They make carbohydrate counting easier, but are they good for you?
January 2012 — A buddy of mine and I were recently talking about how so much has changed around food and diabetes over the years. We were both raised during the "exchange system" years, where each meal would have a certain number of each type of exchange (starch, protein, milk/dairy, fat), and you would build your meal based on each of those parts.
Under the hood, each exchange was made up of a certain number of grams for each food type, so it wasn't too much of a change when we moved into the age of carbohydrate counting. It was figured that, for the most part, carbohydrates were the components responsible for raising blood sugar. If you accurately counted your carbohydrates, and took the proper amount of insulin, you should be able to do a pretty good job at managing your blood sugar.
Counting carbs offered a lot of freedom, allowing us to eat many of the foods that were somewhat forbidden in the old days, but is it possible that it caused us to focus too much on the carbohydrate grams? Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost sight of the balanced meal. Or is it just me?
Even on my best days, a meal that is too heavy on carbohydrates will send my blood sugar for a ride! I'll often spike way high and then come crashing back down, making a sharp mountain peak on my CGM graph. I lost the value of a mix of protein, fat, and fiber that would slow the overall digestion of my meal, and therefore slow how fast my blood sugar went up.
Along similar lines, I often fall victim to the lure of packaged foods. Packaged foods seem easy for diabetes blood sugar management.
They are often neatly portioned out and have a nutrition label with the carbohydrate count right on it — what could be easier? The most math I have to do is a little multiplication (servings per container times carbohydrate grams per serving). No weighing or measuring, no fussing with foods scales or ingredients.
It's easy, convenient, less math, and less wondering about whether I've measured right. What could go wrong?
What could go wrong is, well, what do we know about packaged food? It's full of stuff that is heavily processed and unnatural. I'm not a health nut, or one that gets all worked up about preservatives and chemicals, but I know that my body feels better when I'm eating more balanced whole meals than when I'm eating packaged food.
Contrary to what I would have thought, even without such precise carbohydrate counts, my blood sugars also do better with a well-balanced meal. I'm thinking it must be all of the other nutrients, the things we all too often disregard in our diabetes management (protein, fats, fiber), that provide some surprisingly smooth blood sugars.
Food, cooking, and nutrition are all very overwhelming to me. And with diabetes, it's all often a bit scary to experiment with. But I'm learning some great new tools to incorporate into my diabetes management toolbox, and also my healthier eating toolbox, which goes far beyond just my blood sugars.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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