2013-02-04

Diabetic Diets

When I first encountered Dr. Bernstein's ideas, I was pretty skeptical. The main reason for my skepticism was that Dr. Bernstein's philosophy involves never experiencing higher-than-normal blood sugar.

I'll put this in perspective for you non-diabetics out there. When you eat a meal, your blood sugar increases from approximately 5 mmol/L to no more than approximately 6 mmol/L. By contrast, we diabetics are taught that if our blood sugar rises to no more than 10 mmol/L after a meal, we still have things under control. For Bernstein, anything over 7 is against the rules.

This has lead Bernstein and those who follow his advice to swear off all forms of bread and nearly every fruit. Bernstein looks closely at food labels and avoids anything with added sugar - which means, in his case, any ingredient that ends with "-ose." This has lead him to the unconventional conclusion that even some items that are considered safe for diabetics, such as artificial sweeteners, must be avoided. (Artificial sweeteners in powdered for often contain added ingredients such as dextrose, which are supplied in low enough quantities that they do not typically make a large impact on blood sugar for most people. But for many of us, they do increase blood sugar noticeably.)

Bernstein avoids tomatoes and tomato products. He avoids beans and legumes. While he does consume dairy, he avoids milk due to its lactose content. His diet consists almost entirely of meat, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Because this diet looks suspiciously like a so-called "paleo diet," my gimmick-receptors lit up the first few times I considered Bernstein's recommendations. However, Bernstein writes in his book and elsewhere that the key is to monitor one's blood sugar carefully, and to avoid unnecessarily large increases in blood sugar levels. At its core, this is sound advice. Even if one continues to eat limited bread and fruit products and legumes, as I do, it's tough to argue against personal blood glucose monitoring.

As a result, I have found my diet gravitating naturally toward a more Bernstein-esque diet. High blood sugar doesn't feel good. Good blood sugar control feels fantastic. It is inevitable that avoidance of the former and progression toward the latter will result in a diet that resembles that which works for other diabetics.

So, I am somewhat surprised, but I really shouldn't be. Nuts, of course, are out for me, because I'm allergic. And as an avid runner and strength trainer, I still need my fair share of calories. So I continue to consume sane levels of grains (like oatmeal) and breads (usually homemade).

Looking at the numbers, though, it appears that less than 50% of my diet consists of carbohydrates, and when I use that word, I'm using it in the technically correct sense. That is, a gram of carbohydrate from broccoli is counted the same as a gram of carbohydrate from oatmeal.

We'll just have to see where this journey takes me...