It was with great surprise during my last pregnancy that I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I started out the pregnancy on the edge of underweight and had gained all of five pounds when diagnosed. What’s more, I was eating like a health nut, as I’ve been doing for roughly the past 8 years. My only risk factor for gestational diabetes was that I was pregnant at age 40.
I was even more surprised when my diabetic reaction to glucose didn’t go away after I delivered my son. In fact, it got worse. At five months post partum my glucose tolerance results were even worse than when I was pregnant, and I was officially diagnosed as type 2 diabetic. However, my A1C was normal which didn’t surprise me: by that point I’d been eating a low to moderately low carb diet for ten months. I averaged 50 net carbs a day, and never more than 100. The typical American eats at least 300 carbs a day.
It didn’t take me long when I was pregnant to figure out the “healthy” foods I’d grown so fond of while a health-conscious vegan made my blood sugar shoot sky high. What’s more, these were all foods recommended by ADA guidelines: whole grains, starchy vegetables, beans, and fresh fruits. The only foods that kept my blood sugar in check were low carb ones, namely meats, fish, eggs, fats, hard cheeses, non starchy vegetables (salad greens and cruciferous vegetables), tofu (including black soy bean products) and nuts.
This is when I stumbled across the strangest dietary mystery of our time: low carb diets are specifically not recommended for type 2 diabetics! Why? I’m not sure. Reasons I’ve seen range from “you need carbs for energy” (not true) or “diabetics wouldn’t follow a low carb diet” (maybe true) to “diabetics shouldn’t be ‘punished’ by following a different diet from the rest of America” (I guess true, but it feels far from punishment to eat lamb, roasted tofu, or almond butter by the spoonful).
Thinking I must be missing something I checked out some diabetic cookbooks from the library. Upon perusing them at home I noted they contained very few low carb recipes and were more of the same- whole grains, beans, starchy vegetables and fruit. Many recipes contained sugar. I tried a batch of a brown rice & kidney bean recipe only to find my blood sugar at 200 two hours later. How could this be considered healthy for diabetics by any stretch of the imagination? When I ate low carb, my blood sugar rarely cracked 100.
I’ve narrowed it down to one of three conclusions.
- I’m simply out of touch with how america eats. Admittedly, I’ve been a foodified health nut for a while now. For me it was easy and natural to give up anything with sugar. For the rest of america, not so much. In this respect the ADA is being realistic in how actual people actually eat and isn’t asking too much of them beyond switching to whole grains, from refined grains
- This is a deliberate conspiracy by big pharma to keep people dependent on their drugs. Because if all type 2 diabetics ate low carb diets and were able to keep their A1C in check, there would be little need for the various medicines they promote for treating diabetes.
- 90% of people with diabetes are overweight to obese. People like me, who are thin but diabetic, are the minority. So encouraging any kind of food restriction in this group might result in weight loss, which might in turn result in less glucose sensitivity. Again, this would be a case of being realistic and pragmatic.
I don’t know which answer is correct, or perhaps it’s a meld of all three, but all I can tell you is that following some degree of carb restriction is almost guaranteed to have a positive effect on A1C over time.
There is an exception to all this. Certain starchy foods will develop resistant starch if they are cooked, cooled, and reheated. For instance you could cook potatoes, cool them in the fridge overnight, then reheat them, a type 2 diabetic can eat them with less danger than eating them freshly cooked. This is phenomena only recently being explored, so if you are type 2 diabetic, proceed with caution. From my own trial and error I’ve found quinoa and potatoes have less impact on blood sugar once cooked, cooled, and reheated, but if you are seriously disabled by type 2 diabetes I wouldn’t recommend venturing into this realm if you can at all tolerate eating a low to moderately low carb diet.
Additionally, if you are meat averse like me (I love lamb, but not every day) rest assured that there are copious low carb choices for vegans and vegetarians. Eating low carb does not mean eating slabs of meat with each meal. In fact today I’ve eaten mainly greens and nuts, with a frittata in the oven for dinner. Many days I still manage to eat exclusively vegan between nuts, greens, guacamole, and vegetable oils.
So if you are type 2 diabetic and happen to come across this blog, I implore you to explore low to moderate carb options for eating. It may well save your life in the long run.