followers, some who do not consume gluten, and others who do not exclude any particular food group from their diet.

I’ve written a bit about this before, so why am I repeating it again? Because it’s worth knowing and accepting that everyone is different. Bodies respond differently to different stimuli, including the foods and insulin we put into them. And whatever works best for someone should be unconditionally tolerated, not judged, by others.

So if I want to eat a bunch of Christmas cookies as part of my Christmastime celebrations, then here’s my friendly reminder that I can – and you bet your bottom dollar that I did, and was very grateful for insulin after doing so.

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Why I Decided to do a 3-Day Cleanse (and How it Impacted my Blood Sugars)

No carbs. No dairy. No meat. No processed foods. Strictly vegetables, fruits, and shakes for the next three days. 72 hours – I could do it, right?

Last week, I completed a 3-Day Cleanse. My goal was that it would help me feel a little bit refreshed after a couple weeks of nonstop gluttony. I figured it’d help reset my system and make me feel less bloated and tired. I didn’t want to do a typical “cleanse” though, the kind that forces you to stop eating any and all food and stick with juices. That’s why I did this particular program – I would be eating real foods on a regular basis throughout all three days. The bonus was that it would be foods I’m familiar with and are generally low carb, which could only mean good things for my blood sugar.

My routine for all three days would follow this format: Wake up, drink a glass of water, blend a shake together with one serving size of fruit. I’d have a cup of herbal tea one hour after breakfast, and one hour after that, I’d have a fiber-filled drink. Lunch would consist of another shake, one serving of vegetables, one serving of fruit, and one spoonful of hummus. I’d have an afternoon snack of baby carrots and one spoonful of almond butter with another cup of herbal tea an hour after consuming the snack. Dinner would be one last shake, one cup of vegetable broth, and a spinach salad with olive oil and lemon juice drizzled on top. I could have a final cup of herbal tea any time in the evening.

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I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did throughout the program, but those three days taught me a lot about how the things I put into my body impact not just my blood sugar, but my state of mind. Here’s what happened during my cleanse:

  • Day 1 – This day was by far the easiest to complete. Despite dialing back the amounts and types of foods I was consuming, I didn’t feel hungry at all – everything sated me. I was really enjoying watching my Dexcom CGM graph because it barely budged. I stayed right around 90-110 mg/dL for most of the day, probably because I was eating minimal carbs. Fewer carbs means less room for error, and this concept was definitely cemented into my mind by the end of the cleanse. I went to bed with a slight headache at the end of day 1, but a smile on my face. This would be a breeze!
  • Day 2 – My CGM sensor went kaput by mid-morning, and I was PISSED about it. I wanted the ability to continue tracking my blood sugars on this cleanse, and suddenly it was no longer available to me (because oh-so-conveniently, it was my last sensor in stock). Fuming over my CGM situation, I started feeling slight pangs of hunger shortly after having my fiber drink. I ate lunch as soon as I could after that, and spent much of the rest of the afternoon fighting a headache and dreading going home to see – not eat – my mom’s delicious home cooking. On the brighter side of things, my digestion seemed to be improving already and I felt a bit less bloated.
  • Day 3 – I went from “Oh, this cleanse will be a breeze!” to “OMG THESE ARE THE LONGEST THREE DAYS OF MY LIFE GIMME REAL FOOD AGAIN BEFORE I HAVE A MELTDOWN” in less than 48 hours. That’s gotta be a new record. I distracted myself as much as I could from my misery by burying myself in my work, which helped to a degree. But I couldn’t fight the lightheaded sensation that seemed to grip my entire body. I was confused by that – I though only eating real, plant-based foods would eliminate crummy feelings. Maybe I was experiencing a sort of withdrawal as my body got used to this new diet? I can’t confirm that, but I suspect that after a few more days, I likely would’ve felt much better…or hungrier. I’ll leave it to speculation because there is no way I’m doing this again any time soon. But MAN, am I proud of myself for completing the cleanse without cheating, not even once.

So if I felt THAT miserable toward the end of the cleanse, then why am I glad that I did it? Mainly, I’m astonished at how much easier it was to maintain my diabetes and “desirable” blood sugar levels in that three-day time period. Even without my CGM, I was still getting great results. It reinforced something that I already knew: that the body will react accordingly to the quantity and quality of foods that are used to nourish it. It made me realize that perhaps I should toy with cutting down my daily carb intake and upping my veggie/fruit/protein consumption to find out whether that positively impacts my blood sugar in the way that I think it will. This doesn’t mean I’m starting a low-carb or keto diet; rather, I’m simply going to follow a more thoughtful one.

To sum it up, this three-day cleanse/torture act/lesson (whatever you want to call it) helped make my understanding and appreciation of food much stronger, which makes it worth it in my book.