Blood sugar lessons from a Type I diabetic

A friend of mine is a Type I, or childhood onset, diabetic. He's had it for nearly 50 years, since age 6. He's also in the health industry and is a good observer of detail.

He made the following interesting comments to me recently when talking about the effects of various foods on blood sugar:

"When I eat normally, like some vegetables or salad and meat, I dose up to 10 units of insulin to control my blood sugar.

"If I eat a turkey sandwich on two slices of whole wheat, I usually dose 15 units. The bread makes my blood sugar go to 300 if I don't.

"If I eat a Cousins's Sub [a local submarine sandwich chain], I dose 15 units. The bread really makes my blood sugar go up.

"I can only eat a Quarter Pound from McDonald's once a year, because it make my blood sugar go nuts. I dose 15-20 units before having it, and I feel like crap for two days afterwards.

"If I eat Mexican food, I have to dose 15-20 units. For some reason, it's gotten worse over the years, and I need to dose higher and higher.

"Chinese food is the absolute worst. I dose 20-25 units before eating Chinese. I'll often have to dose more afterwards, because my blood sugar goes so berserk."


Nothing beats the real-world observations on the impact of various foods on blood sugar than the observations of people with Type I diabetes. All the insulin they get is in a syringe. Dosing needs to match intake.

Personally, though I love the taste of Americanized Chinese food, I've always been suspicious of what exactly goes into these dishes. But I was unaware of the blood sugar implications.

The impact of Mexican I believe can be attributed to the cornstarch used in the tacos and tortillas, though I also wonder if there are other starches being snuck in, as well.

Comments (15) -

  • Jenny

    7/23/2008 6:57:00 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    I don't have Type 1, but I have to use insulin to cover anything more than a trivial amount of carbs.

    The problem with Mexican food is the beans, rice and tortillas.

    In fact, most supposedly "low glycemic" foods like beans raise my blood sugar a lot, just a bit later than does white bread.  A person with an intact 2nd phase insulin release would not see a spike from these low glycemic foods, though they would need to secrete a LOT of insulin to cover them.

    The people who create the GI lists only test at an hour or two after eating. So if a food spikes someone high at 3 or 4 hours, they miss it.

    That's why if you are looking for a diet that really keeps native insulin secretion low you want to count absolute carbs, NOT look at the glycemic index.

  • Anne

    7/23/2008 11:19:00 PM |

    I have heard other diabetics mention that chinese food is the worst when it comes to their blood sugar. Rice/noodles/sweet sauces/corn starch thickener = too many carbs. I wonder what else is used?

    There are some big surprises when checking ingredients. An example would be the McDonald's hamburger and grilled chicken. The hamburger is beef, salt and pepper. If you think the grilled chicken is only chicken, you are wrong. Take a look. There are about 20 ingredients. Some are polysorbate 80, corn gluten, wheat gluten, sodium benzoate...and the list goes on and on. http://www.mcdonalds.com/app_controller.nutrition.categories.ingredients.index.html

    Living gluten free and needing to check all labels and ingredients has been a real eye opener for me.
    Anne

  • john

    7/24/2008 3:35:00 AM |

    the key ingredient (my Shanghai cooking teacher taught me) in wok cooking cabbage was sugar and caramelise it with the cabbage.

  • Emily

    7/24/2008 9:52:00 AM |

    Diabetes occurs because the body can't use glucose properly, either owing to a lack of the hormone insulin, or because the insulin available doesn't work effectively.
    only way That control your diet.

  • water

    7/24/2008 2:50:00 PM |

    I second Anne's comments about gluten. My spouse was recently Dx as gluten intolerant. We'd been eating low carb, and had successfully controlled his blood sugar, but now that we are asking for the gluten free menus I can see lots of carbs on the menu in places I would not have imagined!

  • shreela

    7/24/2008 10:23:00 PM |

    Did your friend say whether his dosage requirements were the same for a particular kind of food whether it was made at home from scratch, or prepared at a restaurant, or from a grocery store ready-to-make box/bag?

  • Anonymous

    7/24/2008 11:15:00 PM |

    "Personally, though I love the taste of Americanized Chinese food, I've always been suspicious of what exactly goes into these dishes. But I was unaware of the blood sugar implications."
    Type 2 diabetic with relatively low insulin resistance:
    I can go to a Chinese buffet and select what expect to be proteins (meats) and vegetables.  After so many attempts with spikes I have about given up on Chinese foods.

    Frank Roy

  • jpatti

    7/29/2008 9:48:00 AM |

    The problem with Chinese eaten out is it's mostly noodles and rice - just starch.  Even those dishes that look like it's just meat and veggies comes swimming in a sauce full of sugar and corn starch.

    Chinese food is OK when I make it myself.  I stirfry meats and veggies in avocado oil and season with some fresh ginger, garlic and tamari.  Without rice to soak up the flavorings, you don't have to use piles of tamari, so don't have to thicken the sauce particularly and don't need corn starch.  It's very yummy, actually more flavorful than what you can get when eating out, and a minimal impact on bg.  

    And cabbage carmelizes just fine without sugar.  A stirfry of just hamburger, shredded cabbage, ginger, garlic and tamari is a favorite around here.  It's one of the favorite meals of my husband who does not low-carb.

    This is the thing wrt to dosing insulin, you *can't* dose for a high carb diet (though what is high carb may vary from person to person).  

    If I eat "normally" (which is pretty low-carb), I dose my insulin according to rules I have figured out for myself.  With these rules, my blood glucose *never* goes too high.  Of course it rises some with the meal (usually into the 120-140 range), but then settles back down before the next meal (to 80-110 or so).

    If I eat a "cheat" meal, there's no right amount of insulin to take.  If I use the same rules to dose, my blood glucose goes up over 200, sometimes WAY over.  But it still returns to normal, it just takes a bit longer.  

    The amount of insulin it would take to keep my bg low after a meal would be *huge* - enough to cause me to go hypoglyemic after the peak.  And hypoglycemia is a *lot* more dangerous than running a bit high.  

    So what's the answer for a diabetic?  You just don't cheat very often.  High bg causes damage, you can't afford to do it much.  You cheat just often enough to keep yourself eating normally the rest of the time without building up  cravings that lead to binges.  

    The other thing is... what happens to a diabetic injecting insulin *also* happens to non-diabetics!  You just don't see it cause you're not filling a syringe.  But your body is pumping out piles of insulin to handle the carbs you eat, so if you indulge in carby foods, your insulin levels rise.  

    This causes a host of problems... including increasing the risk of heart disease and other problems associated with inflammation.  

    Even if your body *does* handle glucose properly, keep raising your insulin levels and eventually your cells start to become resistant.  Increasing insulin resistance therefore increases the chances you'll become frankly diabetic.  

    In short, while most folks can eat way more carbs than I can, no one needs to eat gobs of carby foods.

    There's LOTS of good food to eat that isn't full of sugar and starch, which are really pretty bland foods anyways.

  • Dr. B G

    7/29/2008 4:26:00 PM |

    The secret ingredient in restaurant cooking is transfats.  Our favorite restaurant Long Life Veggie House in Berkeley (next door to the campus) uses it.  My husband loves that place! Every dish is DELICIOUS. They don't use MSG but they deepfry in hydrogenated veggie oils. *Deep fried* broccoli sure tastes much better than non-deep fried Smile   Even if non hydrogenated veggie oils are used, the high amount of oil combined with really high carbs can really cause some severe metabolic changes.

    The other ingredient is cornstarch and sugar -- it's not a lot but anyone insulin resistant may experience glucose excursions quickly.  Cornstarch makes food more tender b/c it coats the meat as it's stir fried (or deep-fried) which seals in flavor and moisture.

    Pre marinating in sugar is like brining -- it also enhances flavor and moisture.  Have you ever had a brined Thanksgiving turkey??  WOW, it's awesome.  And you can't mess it up (ie, overroast or over bake)!

    MSG -- this makes the food even more tasty -- and hard to resist! My mom's old Chinese cookbooks list MSG 1 tsp in almost EVERY recipe!

    Homemade Chinese food is a lot more healthier but the rice portions can get pretty outrageously excessive in terms of carb/glycemic load and glycemic index.  

    -G

  • Dr. B G

    7/29/2008 4:26:00 PM |

    The secret ingredient in restaurant cooking is transfats.  Our favorite restaurant Long Life Veggie House in Berkeley (next door to the campus) uses it.  My husband loves that place! Every dish is DELICIOUS. They don't use MSG but they deepfry in hydrogenated veggie oils. *Deep fried* broccoli sure tastes much better than non-deep fried Smile   Even if non hydrogenated veggie oils are used, the high amount of oil combined with really high carbs can really cause some severe metabolic changes.

    The other ingredient is cornstarch and sugar -- it's not a lot but anyone insulin resistant may experience glucose excursions quickly.  Cornstarch makes food more tender b/c it coats the meat as it's stir fried (or deep-fried) which seals in flavor and moisture.

    Pre marinating in sugar is like brining -- it also enhances flavor and moisture.  Have you ever had a brined Thanksgiving turkey??  WOW, it's awesome.  And you can't mess it up (ie, overroast or over bake)!

    MSG -- this makes the food even more tasty -- and hard to resist! My mom's old Chinese cookbooks list MSG 1 tsp in almost EVERY recipe!

    Homemade Chinese food is a lot more healthier but the rice portions can get pretty outrageously excessive in terms of carb/glycemic load and glycemic index.  

    -G

  • Anna

    7/29/2008 11:42:00 PM |

    I just returned from a two week stay in Italy, doing a bit of my own "Mediterranean Diet" experiments.  When practical, we sought out food sources and places to eat that were typical for the local area, and tried as much as possible/practical to stay away from establishments that mostly catered to tourist tastes.  I was really curious to see how the mythical "Mediterranean Diet" we Americans are urged to follow compared to the foods really consumed in Italy.

    The first week, we stayed in a rural Tuscan farmhouse apartment (agriturismo), so many, if not most of our meals were prepared by me with ingredients I bought at the local grocery store (Coop) or the outdoor market in Siena.  In addition, I purchased really  fantastic free range eggs from the farm where we were staying (between some language issues and seasonality, eggs and wine were what we could buy from them - though I was tantalized by the not-quite-ripe figs heavy on many trees).  Mostly, our meals consisted of simple and easily prepared fresh fruits and vegetables, rustic cured meats (salami, proscuitto, pancetta, etc.) hand-sliced at the deli down the road, fresh sausages, various Italian cheeses, plus plenty of espresso.    It was a bit disappointing to find underripe fruit & tomatoes as well as old green beans in the grocery stores, not to mention too many low fat and highly processed foods, but all over Europe the food supply is becoming more industrialized, more centralized, and homogenous, so I'm not too surprised that it happens even in Italy.  But even with the smaller grocery store size, the amount of in-season produce was abundant, yet one still was better off shipping from the perimeter of the store, venturing into the aisles only for spices, olive oil, vinegar, coffee, etc.  Without the knowledge of where to go and the language to really talk in depth about food with people, I wasn't able to find truly direct and local sources for as many foods as I would have liked, but still, we ate well enough!

    The first week I maintained blood sugar levels very similar to those I get at home, because except for the Italian specialties, we ate much like we always do.  A few rare exceptions to my normal BG tests were after indulging in locally made gelato or a evening limoncello cordial, but even then, the BG rise was relatively modest and to me, acceptable under the circumstance.  Even with the gelato indulgences, it felt like I might have even lost a few pounds by the end of the first week and my FBG didn't rise much over 100.

    The second week we stayed in two cities (Florence & Rome), and I didn't prepare any of my own food because I didn't have a kitchen/fridge.  I found it impossible to get eggs anywhere for breakfast, and the tickets our hotels provided for a "continental" breakfast at a nearby café/bar was always for a coffee  or hot chocolate drink and some sort of bread or roll (croissant, brioche, danish, etc.).  At first I just paid extra for a plate of salami and cheese if that was available - or went to a small grocery store for some plain yogurt), but then I decided to go off LC and conduct a short term experiment, though I didn't consume nearly as many carbs as a typical Italian or tourist would.

    So I breakfasted with a broiche roll or plain croissant for breakfast with my cappuccino, but unfortunately no additional butter was available.  I didn't feel "full" enough with such a breakfast and I was usually starving an hour or two later.  Additionally, when I ate the "continental" breakfast, I noticed immediate water retention - my ankles,  lower legs, and knees looked like someone else's at the end of a day walking and sightseeing, swollen heavy.  Exercising my feet and lower legs while waiting in lines or sitting didn't seem to help.

    Food is much more expensive in Europe than in the US, and the declining US$ made everything especially expensive (not to mention the higher cost of dining out rather than cooking at home), so we tried to manage food costs by eating simple lunches at local take-away places, avoiding the corporate fast food chains.  I was getting tired of salami/proscuitto & cheese plates, but the typical "quick" option was usually a panini (sandwich).  At first I tried to find alternatives to paninis, but the available salads were designed for side dishes, not main meals and rarely had any protein, and the fillings of the expensive sandwiches were too skimpy to just eat without the bread.  So I started to eat panini, although I sometimes removed as much as half of the bread (though it was nearly always very excellent quality pan toasted flatbreads or crusty baguette rolls, not sliced America bread).  So of course, my post prandial BGs rose, as did my FBG.  I also found my hunger tended to come back much too soon and I think overall I ate more than usual in terms of volume.

    Then we deviated from the "Italian" lunch foods and found a better midday meal option (quick, cheaper, and easier to customize for LC) - stopping at one of the numerous kebab shops and ordering a kebab plate with salad, hold the bread (not Italian, but still Mediterranean, I guess).  I felt much better fueled on kebab plates (more filling and enough protein) than paninis, though I must say I still appreciated the taste of caprese paninis (slices of fresh mozzerella and tomato, basil leaves, mustard dressing on crusty, pan-toasted flat bread).  If I followed my appetite, I could have eaten two caprese paninis.

    We had some great evening dinners, at places also frequented by locals.  This often was a fixed price dinner of several courses ("we feed you what we want you to eat").  Multi-course meals included house wine, and invariably consisted of antipasta (usually LC, such as a cold meat and cheese plate), pasta course (much smaller servings than typical US pasta dishes), main course plus some side vegetables, and dessert/coffee.   These were often the best meals we experienced, full of local flavor and tradition (sometimes with a grandmotherly type doing the cooking), and definitely of very good quality, though we noticed the saltiness overall tended to be on the high side.  I ate from every course, including some of the excellent bread (dipped in plenty of olive oil) and usually about half of the pasta served (2 oz dry?), plus about half of the dessert.   After these meals I always ran BGs higher than usual, varying from moderately high (120-160 - at home I would consider this very high for me) to very high (over 180).  By late in the week, my FBG was into the 115 range every morning (usually I can keep it 90-100 on LC food).  Nearly everything that week was delicious, well-prepared food, but the high carb items definitely were not good for my BG control in the long run.  

    And most days I was doing plenty of walking, sprinting for the Metro subway trains, stair climbing (4th and 5/6th floor hotel rooms!), etc. but since I didn't have my usual housework to do, it probably wasn't too different from my usual exertion level.

    So it was very interesting to experience the "Mediterranean Diet" first hand.  Meats and cheeses were plentiful, fruits and vegetables played a much more minor role (main courses didn't come with vegetables other than what was in the sauce, but had to be ordered as additional items), but the overall carbs were decidedly too many.  As I expected, it wasn't nearly as pasta-heavy as is portrayed in the US media/health press, but it is still full of too much grain and sugar, IMO.  Low fat has become the norm in many dairy products, sadly, and if the grocery stores are any indication, modern families are gravitating towards highly processed, industrial foods.  Sugar seems to be in everything (I quickly learned to order my caffe freddo con panno or latte sensa zuccero - iced coffee with cream or milk without sugar) after realizing that adding lots of sugar was the norm).  

    And, after several days of breakfasting at the café near our Rome hotel (where carbs were the only option in the morning), I learned that our very buff, muscular, very flat-stomached, café owner doesn't eat pasta (said as he proudly patted his 6 pack abs).   I probably could have stuck closer to the carb intake I know works better for my BG control, but I figured if I was going to go off my LC way of eating and experiment, this was the time and place.

    And yes, there were far fewer really obese people than in the US and lots of very slender people, but I could still see there were *plenty* of overweight, probably pre-diabetic and diabetic Italians (very visible problems with lower extremities, ranging from what looked like diabetic skin issues, walking problems, acanthosis nigricans, etc.).  Older people do seem to be generally more fit than in the US (fit from everyday life, not exercise regimes), but there were plenty of "wheat bellies" on men old and young, even more young women with "muffin tops", and simply too many overweight children (very worrisome trend).  So it may well be more the relaxed Italian way of living life (or a combination of other factors such as less air conditioning, strong family bonds, lots of sun, etc?) that keeps Italian CVD rates lower than the American rates, more than the mythical "Mediterranean diet".

  • Dr. William Davis

    7/30/2008 3:46:00 PM |

    Hi, Anna--

    Your story is so well told that I'd like to post it in a future blog post.

  • Dr. B G

    7/30/2008 4:58:00 PM |

    Anna,

    You R-O-C-K Girl!!  

    I love reading all your insightful thoughts and stories ... and now I know how to order high octane caffeine in italian (in addition (!!) to how to feed my feline friend ground whole bones + meat (ie vit D + protein, respectively) to prevent deficiencies.

    -BG

  • Dr. B G

    7/30/2008 4:58:00 PM |

    Anna,

    You R-O-C-K Girl!!  

    I love reading all your insightful thoughts and stories ... and now I know how to order high octane caffeine in italian (in addition (!!) to how to feed my feline friend ground whole bones + meat (ie vit D + protein, respectively) to prevent deficiencies.

    -BG

  • Anna

    7/30/2008 9:43:00 PM |

    BG,

    I  R-O-C-K?  Wow - tell my son, but I doubt he'll believe you.  He was so tired of hearing me say what/who/where Rick Steves' travel book recommends...

    Are you ready to try some Coratella?  I suggest you  look it up before you order Wink.  I sought out a recommended restaurant near the old South Roma stockyards in Testaccio, known for their special "fifth quarter" dishes, you know, for the "trippa of a lifetime".  The waiter wouldn't let me order the Animelle a sale e pepe.  Maybe next time...

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Can you break the “Rule of 60”

Can you break the “Rule of 60”

In the Track Your Plaque program, we aim for conventional lipid values (LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides) of 60—60—60, i.e., LDL 60 mg/dl, HDL 60 mg/dl or greater, triglycerides 60 mg/dl. Most participants do indeed reach these target values.

When I tell this to colleagues, they’re stunned. “You can’t possibly get those numbers in most people.” And I can sympathize with their plight. After all, they are stuck with relatively lame tools: statin drugs, the American Heart Association diet. I’d be surprised if they ever achieved 60—60—60.

But can you drop your heart scan score even if you don’t reach the 60—60—60 targets? Yes, you can. The Rule of 60 is only a guideline, a tool that helps more people achieve our goals. The Rule of 60 does not guarantee reversal (drop in heart scan score), nor does not achieving the targets completely destroy your chances.

We have had many people drop their scores even if they haven’t reached the targets. On the other hand, we’ve also had people who failed at first, only to see success once they achieved the 60 mg/dl targets.

But which one are you? That’s the problem. We possess limited capacity to predict who will or who will not drop their scores from the start. We know that there are factors that stack the odds in your favor (e.g., optimism, lack of Lp(a), ideal weight, vitamin D >50 ng/ml, etc.). We know that there are factors that make it tougher (overweight, Lp(a), pessimistic attitude, underappreciated hypertension, higher heart scan scores, etc.) But at the start, we just don’t know who truly needs to adhere to the Rule of 60. So we suggest that everyone, at least in the beginning, aim to achieve it.

I had an exception the other day. Rich did everything by the Track Your Plaque book. However, a starting low HDL of 27 only rose to 37 after one year of effort—way below our 60 mg/dl target. Yet a repeat heart scan showed 23% reduction.

Why would Rich be so successful despite a persistently very low HDL? There may be a number of reasons. One explanation could be that conventional measures of HDL fail to distinguish between what HDLs truly work and what do not. Look at ApoA1 Milano; remember this story? The people in the secluded mountain village of Limone-Sul-Garde in northern Italy have HDL cholesterols of 8-15 mg/dl yet do not experience excess vascular atherosclerosis, suggesting that what little HDL they have is super-effective.

Yes, large HDL seem to be more healthy and effective than small HDL, but perhaps there’s more to it. However, nobody has a HDL effectiveness test ready for us to use.

In the meantime, we continue to suggest that the Track Your Plaque Rule of 60 be considered as a means of making plaque reversal as likely as possible. You and your doctor can always adjust in future, depending on your heart scan score results.

Comments (1) -

  • Anonymous

    7/8/2008 4:45:00 AM |

    "The people in the secluded mountain village of Limone-Sul-Garde in northern Italy have HDL cholesterols of 8-15 mg/dl yet do not experience excess vascular atherosclerosis, suggesting that what little HDL they have is super-effective."

    Isn't further investigation warranted?  Some other dietary factor
    or lifestyle habit may be the reason and not because "what little HDL they have is super-effective."
    this assumption could be missing something previously unknown.

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