Diabetes entered our life in December, which has prompted us to learn more about eating a low-carb diet. I had of course heard of low-carb and the Atkins diet before, but found it all too confusing. I love bread, and don’t love too many veggies. Added to that I need to avoid MSG, another whole different issue. When I first began reading about all this, it was pretty overwhelming. I could not figure out the GI index and exchanges. I have now looked at cookbooks at the bookstore three times and still haven’t been able to choose one. I’d like to share some of what I learned in case it might be helpful to others. A low-carb diet has the additional benefit of weight control, and is generally a good choice for those looking for a healthy diet. First let me say that I am no expert and do not have all the answers. Plus, everyone is different in their tastes and the issues they face. Take what fits you from this!
One of the most helpful things I have done was go on a tour of the Hy-Vee Grocery store with the Hy-Vee Dietician, Jaime. We looked at a lot of food labels, she pointed out some good choices and gave me some great advice. I had read the Hy-vee brochure on diabetes, but after she explained it, it made a lot more sense. It’s a very smart move for Hy-Vee to provide this great service, and much appreciated.
What are Carbs? Starches: bread, potatoes, rice and pasta. Sugars: sweet desserts like cakes, pies, and doughnuts. Fiber: cereals, grains, beans, fruits. Even dairy items like milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese have carbs.
Bad carbs, Good carbs. From Atkins.com: “Bad carbs are highly processed carbohydrates (refined breads, cereals and pastries) that raise blood sugar too high and too quickly. These refined carbohydrates are not only higher in sugar and significantly lower in nutrients and fiber than whole foods, but they also break down more rapidly into glucose and enter your bloodstream far faster than vegetables and other good carbs. So if you eat refined carbohydrate foods, you stay on the blood sugar roller coaster ride of highs and lows.”
The goal is to keep blood sugar even by eating a balance of foods at regular intervals, limiting bad carbs as much as possible, and watching the quantities of good carbs. This is why a diabetic diet is a low-carb diet. Jaime said our bodies need some of the good carbs, it’s a matter of how much and a balance with protein and veggies. She suggested flaxseed is beneficial, and an easy way to add it is to sprinkle a tablespoon of Hodgson’s Mill Ground Flaxseed on yogurt, salads, or oatmeal.
Most people will aim for 45 – 60 grams of carb per meal, or 3 – 4 servings of 15 grams. To do this, you need to learn what 15 grams of carb looks like. There’s a nice guide to carb counting at stanfordhealthcare.org and another chart from SparkPeople. One of the first things Jaime showed me was that size matters. A small apple or banana counts as 1 serving, while a large one would count as 2. You can download a 43 page carb counter at Atkins.com.
Plan to go on a trip to the grocery store at a time when it is not very busy and you can spend a lot of time looking at labels. Usually we are busy and want to run into the store with our list, grab what we need and go. That is not this. In fact, you might not buy a thing on this trip. It can be hard to see the labels in a store, so it can be helpful to look things up online at Calorie Counter (You can find nutrition labels for some brand names here.) First look at the serving size, then the grams of carb. I know it’s not much fun to read nutrition labels, but it’s essential. You will be amazed at how many carbs are in some things, and at the variation between brands.
After you do this awhile, you begin to look at every food and think either “carb” or “not carb.” Then I looked at my own dietary habits, and it went like this: For breakfast I usually had cereal (carb.) A fruit snack in the morning (carb.) Often yogurt and granola for lunch (carb.) I often went the whole day with only a serving of protein at dinner, and very rarely had veggies! And thought I was eating pretty healthy! I’m planning some changes. Some are easy: Greek yogurt is yummy and has protein, and Nature Valley protein bars are tasty. Others are hard: the Italian food I love is pretty much off the table.
I have customized a grocery shopping list, removing the things with carbs that we plan to cut out like potatoes and rice. There are still some things with carbs on there, because I just don’t think I can exist without crackers, and a few other things like cereal and salty snack foods. Other things like pancakes we might have rarely. Everyone has to make choices on what they can live without and what they can’t. You can usually have some carbs in small amounts, and you just have to decide which ones. You are welcome to grab this and customize it to your preferences.
Brands change all the time, and availability can vary. That said, here are some good choices I have found so far.
- Bread: Nature’s Own 100% Whole Wheat (1 slice, 70 calories, 12 g carbs)
- Salad Dressing: Kraft Zesty Italian (2 T, 50 calories, 2 g carbs)
- Protein Shake: Premier Protein (30 g of protein, we get these at Costco) (160 calories/4 g carbs)
- Protein Bar: Nature Valley- Chewy Peanut, Almond & Dark Chocolate ( 190 calories/14 g carbs)
- Yogurt: Dannon Light & Fit Greek (80 calories/9 g carbs)
- Delmonte Fruit Naturals Peach Chunks, no sugar added (50 calories/12 g carbs)
- Hyvee Light Fudgsicle (45 calories/11 g carbs)
Some of the healthier choices cost more. For example, the greek yogurt is about twice as much as the other kind. Ask yourself, “Isn’t it worth it to add protein and lower carbs for a healthier diet?”
More good snacks to have on hand:
- Celery w/peanut butter
- String cheese
- Cottage cheese
- Black Olives
- Applesauce cups (natural, or unsweetened)
With a few exceptions, you can pretty much have all the veggies you want without counting. The few exceptions are: potatoes, corn, peas, and squash (acorn & butternut.)
French Fries used to be my favorite vegetable, until I saw this nutritional facts infographic. I share this with you since this had the immediate effect of eliminating my desire for French Fries. That’s the power of information!
That’s 380 calories, 17 g fat, 48 g carbs, 4 g protein, or 42% fat, 53% carbs, 5% protein! WOW! A different infographic shows this also equals 35 minutes on a treadmill. Sort of makes you think twice, doesn’t it?
Since there are many vegetables I don’t enjoy, it will be a challenge to add more veggies to our meals.
I’m learning this is a process. A process of replacing high carb items in your pantry and fridge with healthier choices. A process of learning how to think about food differently, and making changes in how you prepare it. I hope this helps you begin the low-carb journey!