Today is World Diabetes Day, celebrating the birthdate of Frederick Banting, who in 1922 discovered insulin with Charles Best. Until a year ago diabetes would have meant nothing to me, and I knew very little about this ‘disease’ which 346 million persons in the world have, it is estimated, and is known as the ‘silent killer’, as its symptoms are so subtle, and one does not feel ill.
I have drunk a lot of water out of choice for years, but did not realise that a lot of this was out of thirst, and this is one of the first signs of diabetes. It was itchy feet (and sometimes fingers) on alternate days that took me to my doctor, and he had me tested for thyroid and threw in a blood sugar test as well. The result was a surprise – no thyroid problem, but a blood sugar reading of 12,2 was unacceptably high, in that it should ideally be below 6. While I can be grateful that it is the far less threatening Type 2 Diabetes, which is treatable through eating and lifestyle changes and medication, without insulin injections, it was the horror stories that I was told that were a good incentive to take this ‘disease’ seriously and to get the blood sugar level under control.
The doctor prescribed Glucophage, the best known diabetes medication. I was also referred to Sea Point dietitian Heidi Lobel, and with Heidi’s help have lost 25 kg in the past year, and reduced the blood sugar level to 7 – 8, without suffering in any way!
Diabetes is largely rectified via weight loss, and therefore Heidi put me on a standard weight loss eating programme, and a change in the way of eating, eating six smaller meals per day instead of three bigger meals, and changing my haphazard irregular eating. Similar to Weight Watchers and Weighless style programmes, one is allowed an allocation (about a palmful) of food types per day: 6 carbohydrates, 3 fruits, 4 proteins, 2 milks, and 3 fats. It is not recommended that any of these groups are excluded. I cut out butter, margarine, white/light bread, yellow cheese, cakes, and chocolate bars immediately, and do not miss them at all. I changed my main courses choices from steak to kingklip. I have tried very hard to avoid desserts at restaurants, not always with success. Luckily wine in moderation is allowed, and dark chocolate is not ideal but healthier than milk chocolate. I enjoyed toasted rye and Low GI bread, and could not believe how good anything on this toast tastes, without a spread underneath. I received a blood sugar testing kit from my pharmacy in Bantry Bay, and test the blood sugar level every few weeks. I went to Heidi to be weighed every two weeks, and to discuss any problems with her, and this frequency has been relaxed to once a month. I enjoy eating out, but do so less often, and will ‘make up for it’ the days after. Doing exercise is another way to deal with diabetes, and is a challenge to do more often – the Green Point Urban Park is a wonderful space in which to walk. I have learnt to read pack labels, and Woolworths packs are excellent in providing a detailed breakdown of the food content. The fat and carbohydrate levels are the most valuable pieces of information on these, with maximum acceptable levels set.
In talking about diabetes, I was surprised to hear that Dear Me Foodworld Chef Vanessa Marx is diabetic, and this motivated her to design her daily menu with diabetics in mind, offering sugar-free options to some dishes, in addition to gluten-free and lactose-free dishes for those with allergies. This is the only restaurant that caters for diabetics. One would like to see more diabetes-friendly restaurants, reducing the salt and fat content of their foods, serving smaller portions, and offering rye bread. It is regular restaurant-goers that are more likely to be or become diabetic, and restaurants should be responsible in understanding this ‘disease’, and catering for it. Surprising too was to hear that Eat Out and TASTE editor Abigail Donnelly is diabetic too, a hard challenge for her, having to eat out so often in selecting the Top 10 Restaurants.
Being diagnosed with diabetes is a blessing in disguise, and has been an early warning to lead a more healthy lifestyle, and an eating pattern which is healthier, less fattening but still very enjoyable.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage