Hidden Payloads

Been meaning to post about how different foods affect my blood sugar, last weekend gave me a good opportunity.

If you don’t already know, blood sugar for a non-diabetic will generally sit at about 5 or 6 mmol/l. Because your body produces “enough” insulin, your body self-regulates and your sugar doesn’t doesn’t change much.

The definition of diabetes is simply that my body doesn’t produce enough insulin of its own, and so I need to take additional insulin (or something – there are many drugs available) to keep my sugar under control. I try to minimise my dose of insulin, because it can cause side effects, and so I allow my sugar to run a bit high. I’m generally around 10 mmol/l. I hope that is still low enough to stop me having another stroke. Obviously because I don’t produce enough insulin, my body’s ability to regulate has gone out of the window, and so I vary the insulin dose a little with each dose.

Anyway, as you can imagine, what I eat plays a big part in how my sugar level varies. But it’s not quite as obvious as you might think. I can generally sneak a small chocolate bar (my favourite is Turkish Delight, for UK readers) without it affecting my sugar level. I think that because you know the food is naturally sweet, you limit your intake. A Turkish Delight as a once-a-week treat is not noticeable, five Turkish Delights per day probably would be.

But all that is quite obvious. Some foods are less obvious. For example, white bread. Does not taste at all sweet, but on one occasion, in hospital, it took my sugar up to over 30 mmol/l! I mean, if you’ve ever mad bread, you’ll know it is mostly made of flour, and what is flour made of? In fact, any kind of dough or pastry can affect my sugar. Another one is diet fizzy drinks – you naturally think that, because they’re sugar-free, they’d have less of an effect on my sugar, but as far as I can tell, it makes absolutely no difference. Again, it might be volume-related. I’ve never been a big lover of pop, so I’m comparing a quantity of “not very much” to a quantity of “not very much”. To give an idea, I’ve maybe only had one or two cans of pop in the last year. Compare and contrast with Donald Trump, who I think boasts 12 cans of Diet Coke per day! Pub drinks such as beer or cider are also quite high in sugar too, although I’ve never been into drinking at home, and it is rare these days for me to go to a pub. It is sufficiently rare, and I’ll probably only have a pint to wash down a meal, that I allow myself to drink whatever I fancy. But I’m usually happy to stick with tea. I like a glass of cordial now and again, but still, very small volume.

So last weekend I was up at 14, which I consider to be high these days. I think this was down to a bag of crisps. It was one of these supermarket bags, so was bigger than the regular bags. Again, savoury not sweet, but the key is that crisps are basically 100% carbohydrate. Sugars are also a form of carbohydrate. Do you maybe see a link here? In fact, many diabetics just refer to diabetes as carb-intolerance. Similarly, I have to take care with things like potatoes, even just boiled new potatoes. Also rice or pasta, which I often have as part of an evening meal, or bread, which I already mentioned and which is a favourite for lunch. It’s difficult to avoid such foods, but quite easy to limit your intake. I eat wholemeal bread – fibre rather than carb, and things like crisps are a once-a-week (or usually less) treat. I’m quite fortunate these days in that when I get a taste for something (e.g. my Turkish Delights!) I can usually wait several days, or until the next trip to the supermarket, to satisfy the urge.

 I think also that time of day might play a part. I test myself (usually) when I get up and am “fasting”. (i.e. I’ll easily have digested whatever I ate the day before), although whatever I ate the day before will still be measurable. But I do find that something I eat in the morning is less noticeable than something I eat in the evening, if I test myself then. Of course, I can vary the time of day that I test myself. I have, a couple of times, tested myself regularly over the course of the day just to see how my sugar varies during the day. I know that a large lunch will, by teatime, show in my sugar. Indeed, teatime is a favourite “other” time to test myself, because generally, that’s the high point of my day. However I’m normally able to spot the foods that will put me high and avoid them.

It is annoying that people often naively think that too many sweets cause diabetes, when the things that put my blood sugar high are not necessarily sweet. Plus, of course, people naively respond to the general press – if you change your lifestyle, you can reverse diabetes – when, of course, it isn’t always possible. It is possible to change your lifestyle, although difficult to avoid carbs, plus it is not always possible to reverse diabetes. In fact, for years I tried controlling my numbers through diet and exercise, and ended up (a) taking insulin and (b) having a stroke!

I’ll just part with the thought that both of my parents were, and large parts of my family were/are, T2 diabetics. Make of that what you will.