A recent post on Diabetic South Africans suggesting healthy replacements for common carbohydrates sparked off a huge debate around how people with diabetes should be eating. Many people feel that low carb (LCHF) is the only way to eat, while others feel that it’s too expensive or that there hasn’t been enough research done. We asked community member Michael Marnewick to share his experience of a simple way to eat low carb.
Low carb lifestyle
One of the biggest debates in health, nutrition and diabetes management is low carb vs low fat. Which is the most dangerous, safest, healthiest? Which is unsustainable and expensive?
I’ve just returned from my six monthly endocrinologist visit and associated blood tests, and my HbA1C is down (6.7 from 7.1) and my cholesterol and triglycerides have all improved. This is on a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet.
Now in a study where n=1, it’s not scientific to use my results to prove a theory, but I am just one of multitudes who thrive on the low carb (LCHF) lifestyle. Remember, it’s not a diet but a lifelong commitment to removing as much sugar from our diets as possible.
But is it sustainable? Let’s examine a few arguments that are raised about the “healthiness” of LCHF:
Is LCHF sustainable?
No lifestyle change is sustainable without commitment and attitude. The fact is that any change is difficult, but committing to removing sugar from your diet is healthy. I’ve been on LCHF for seven to eight years and at 50 years old, I’m in the best health of my life. I intend to remain a LCHF disciple for life.
Is LCHF expensive?
This is probably the biggest issue that many people considering LCHF encounter. Yes, olive oil and butter are more expensive than sunflower oil and margarine. The fact is, you’re putting dangerous chemicals in your system. Would you put paraffin in your car because it was cheaper than petrol?
With planning and even growing your own veg, it is entirely possible to do LCHF on a budget. You don’t have to eat fillet steak – if you like liver, that’s a great alternative. Substitutes like coconut or almond flour and xylitol are expensive, but if you are substituting one sweet thing for another, you’re feeding the cravings, even if your diabetic response is not the same. I prefer to cut them out completely.
The practice of intermittent fasting (IF) is also a money saver because you’re eating twice a day (in my case), so there is a saving on missing a meal each day.
In addition, because I’m eating just twice a day, the blood glucose spikes are being minimized. And because I’m eating low carb, those spikes are negligible most of the time.
With snacking removed from my lifestyle, the only time I really get spikes is when I buy a cappuccino or if I am going to be exercising and then I may have a slice of toast with peanut butter to account for energy needs.
Is LCHF unhealthy?
The old saying goes: ‘Fat makes you fat’ but that’s simply not true. Excess sugar is stored as fat and that’s why there is such a link between diabetes and obesity. The insulin doesn’t work to remove excess glucose from the system and a high carb diet feeds the fat. I have bad genes as far as cholesterol goes, but there is growing evidence that cholesterol isn’t the enemy, inflammation is. If you remove the irritants from your system (free radicals and excess glucose), then your CVD (cardiovascular disease) markers are reduced.
Is LCHF difficult?
Again, with good planning it’s entirely possible to remove unwanted carbs from your diet. Those who are rigid will count their carb intake and that’s really admirable. But I feel this kind of rigidity can put people off. I personally don’t count my carbs but I do eat very little refined carbs – lots of veg for me. Often, I will simply eat a meal without the carbs: curry without rice, bolognaise without pasta.
I check every single package’s nutritional information as well, and try to avoid sweet substitutes: every time I feed a craving, the craving remains. It’s like cutting down cigarettes – you’ll rarely give up that way because you’re feeding the addiction.
Making long-term choices
I’m certainly no perfect diabetic, but I realised a while back that there is everything to gain and everything to lose from my behaviour and choices. I drink beer and wine on the weekend. I have the odd carb and I love my coffee.
I have spikes but I never feel guilty because that drives depression and it has a strong link with diabetes; anyway, I fall off the wagon and I get back straight on again – no reason to dwell on failure.
I believe that it is entirely possible not only to be healthy, but to thrive as a diabetic. There is nothing I cannot do (except maybe run the Comrades as my titanium hip would complain too much!)