Super controversial, right? Unbelievably so… Go ahead, ask your dietician… better yet, go into one of the big diabetes support groups on Facebook and ask “how low carb is a low carb diet?” and watch the ensuing dumpster fire that will inevitably form in the comments section… Sigh. “Really?” you ask? Yes, that is what it is actually like.
I have a seven year old son. He was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes almost three years ago. We have used a low carb diet to manage his diabetes since two and a half months post diagnosis. His A1C’s have been <6% ever since. His growth and development are on track and exactly where they have always been in terms of percentile. He’s bright, engaged, and isn’t struggling socially because he brings his own lunch/cupcakes to parties. He’s strong, beautiful and healthy. He just doesn’t eat chips.
Look, I’m just a mom. I’m not a medical professional, I am not a certified dietician, and I’m definitely not a life coach, but I can say this for sure: I have almost three years of cold, hard, unbiased data that demonstrably shows low carb eating is the most effective diabetes management tool available for my son. We eat to the cgm, and the cgm tells us that low carb is effective, predictable, and allows me to manage my son at normal blood sugar levels, which greatly lessens the odds of him suffering from a multitude of diabetic complications when he’s 40. It’s important to me that he has his toes, vision and kidney function all those years from now. He’ll still be my son.
Our diet is loosely based on Dr. Bernstein’s book the “Total Diabetes Solution.” I read it shortly after diagnosis, but to be perfectly honest, at that time, I found it difficult to follow. I would imagine that was because I was still crying a lot at the time. I relied heavily on mothers I’d met online, women whom I affectionately refer to as my “mentor moms”. I was incredibly fortunate to have met these women, and I will be forever indebted to them… they taught me how to save my son’s life every day. One taught me everything I know about cgm’s and remote monitoring, the other showed me how to low carb. My roots will always be there. It is because of these two women that I now possess the ability to give my son normal blood sugars.
In our house, a low carb diet means that almost every plate is divided in the same way, 50% non-starchy vegetable, 25% protein, and the last 25% divided between berries and fat. It’s pretty unscientific, but it’s easy to follow and works well, even at restaurants. We don’t eat processed sugar, bread or pasta. He gets most of his carbohydrate intake from vegetables. Despite the fact that we frequently eat the same meals over and over, his nutritional intake is far more diverse than most children his age.
The best way to try low carb is to start simply. Non – starchy vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, cheese and berries… these are whole foods. These are foods that will metabolize in a predictable way. This is a good way to start, familiar foods, nothing fancy… simple. See how it goes. Ideally, you try a few meals, get the dosing down and realize it’s the flattest line you’ve ever seen on a cgm and try a few more.
Low carb baked snacks are a whole other category. I find it’s best to find a group online and go with tested, tried and true recipes, because there are just going to be a few fails. The reason for this is that low carb ingredients behave differently than their conventional counterparts. Almond flour bakes differently than wheat flour and differently than coconut flour would, so it’s not going to be a straight swap. Not all sweeteners are created equal. Some sweeteners marketed to diabetics will still spike blood sugar, and it takes a bit of trial and error to find the sweetener that works best for your family. Erythritol is generally good on the blood sugars, xylitol works for us as well, but is incredibly poisonous to dogs even in small amounts, so that’s something to be mindful of if there’s a dog in your house. Allulose is gaining in popularity. I could write an entire article on sweeteners alone. My best advice here is to follow these recipes exactly and do some research. The popular recipes are popular for a reason. Start there.
In my experience, the greatest hurdle to starting a low carb diet is trying to mimic the current diet by switching out high carb meals with low carb replacements. A protein bar is not going to taste as good as a granola bar. If packaged pre-made snacks are a part of your regular diet and you are simply looking to “switch out” to a low carb packed pre-made snack, that’s going to be a struggle on a number of different levels. Firstly, there’s going to be a taste issue. It’s incredibly difficult to find a protein bar that tastes good, and that’s really for anyone, not just the lc crowd. Secondly, there are a host of ways that commercial companies artificially lower the carb count, this can be anything from adding fibre to lower the “net carb” count to using a sweetener that seems like it would be ok, but will actually spike blood sugar.
Whatever your food culture or management practice may currently be, it’s good to develop a repertoire of low carb meals and snacks… we all go through periods of time when diabetes is more difficult to manage than others, and a proficiency at low carb is a solid tool to have in your tool belt. I’ll leave you with some resources to check out, by the way, I highly recommend Carolyn Ketchum’s “Almond Flour Yoghurt Waffles’. No one can ever tell they’re low carb.
Thank you to our guest blogger, Stephanie Bonas.