Food, Glorious Food
Does the "diabetic diet" still exist?
By Wil Dubois
Once upon a time, not so long ago, a diagnosis of diabetes was accompanied by several sheets of fifth-generation Xerox paper that listed all the food you couldn't eat anymore. Ever.
This was your diabetes diet chart. And more often than not, it was an uncanny list of your absolutely favorite foods. Not surprisingly, most people were unable to keep to this diet. Then they got yelled at by their doctors, were labeled as "non-compliant," and ended up feeling like failures—which wasn't good for either their souls or their blood sugars.
To make matters worse, this draconian diet wasn't needed in the first place. It serves no medical purpose. You don't have to eat a certain list of foods to stay healthy with diabetes. You just have to eat smart. And I'm going to teach you how to do just that.
But I want to make clear that the old "diabetic diet" is as extinct as the Dodo Bird. If some decrepit Neanderthal in a white coat gives you such a list, I want you to take it home and burn it. Then get a new doctor. Because the dirty little secret is you can eat anything you want to.
There are, of course, some rules.
But before we get into that, let me give you some background. Why do we eat? Well, we eat because food tastes good, smells good, and looks good. Eating also serves an important social function; it brings families and friends together. It can serve as entertainment, medicine, and even therapy. It starts most of our days and ends most of our nights. But that's not why we eat. We eat for the same reason your car drinks gasoline: Food is the fuel that fires our cellular engines.
Exactly how food goes about fueling our bodies is a complex biological process that uses words and phrases that gave my spell-check program a stroke, so to simplify it, let's just say that all the cells in your body "eat" sugar. That's how they get the energy they need to do their various jobs. You know, things like making your heart beat, your lungs breathe, and your legs move when you are being chased by a rampaging rhinoceros. Hey, it could happen.
Whoa, whoa, wait a sec, you say. All our cells eat sugar? But I thought people with diabetes couldn't eat sugar! Ah, well now you are getting to the crux of why the diabetic diet won't work. Well, the metabolic reason, anyway. The body runs on sugar. It needs some sugar to work right. Of course, the other reasons the diabetic diet won't work are that it's arguably easier to change your gender than to change your diet, changing deeply ingrained socially-driven habits is nearly impossible in the first place, and to sustain a totally new way of eating would require most people to get entirely new families.
But I digress. Back to cellular metabolism.
All cells need sugar to live and work. So to get that sugar, it's the job of the body's digestive system to turn everything you eat into sugar.
If you eat chocolate cake (and who wouldn't?) your body will very quickly turn it into sugar for cell food. But your body will do the same thing to a pork chop. It just takes a little longer.
So to that end, know that when it comes to raising your blood sugar, certain foods are thoroughbred race horses and certain foods are chelonoidis nigras. In case you didn't know, that's the scientific name for the Galapagos Tortoise. Oh, and speaking of turtle soup, any food that used to crawl, walk, run, fly, swim, or slither has a very slow effect on your blood sugar. So too, do leafy green things. On the other hand, things that are white in color tend to make your blood sugar go up quickly. Oh, and much higher, too.
The bottom line is: all food turns into sugar. All you need to do is to make sure you don't give your diabetic body too big a supply too quickly. How do you do that? Just what can diabetics eat?
It's super simple. So simple you won't even need to write it down, much less Xerox it five times. Let me introduce you to the White Foods Rule, which simply states that white-colored foods are the things that will kick you in the blood sugar harder than other foods. The white foods are: things made from sugar; things made from flour; things made from potatoes; things made from rice; and things made from corn. Granted that last one is yellow, but close enough.
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I'm always amazed when I hear how much time quarterback Peyton Manning puts in at practice. More than 15 seasons playing NFL football at the highest level and he still finds areas in his game that require fixing. It's been 10 years for us in the game of type 1 diabetes and I still have so much to learn. Not to compare my diabetes management success to Peyton Manning's football success. If anything, I'm more like Peyton's brother, Eli. I...