Thursday, March 23, 2006


The glycemic index is supposed to score foods according to how quickly they are digested into the blood. Foods that practically go straight into the blood stream (making glucose levels go up quickly and abruptly) are “high” glycemic and those that take a while to go into the blood stream are “low” glycemic. The benchmark (reference point) might be glucose itself (100) or white bread (100). The score of the food is not obviously related to whether it’s carbohydrate, fat or protein -- it’s IN ADDITION to the other characteristics of the food.

In general, foods that soft, sweet, fluffy or processed (mixed with chemicals or puffed or reconstituted) tend to have HIGH scores and those that are compact, fibrous, chewy, and plain -- think roots -- are low scorers.

The idea is to eat foods with low scores. Just look on the list when you’re deciding on a veggie or fruit and pick one low. And the preparation can make a difference as well: noodles that are al dente are low, but as they cook longer and get mushier, they go up the list. Some kinds of rice are high and others are low. Wild rice is low, but it’s not even a rice -- it’s grass seeds. A big old baking potato is high (it’s been sitting there converting into sugar) but a small new potato is low (it still thinks it’s a root).

Of course, you need to eat what’s low fat and not load up with protein (hard on the kidneys). And now pesticides can be a worry or “germs” when foods are coming from undeveloped countries. I’m not even going to mention politics.

So these are my principles. (Subject to change):

1. Eat more or less the way Weight Watchers’ recommends. Most of us have done the drill so many times (we always lose before we gain again) we’ve got it down pretty well. Units and all that. If you feel left out, go find a group to join. If you feel insecure, buy one of those dishes with three sections: one big (meat) and two littles (starch & veggie). But remember a bowl on the side for your salad.

2. Forget government recommendations. It’s all puppetry with the hand of big ag inside anyway. Forget any recommendation from a “name” doctor and greet the American Diabetes Association with scepticism as well. (Major corporations pulling strings there as well. Most of the glycemic theory is developed in Australia. I can imagine some promo guy at General Foods screaming, “Curse those Aussies and their kangaroo Internet!”)

3. Boiled grain of some kind is a good breakfast. (I have a Scots bias to oatmeal, but don’t eat the “quick” stuff.) I was raised on cracked wheat mush every morning, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I never did put cream and sugar on it. Now I don’t put jam and butter on it anymore. Cut dried fruit into it or frozen berries, but not the kind frozen or canned in syrup -- the unsweetened kind from bags. Or fresh! Throw in nuts. Wheat germ. Flax seeds. (Steady there. Watch the calories and -- ahem -- effects.)

4. Panini presses for sandwiches are great because they convert oaty, nutty, seedy bread into a compact, slow to digest mass that tastes good. My formula for the sandwich is meat, cheese, green stuff, and then use your imagination: tomato, green pepper, marinated stuff like red sweet pepper, onion, olives, sauerkraut, pickles, peanut butter, radishes, etc. and then some kind of sauce with zip to it: horseradish, honey-mustard, hot ketchup -- I’m about to try chipotle mayonnaise to see what that’s like. If the sandwich doesn’t have some zing, it might not register that you ate.

5. Rule of thumb: for every ounce of red meat, an equal ounce of green leaves, like bagged spinach or other salad. I’m trying to wean myself off of creamy dressings. I still miss Green Goddess. We had a horse that loved it, and I did, too.

6. Supper is meat the size of a pack of cards or the palm of my hand. A starch. A salad. Veggies. Maybe a fruit. I’m exploring foreign starch staples like cous-cous. Throw beans into everything: big red ones, little black ones, garbanzos, green.

7. When you just canNOT stand it any longer, a supply of non-fat, non-sugar pudding mix made with skim milk. Don’t just get chocolate -- try pistachio, butterscotch, etc. If you have an ice cream machine, try freezing it. Or get low-fat fruit-flavored yoghurt and run that through the machine.

8. High quality strong coffee. Alfalfa tea. Regular tea chilled and mixed with skim milk, when I need reviving. NO POP. NEVER. NO BOOZE. NEVER. I haven’t messed around with hot chocolate, having quickly given it all away as soon as I was diagnosed.

9. Curiously there are two common substances that really do bring down one’s blood sugar: cinnamon (one teaspoon in one’s morning mush is good) and vinegar (all those marinated veggies and salad dressing). But there’re a lot of phony claims for this and that, too.

10. Food is attached to exercise. You MUST exercise. You cannot eat a stringent enough diet to lose weight and still get enough nutrition to be healthy. Walking or whatever movement one does MUST be done consciously and diligently or the dieting means little. This is the hardest part for me. I just don’t like to move around, though it’s easier now that my weight is twenty pounds less. Now that my blood sugar is controlled enough for my eyes to work properly, I end up reading again -- which is great but sedentary. If only it used more calories. It’s NOT that I watch TV. My TV antenna fell down years ago and I don’t have cable or satellite. (I do watch one movie at a time on video or DVD.) I do hunch over the computer hour after hour. I should set a timer.

11. Glucose/insulin is highly psychoactive. Now that I’m monitoring all the time, I see that one of my best indicators of sugar overload is a down-trending mood and up-trending fatigue. If the stats are good, I feel cheerful and energetic. Of course, it helps to feel like a success.

12. One of the hard things was getting past feeling defective. Over the years I’ve been “accused” of being diabetic though tests always said I wasn’t. Older females loved to play the game of “what’s the matter with Mary?” (My mother decided it was lupus. I have no lupus symptoms.) So it was a temptation not to tell anyone about my diagnosis.

But I felt that I was in solidarity with the Blackfeet tribe, which is facing and battling diabetes even as it steals their sight and their feet and their longevity. So I tell everyone, esp. store keeps who haven’t realized they’re missing a marketing opportunity by not stocking plain food. The upshot is that I find a remarkable number of other people have diabetes. Some have had it for years and I never suspected.

Diabetes is often presented as hereditary and inescapable, but there is a small minority that considers the possibility that a virus, a mutation, a pollution, might be out there. Studies show that diabetes, or at least glucose metabolism, is hitched to just about everything else in the body from emotion to liver function to breathing to athlete’s foot. The key to the problem might not even be in the Isles of Langerhans after all -- might be cortisol levels, corn sugar, cleaning sprays.

At least I can be fairly certain that I’m not going to die of tuberculosis like Thoreau or arsenic poisoning like Louisa May Alcott. Every age has its perils -- this is the one that intersects with me. So I’ll handle it! With my glycemic index at hand!

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