Healthy Whole Grains… %#@$ that

This was my reading after a small bowl of unsweetened whole oatmeal (1/3 cup measured dry).

Imagine if I had eaten Dr. Barnard’s ‘power plate’ of grains AND fruit AND legumes AND veggies. I’d be 300+ all in the name of a plant based diet.

My conclusion is that while yes, avoiding dietary fat increases insulin sensitivity to some degree, what good does that do if your bgs are constantly skyrocketing from all those ‘healthy whole grains’ you’re eating? Remember anything over 140 causes permanent damage to organs and beta cells. No thanks!

Sorry vegans but it’s back to the meat case for me.

 

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Dr. Neal Barnard, Vegan Agendas, and Self Experimentation

While browsing amazon for Bernstein’s diabetes book, Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes kept popping up in suggestions. I had heard of this approach to diabetes management before and it made no sense to me. How could eating high carb vegan foods do anything to help stabilize my blood sugar? As a former vegan, I knew all those ‘healthy whole grains’ yielded some of the worst readings on my glucose monitor.

The more I thought about it the crazier it sounded. But then it dawned on me: eating a high fat/ low carb diet sounded crazy the first time I heard that. So I decided to approach Dr. Barnard’s ideas with an open mind.

I carefully read all the amazon reviews for his book- all 900 of them. Some diabetics claimed fantastic results. No more/ significantly reduced medication & insulin, drastically lowered bgs numbers. Others claimed his diet made things worse. One physician asked the salient question why does the plan have to be vegan? Why not plant based, extreme low fat, but not necessarily ‘vegan?’  Then I purchased his book and read it.

Dr. Barnard’s premise is that for diabetics, and those prone to diabetes, all dietary fat creates intramyocellular lipids (=fat deposits in cells) that interrupt proper cellular reception of insulin. As a result carbohydrates are not metabolized and spill into the bloodstream, causing high blood sugar. Barnard posits further that by eliminating/ severely curtailing dietary fat, those lipids subside and proper cellular function resumes.

Somewhere in here Dr. Barnard takes the leap from ‘curtailing dietary fat’ to ‘vegan.’ His reasons for this are unclear. He states that animal protein is bad for the kidneys (but shouldn’t all protein in excess be bad for kidneys?), that lowfat dairy products contain too much sugar (though a glass of skim milk has less sugar than an apple) and that milk protein may be implicated in the development of type 1 diabetes.

He also states that high fat/ low carb diets will have disastrous results for diabetics, leading to short term controlled numbers that inevitably rise and expose the patient to unhealthy cholesterol numbers. As a one person experiment who has strictly adhered to high fat/ low carb eating since my diagnosis, I can say Dr. Barnard is quite wrong on this point. My a1c, bgs, and cholesterol have been excellent for four years of high fat/ low carb eating. My fasting numbers began to creep up by year four (from 80s to 90s) but are nowhere near the low carb catastrophe he predicts.

However, his ideas are not without merit. One thing that always puzzled me is that my glucose tolerance (GTT) results worsened dramatically over a mere 6 month period. I was diagnosed as diabetic based on both results, but I had more than a 100 point jump between the tests (from 180 to 300). Since I adopted a low carb/  high fat diet almost immediately upon my initial diagnosis, Barnard’s ideas about dietary fat inhibiting insulin receptivity make sense, explaining that much higher second test. And if veganism does have some kind of protective agency in diabetics, this could be why my initial GTT results were bad but not so terrible (I was a strict vegan when diagnosed).

I decided to give it the old college try and am now on day three of eating nothing but ‘whole’ vegan foods excluding anything high in fat (so no nuts, avocados, or vegetable oils). As expected my post prandial (post meal) numbers are high, but my fasting numbers dropped. This was a HUGE shocker to me. I went from 95 to 80 over a 24 hour period, despite the fact I had high blood sugar numbers during the day from all those ‘healthy’ vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains. Even more of a shocker was a bgs of 72 before dinner on day two. To me this makes no sense- but shows Dr. Barnard may be spot on about insulin resistance and dietary fat.

I’m only on day 3 so it’s far too early to draw a definitive conclusion but I’m going to speculate that diabetics who want to manage their disease primarily by diet are going to have to choose between fat or carbs. I am one person proof that diabetes can be managed by avoiding  carbohydrates, but perhaps there is another way.

The doctor’s vegan agenda is unfortunate and is only going to muddle the debate. I’m pretty sure I would get similar results if I consumed nothing but nonfat milk and skinless chicken breast (which barnard incorrectly pegs at 23% fat… canned chicken breast is virtually fat free as is skinless turkey breast). But that experiment will have to wait for another day.

Granting Barnard the benefit of the doubt- it could be that ‘whole vegan foods’ is the most idiot proof instruction he could give to diabetics looking to manage their numbers through a low fat diet. If you exclude refined foods, oils and nuts it would be VERY difficult to go crazy, viking style, as a vegan. Judging from his manner of writing he is not preaching to the most cerebral crowd and his text is painfully dumbed down in places (this was actually a complaint in some of the reviews, so I’m not alone).

I don’t know how long I’ll continue this experiment, but I promise to post all my numbers when all is said and done. In the meantime, I’m eating oatmeal and fruit for the first time in four years!

 

Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution

For Christmas I treated myself to a copy of Dr. Richard Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars.  I had heard of this book years ago in online low carb communities, when I was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. I knew the basic premise was a very low carb diet of no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates a day, which is more or less what I was already following, so I never purchased the book.

A lifelong diabetic himself, Dr. Bernstien believes the first approach to diabetes management- before medication, insulin, or even exercise, should be diet. Maintaining normal blood sugars is paramount and should be the first priority of all diabetes treatment. This approach should be applied both for type 1s and type 2s, for children and adults. Since the nature of diabetes is an inability to metabolize carbohydrates, he takes the logical step that diabetics should avoid consuming carbohydrates since there is no required dietary minimum for carbohydrates. As a one person experiment I can confirm it is possible to subsist on no dietary carbohydrates at all- over the years I have gone months at a time eating nothing but meat and fat, neither of which contain carbohydrates, and for the remainder of that period ingested well under 30 carbs a day. If I drank alcohol I drank zero carb spirits. I was fine, functioned normally, and my blood sugars were consistently in the 70-100 mg/dl range. I also lost weight without trying and went from thin to slightly underweight.

Dr. Bernstein’s approach is not quite so severe, allowing for 30 carbs a day: 6 for breakfast and 12 for breakfast and lunch respectively. His allowed foods are the typical low carb food list with some exceptions: tomatoes, onions and carrots should be avoided as they are too high in carbs for most diabetics. These foods are liberally allowed in most keto/ low carb diet plans, so any diabetics reading this please take note. Most other low starch vegetables are acceptable.

He also suggests limiting protein intake to roughly 12 ounces a day. However this guideline is flexible and if someone needs more to feel satiated, and  if it doesn’t affect blood sugar (the process of gluconeogenesis can be accelerated in diabetics) then it’s fine to eat more protein. The allowed proteins are meat, fish, eggs and cheese (not cottage cheese or feta, both are too high in carbs) and some soy products. He also allows full fat, unsweetened greek yogurt.

As far as I can tell he does not limit fat or total calorie intake.

While this approach may seem reasonable and logical, unfortunately it is not the first course of treatment for diabetics. Most diabetics in the united states are promptly placed on high carb, low fat diets and pumped full of medication and insulin. While some diabetics may require medication and insulin on the bernstein plan, the needed amount should be massively reduced.

I was a little disappointed by the book as a good chunk is dedicated to convincing diabetics to take a dietary approach to their treatment. Since I decided to do this within weeks of my diagnosis (thank you Fat Head, that film saved my life- or at least my vision and toes) this didn’t apply to me. There are also a number of chapters dedicated to struggles with cravings and weight loss, neither of which apply to me either. For whatever reason I have almost no desire to eat carb laden foods, even the foods I used to love like homemade breads and grain dishes.

There is one point where I disagree with the book: Dr. Bernstein is really down on nuts. Small amounts of peanut butter raise his blood sugar, and because nuts are rather addictive, he advises avoiding them entirely. However given that the foods diabetics can safely eat are already so limited it seems unwise to dismiss nuts out of hand. There are nuts with lower carbs, lower protein, and higher fat than peanuts, namely pecans, walnuts and macadamias. Assuming nut allergies are not an issue there is no reason IMHO a normal weight diabetic should avoid them. Just read labels carefully for carb and protein content and test regularly. Personally I am able to eat those aforementioned nuts and can eat almonds and almond flour in moderation without detriment to my blood sugar.

Nevertheless this is clearly a must have “bible” for all diabetics. There are chapters on insulin injection techniques, how and when to test blood sugar (the doctor points out postprandial numbers are in fact more important than fasting numbers- I did not know this). There are even tips on how to wash blood stains off of clothing.

So if there are any diabetics out there I would implore you to buy this book, even if you are not particularly interested in dietary management of diabetes. It’s just excellent information to have on hand, and as they all say, knowledge is power!

Here is a link to the book on amazon (I do not profit from this link in any way).

Walnut Terror

Thursday I wasn’t feeling well. I woke up the night before on the verge of vomiting and had a dreadful headache. I lay awake in bed perfectly still wondering if or when I was going puke. After an hour my stomach felt better and I fell asleep, but the headache was still with me the next morning.

I soldiered on. That day was my little guy’s christmas concert/ meet santa event. I dread these kinds of things (I dislike crowds) but had already handed off attendance to the previous night’s christmas concert to my 19 year old (she loves crowds).

The kids were cute. My 4 year old was surprisingly non-clueless. It’s a running and insensitive joke in the family, mostly from my 16 year old, that he was not blessed with copious brain cells. Even now he has a bad habit of walking into walls and furniture, and he’s so speech delayed that the few words he does say make him sound… well… slow. He’s very handsome and friendly though so I’m sure he’ll do well in life.

Anyway after the concert they served bagels and dessert in the classrooms where the children were treated to a visit from santa. He was a good santa too- a professional santa by all appearances. He handed out small gifts to the wide eyed children. I scraped the cream cheese off my son’s bagel and licked it off my fingers. I was hungry.

I brought him home then went back out for the older kids who were loaded up with cookies and snacks left over from their classroom holiday parties. And here is where the story begins.

I dumped the kids in the house and crawled into bed. I still was feeling not so great. I buried my head under the blankets and was just about to drift off when my 16 year bursts into my hallway. Mommmm…. mommmmm…

Go away I’m sleeping! (this is my pat response to nap intrusions)

No mommmm I ate walnuts my throat is swelling up.

Turns out some of those cookies contained walnuts. The ingredients were listed in microscopic print on an adhesive label that was torn when opening the cookie container.

I didn’t have my contacts in so the blur of my daughter was on my bed, frantic. I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die it hurts to breathe.

I blindly fumbled for the benadryl on my dresser and gave her two. She could barely swallow them because her throat was swelling. She grew even more frantic saying her mouth was filling with mucous that she couldn’t swallow. Ok, epipen. Blindly went through the guest room (in retrospect I’m not sure why I didn’t take a moment to put in my contacts, I’m -7.5 in both eyes) and found the epipen box. Popped one out, refreshed my memory glancing at the instructions- which I had to hold directly in front of my nose.

I’m gonna die I’m gonna die! by this point she was audibly wheezing. I can’t feel my hands!

You’re not going to die, I told her calmly. You have some of the most sophisticated medicine in the world at your disposal.

WHACK. I jammed the epipen into her thigh and counted to ten. My frantic daughter said she couldn’t feel it- her legs were going numb too.

She was so terrified by that point it was hard to tell what was allergy and what was fear. She still couldn’t swallow so I gave her a towel to spit onto and called 911.

The operator was surprisingly gracious and a fire truck was in front of our house in three minutes, an ambulance three minutes after that. They swarmed the living room like a small army of giants and gave her oxygen. My seven year old, who had been watching the proceedings in shock, was so frightened by the firemen she hid under the table!

My 19 year old daughter- who is downright saintly in her willingness to help- rode with her in the ambulance. At the ER they loaded her up with more meds and watched to make sure the reaction didn’t boomerang. It didn’t and she was home, alive and well, that night.

This is our second brush with death due to tree nuts. The first was with a different daughter who went into anaphylactic shock after eating macadamia nuts in a cookie (she thought they were white chocolate chips). Who knew cookies were harbingers of death? This daughter with the walnut reaction had reacted to walnuts before but not this severely, although she did end up in the ER that time too. Do nut allergies worsen with each exposure? I don’t know.

This begs the question why isn’t there a universal allergen symbol for food products containing these ingredients? Microscopic print on a label that has to be torn before the food is eaten just doesn’t cut it. There are so many stupid laws and regulations in this country, but having some kind of universal symbol on food packaging would probably save lives and countless medical scares.

Or maybe there should be a law banning nuts in cookies! Who needs nuts when you have chocolate chips and M&Ms?

 

Bodyguard on Netflix

Over the weekend I binge watched Bodyguard on netflix, a six part BBC produced series about a PTSD suffering veteran assigned to protect the home secretary. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what a home secretary is- I think the closest american equivalent is secretary of defense.

Richard Madden (of Game of Thrones fame) plays the handsome bodyguard while Keeley Hawes plays the milfy home secretary.

I’ve mentioned before I enjoy brooding police dramas, and there is no lack of brood in Bodyguard. The series is exceedingly somber, rife with conspiracy, machination and dark cinematics. Madden is excellent as David Budd, and Keeley is a decent enough actress, but I found her Julia Montague character kind of bland and unsympathetic. Also, maybe things are different in England, but I find it implausible there would be so many female SWAT team members and female explosive experts… but that’s hollywood for you.

I give Bodyguard a strong 7 out of 10. The pacing is strong, the mystery convoluted enough to hold my interest, and Madden’s acting carries the day.

 

Takeout Style Yellow Fried Rice

Long have I wondered why exactly chinese takeout fried rice is yellow. What should have been an easy google led to disappointing results. Various foodies claim it’s saffron or turmeric. No way it’s either- saffron is prohibitively expensive and there’s absolutely no smell or taste of it or turmeric in your typical container of yellow fried rice.

After searching many recipes both written and video, I finally came across an authentic takeout style fried rice recipe, where the chef sheepishly acknowledges food coloring is added to give the rice its yellow glow- egg shade yellow to be exact. And the flavor derives mostly from chicken powder, aka powdered bouillon. Sorry vegans, if you thought fried rice was a safe takeout option, you’re wrong!

Here is my adaptation of that recipe which uses ingredients you can find at any grocery store. Bear in mind this will give you only the “base rice.” It’s up to you to add any desired meat or veggies. My picky kids prefer this plain. Since the final reheat of the rice only takes one or two minutes, cook meat and vegetables before adding the rice, or simply cook it separately and mix it all up in a bowl.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups raw white basmati rice
2 packets powdered chicken bouillon (I use goya brand, but use whatever amount is needed for 4 cups of water)
1 tablespoon white sugar (brown sugar will affect the color)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon egg shade yellow dye, OR 1/2 teaspoon powdered yellow food coloring (the spanish/ international aisle will probably have powdered color- my grocery carries the badia brand for less than $2)
4-5 cups water (I prefer to add a little extra water when cooking rice, so I use 5 cups)

Whisk together all the ingredients except rice in your rice cooker insert or thick bottomed pot. Once the color is uniform add the rice. Close lid and set to ‘white rice’ if using a rice cooker, if cooking on a stove top bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Allow rice to cool, ideally overnight in the fridge.

To “fry” the rice take four cups chilled cooked rice and break up any clumps. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a frying pan until very hot. Add the rice, stirring quickly. The rice will dry out a little while reheating so add a splash of water, stirring continuously. After a minute or two rice should be thoroughly reheated and ready to serve. You don’t need a wok to do this, but if you’re cooking a large amount you’ll have to do it in batches using a normal sized frying pan. Since there is so much salt in the bouillon you probably won’t need salt when serving.

You can add anything to this rice- scrambled egg, cooked meats, cooked vegetables. Just cut everything into bite sized pieces so the final dish can be eaten with a fork.

Cash in Hand

Today is my youngest’s birthday. Four years ago today I was shell shocked and bleeding  in a soviet style hospital room until they moved me to one of the private suites when my husband showed up cash in hand. That private room was beautiful- more like a hotel- but it was also mind numbingly lonely and isolating. There I was alone with a miserable premature newborn, exhausted, still coming to terms with how poorly I’d been treated through the whole pregnancy by the obstetrical practice, how they blew me off for days when I insisted I was leaking amniotic fluid (5 weeks before my due date). I remember the nurse snidely advising: Well if you really ARE leaking fluid you’ll go into sudden and incredibly painful labor. Well guess what happened?

I kept him in bed with me for 10 months once home. Not because I was trying to be a hippie but because we had no working heat for a month and it was bitter cold. Since he was premature he couldn’t regulate his body temperature and his bony fingers turned blue unless I kept him against me at all times. By the time we got heat back he was so used to sleeping with me he wouldn’t sleep otherwise. Despite being a horrible sleeper myself I grew accustomed and we were bed buddies until the next august, when I woke up to him crawling and rolling around the mattress ready to careen off the edge. I kicked him out of bed that day.