What I eat

Image courtesy of Canva

I stick to a variety of fresh, whole foods that are low carb, with good fats and protein.

I eat lots of veggies. I still eat fruit.

I eat nuts, seeds, nut butters. I add olive oil to just about everything. I cook and bake with butter or coconut oil.

I eat a variety of meats, including every part of the chicken with the skin including the livers, the fatty parts of the pork and beef, and all types of fish and seafood.

I still eat beans, legumes and chickpeas (most keto and low carb diets restrict this, but I like to alternate meat days with meat free days and I don’t find I get a blood sugar spike from these foods if I have a small enough quantity)

I don’t eat (or at least limit) bread, pasta, rice, starchy veg.

I don’t eat desserts when I am out, but I make a lot of great sugar free, low carb desserts at home, such as cakes, biscuits, slices, etc. that make AMAZING substitutes. I usually have some back up sugar free or dark chocolate for days when I’m craving something sweet. Or berries with fresh cream or sugar free ice cream is an easy alternative.

I’m not terribly strict on myself and try to eat for enjoyment. I don’t get upset with myself for eating a chocolate or having a bit of sourdough with some avocado if I really feel like it. Life is absolutely too short to never eat another square of roast pumpkin ever again. But I am mostly low carb. Everything within reason.

I ALWAYS read the label for ingredients and carb content. When you’re buying packaged foods, you don’t always know what you’re getting. Become savvy with nutrition labels. Understand macro contents and the ingredient list. When I see ham or sundried tomatoes that have glucose in the ingredients, I steer right away. When I see a packet of sugar free biscuits with white flour as the main ingredients and 20g of carbs per serving, I put it away. When a bread claims to be low carb but is still 25g of carbs per serving, I don’t buy it. When I see almond milk that has 10 ingredients, I put it back on the shelf. When the main ingredient in tzatziki isn’t yoghurt, I don’t want it. I try to stick to less ingredients, less processed, and no added unnecessities. E.g. coconut milk should be just that. Coconut milk with maybe a bit of water.

I EAT:

  • Low carb veggies or fruits or whatever you want to call them. That’s a huge range of non starchy veg. Generally anything that grows above ground. Anything leafy, green, crunchy, colourful. Eggplant, zucchini, lettuce, cabbage, brussels sprouts, fennel, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, capsicum, tomato, kale, green beans, avocados…. This is a great list from the Diet Doctor.
  • Onion, shallots and garlic.
  • I eat the occasional pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, beetroot, parsnip, peas, but in small quantities.
  • Low carb fruits, such as berries. And low GI fruits in small quantities, such as kiwi fruit and stone fruits. Lemons and limes, especially squeezed on salads or in soda water (sometimes with vodka, too).
  • Dark chocolate. Preferably 85% Lindt or equivalent. Never less than 70% cocoa.
  • Sugar free sweeteners. Stevia, erythritol, xylitol are my go-tos.
  • Nuts, particularly macadamias, almonds, walnuts and pecans. Nut butters including almond butter and peanut butter. Almond meal.
  • Protein balls and protein cookies (homemade).
  • Dips with low carb seed crackers or veggies. Hommus, eggplant, roast capsicum, tzatziki.
  • Cheese.
  • Thick, full fat Greek yoghurt. Great with berries, cream, sugar free ice cream, low carb pancakes, or mixed into a salad.
  • Low carb wraps and protein bread. The occasional small slice of sourdough if it’s topped with fats to bring the GI down (avocado, butter, cheese, cream cheese and salmon).
  • Salads, grilled veggies, steamed veggies, stir fried veggies.
  • Good quality tuna in oil. Sirena tuna in chilli oil is my favourite.
  • Seeds, including chia, sunflower, pepitas, sesame, LSA mix.
  • Tahini. Amazing as a dessert with melted dark chocolate, or mixed with lemon and salt for a salad dressing.
  • Coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, butter, sesame oil.
  • Sugar free chocolate (Well Naturally No Added Sugar or Sweet Williams are great).
  • Homemade cakes, desserts, slices, biscuits.

I DRINK:

  • Unsweetened almond milk.
  • Coconut milk.
  • Black coffee and tea (or with a dash of full cream milk or almond milk).
  • Red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, vodka sodas. No cocktails.
  • Sugar free drinks occasionally, but I try not to make a habit of it.

I STAY AWAY FROM:

  • Potato chips, corn chips, veggie chips. Nightmare for BGLs.
  • Starchy carbs. Hot chips, mashed potato, pies/pastries, breads, pizza, pasta, crackers.
  • Dried fruits, except occasionally small quantities of dates if mixed in with nuts such as in protein balls or baked into a cake.
  • Cakes, biscuits, anything sweet from a cafe even if it claims to be healthy.
  • Sugary chocolate bars and lollies.
  • Ice cream.
  • White sugar, brown sugar, fruit sugar, any sugar.
  • Honey or maple syrup (unless in very small quantities in baking).
  • Fruit juices.
  • Smoothies (unless I make them at home myself with almond milk. berries, Greek yoghurt).
  • Cocktails.
  • Cereals. Make your own low carb granola or chia porridge.

WHAT I HAVE IN MY PANTRY:

  • Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil.
  • Vinegars, soy sauce, chilli sauce.
  • Lots of spices and herbs.
  • Tea and coffee.
  • Tinned beans, legumes and chickpeas.
  • Almond meal, coconut flour, LSA mix, flaxmeal.
  • Baking powder, gelatine.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Nuts.
  • Nut butters, tahini.
  • Chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds.

WHAT I HAVE IN MY FRIDGE:

  • Cheese.
  • Eggs.
  • Lots of veggies.
  • Berries.
  • Olives and other antipasto things such as artichokes, grilled capsicum.
  • Cold meats, such as salami, ham.
  • Bacon.
  • Bottles of soda water.
  • Limes and lemons.
  • Butter.
  • Insulin.

WHAT I HAVE IN MY FREEZER:

  • Sugar free ice cream.
  • Meats including steak, chicken, fish, paleo sausages.
  • Frozen berries.
  • Leftovers.
  • A loaf of lower carb Herman Brot bread.

A NOTE FOR THE VEGETARIANS AND VEGANS:

I totally respect veggies and vegans. As an animal lover, I do believe we eat too much meat for our own good (and for the sake of the animals themselves). I try to be mindful of how much meat, dairy and eggs I’m eating. I try to eat a veggie meal at least once a day and try to alternate a meat day with a meat free day if I can. Eating low carb can be restricting at times, particularly when you’re trying to eat less meat, but it doesn’t need to be. There is still a healthy range of veggies you can eat and a great variety of vegetarian recipes. It’s why I haven’t completely cut out foods like lentils and beans and some veggies. I try to have a good balance. It’s easy enough to substitute butter for coconut oil or another oil such as olive, macadamia or avocado. Eat lots of nuts and add some chickpeas or seeds to a salad. Fry up some tofu to go with a stir fry instead of chicken or beef. While I rely on eggs a lot, I try to be mindful of where they’ve come from, and always buy the true free range varieties (and often have the eggs from the backyard). I buy free range meat and sustainable meat if I can, and I’m mindful that when I eat out it’s not always going to be free range.

Gluten & grains

grain-free granola bars

This article by Amelia Freer opens up the debate about gluten and grains for me, particularly for people who have autoimmune diseases.

Particularly this comment: ”We are all unique and while some may say they feel fine eating grains, there is a wide body of evidence to show that today’s grains don’t agree with many of us and in fact are playing a role in autoimmune diseases such as hashimotos, arthritis, type 1 diabetes, plus depression, skin disorders, IBS, IBD and joint pain. It is predominantly gluten, a protein found in grains that is causing the problem.”

Not only is the link between autoimmune diseases and gluten intolerances, it is also our modern over-consumption of grains that can lead to obesity and weight problems. ”I often see a substantial weight loss when clients remove grains from their diet,” Amelia says. Too often I see people filling their plates with bread, pasta, rice, or other grains, and having only a limited amount of protein and vegetables.

I am not saying that everyone needs to cut out all grains from their diet. Certainly there are better grains than others – eating a little unrefined spelt, buckwheat, millet, brown rice or rye can’t be all tat bad for most people. However, highly processed grains and sugary cereals should be taken off everyone’s shopping list. I also believe in reducing grains overall and filling your plate with more fresh vegetables and protein, particularly for those wanting to achieve stable blood sugars or settle their IBS or gluten intolerance. Experimenting with how your body reacts to certain grains is also a good point made by Amelia. Everyone’s bodies are different and there is no one fixed rule for all.

Removing or limiting grains does not deprive your diet; it means increasing nutrient-rich vegetables, low GI fruits, seeds, nuts, fish and eggs.

I really like the dos and don’ts list quoted from getthegloss.com – eating lots of nuts and seeds, not being afraid of fats sourced from avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish, increasing vegetables in your diet, including fibre-rich root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, avoiding high GI, gluten free substitutes which often include rice starch and potato starch, and instead opting for grain-free seeds such as chia, quinoa and flax.

 

Friday thoughts

I had a week off work this week as I’m in-between jobs. We moved to London just over 4 months ago, after living in Amsterdam for a year. Our home is in Perth, Australia – so it’s been a whirlwind over the past 18 months since we moved away from home for a little adventure that is still continuing. Still trying to catch our breaths.

I was working full time in a pretty serious, head office, large global organisation job in Amsterdam, only to come to a job interview on my first day of arriving in London, straight off the train. The interviewers must have thought I was a little crazy when I told them I arrived just a couple of hours before. I didn’t get that job, but I did get one with the same company I was working for in Amsterdam, in their London office. So it continued.

I have been thinking for some time now that I want a change of direction in my worklife. Wanting to do something more meaningful, more fulfilling, have more passion for what I do everyday, and simply enjoy what I do 80% of the time and not be so stressed. All the same mid-to-late-20s conundrum you hear about all the time. Most of my friends are going through it. Side projects and websites are popping up, people are going back to study full time or quit their jobs to work in a cafe/go to acting school/travel around South America for a year, etc. I did it myself when we decided to leave Australia ‘to travel’ – except we got caught up in work and trying to survive in an expensive city. My boyfriend was studying full time, I was working in a fairly stressful job as the sole breadwinner, and we ended up fairly ‘stuck’ in Amsterdam for most of the year. It’s not a bad place to be stuck in by any means (and we had a lot of good times and met lots of great people in-between it all), but it was definitely tough at times, particularly being so far away from home, with not a lot of disposable cash at hand.

So, after a few months of this job in London, with the same company I had been working with previously – I decided to quit. I figured life’s too short, and I didn’t come all the way to London to be in a job that I felt only mediocre about. I started looking for jobs in a completely new sector that I am interested in – health. And I landed a job with a charity that supports people going through cancer, doing internal communications. I start on Monday, so I’m enjoying a week off, basically cooking and blogging full time, from the moment I wake to the moment I go to bed. It’s been wonderfully exhausting.

I cooked so much food this week that I have completely taken over the housemates’ part of the fridge (lucky they’re away on holiday!). I cooked 39 things this week! I photographed and blogged about all of them! No wonder I’m exhausted. That was a lot of washing up.

It wasn’t all cooking, photographing, blogging and eating… I did fit in some exercise to counter all the food tasting (I admit I did not eat the standard 3 square meals a day…it was more like a never-ending degustation starting around breakfast and ending around midnight). So exercise was necessary – and the many walks to the various local grocers in the neighbourhood to pick up ingredients just wouldn’t cut it (even though it involved lugging heavy bags back up to the flat). I managed a couple of runs around the local park when we got a couple of sunny (but still cold) days, and did a bit of cycling and yoga. Stretching also seemed to help (maybe making more space for more food?).

What’s also nice about being home all week is being able to fit in a mid-morning massage on a Tuesday (much, much needed, after going many months without one and lots of back/neck/shoulder tension), having a couple of sleep-ins, and the occasional long bath. I also managed to wear my boyfriend’s shorts around the house all day yesterday. No one else was home and they were the only comfy things I could find. Yes, I spent the day cooking in my boyfriend’s running shorts, and damn it was good.

I had a couple of firsts in the kitchen this week. I used coconut flour for the first time. It took me 3 hours to perfect coconut flour pancakes, which was a little frustrating and I ate way too many test pancakes in that time. The pancakes that worked out in the end are still sitting pretty and stacked high in the fridge, because I haven’t been game to go near another coconut pancake yet. I bought a packet of chia seeds and made chia pudding, which was the first time I had ever eaten these little black seeds (which I found to be delicious, especially with some vanilla extract, a little maple syrup and almond milk, left overnight to swell up, and topped with some coconut shavings).

We’re settling into a new flat that we moved into just last week, so I am using a new kitchen too. It’s our third move since we moved to London (and I hope the last!). This has been the biggest kitchen we’ve had in London, with a big oven, a gas stove, plenty of pantry space, and lots of kitchen-y things (including a spiraliser!), so I am rejoicing. Here’s a pic of a fresh bunch of flowers from the living room window out onto the park. It’s so lovely!

I can feel a busy year ahead of us. We’re back in Australia next month to visit family and friends for a couple of weeks, but the rest of the year will be about travelling Europe and the UK as much as possible. As well as making new friends, starting a new job, and going back to study part time while working full time (I decided to enrol myself into an online post-grad course to study health promotion). It all excites me, including throwing lots of time at this blog, experimenting in the kitchen, and cooking and writing lots and lots.

Have a great weekend! I’m off to a museum, a belated Australia Day party, to catch up with Amsterdam friends visiting London for the weekend, to see a movie with some girlfriends, and to a leaving drinks party for a friend going back to Australia. Cooking, exercising and hopefully some downtime to read my book in-between all of that (and maybe sneak in another bath!). Monday, start new job! Eek!

flowers4

Carb alternatives

One of the difficult things about trying to eat low carb is the feeling of missing out. What’s a curry without rice, breakfast eggs without bread, dips without crackers, burgers without buns?

The great news is that there are lots of low carb alternatives that are just as great, and you will really grow to love them, sometime even more than the originals. Here are some of my favourites.

RICE
Cauliflower rice is a great alternative. Grate or blend up a raw cauliflower. Stick it in a bowl and microwave it for 5 to 8 minutes, or steam it in a saucepan for 10 minutes, adding a little water so it doesn’t stick. It will be fluffy and light and works really well on the side of a curry or casserole.

PIZZA
Cauliflower and cheese makes for a great pizza base. See my recipe here

PASTA
Courgetti, sometimes referred to as zucchini noodles or zoodles, is a great alternative to pasta or spaghetti, made using a spiraliser or julienne peeler. Make any pasta sauce, such as bolognese, homemade tomato sauce, or spinach and ricotta, and pair it with zucchini. You will be amazed at how good it is. 

NOODLES
Zucchini noodles made with a julienne peeler or spiraliser are a great alternative to noodles for ramen, stir fry and noodle salads. Other vegetables, such as pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot can be used. Try shirataki (yam) noodles, which are completely carb free. 

CRACKERS
Low carb crackers are possible, using alternative flours such as flaxseed meal, almond meal and coconut flour. Or, cut up slices or fingers of various vegetables to have with dip. Make crispy cheese crackers by baking slices of cheese until they are crisp. Baked veggie chips also work well (see CHIPS/FRIES below). Cauliflower poppers are also great for dipping into a creamy sauce. 

CHOCOLATE
Low sugar and sugar free chocolate is possible with the use of sweeteners such as stevia, maple syrup or honey. You don’t need to add much, Use real cocoa powder, coconut oil and a little sweetner to create your own chocolate. Add some roasted nuts or a some coconut, dried fruit or goji berries for some variations. Make your own hot chocolate with a teaspoon of cocoa powder, a cup of warmed whole milk, a little sweetener such as stevia, and even a little butter or full cream to add richness. 

BREAD
Coconut flour, almond meal and flaxseed meal are just some alternatives to produce low carb bread alternatives. Realise that with some meals that you used to traditionally have bread with, you don’t really need it. Eat the meat and veg or casserole or soup as it is, having a little extra veg on the side if you need it. Enjoy breakfast eggs with lots of vegetables instead, such as avocado, roast tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms or cauliflower hash browns. 

COOKIES/BISCUITS
Substituting flours and sugars
can give you lots of options so you don’t have to completely cut out a biscuit with your cup of tea. There are lots of low carb cookie alternatives out there. Use almond meal, hazelnut meal, coconut flour or flaxseed meal as a low carb option to conventional white flour. Sweetners such a stevia, or smaller amounts of natural sugars from fruits such as dates, bananas and apple puree, or a little honey or maple syrup, can go a long way as a substitute to large quantities of white or brown sugar. 

CHIPS/FRIES
Zucchini or eggplant fries or chips can be made simply by cutting into either thin chips (using a vegetable slicer or carefully by hand), or cutting into thick or thin chips. Drizzle with some olive oil, add a little salt and some seasoning such as pepper, paprika or herbs, and bake in an oven until golden brown and crisp. 

BURGERS
A bun-free burger is better than it sounds. Have the burger with the cheese, salad, pickles and all the condiments on its own without the bread and eat it with a knife and fork. It still has all the flavour. Or, slice and grill some eggplant for a bread alternative. A portobello mushroom also works well. Or, use a bit of lettuce leaf to wrap around the burger to hold it together. 

TACOS
Lettuce leaves can replace taco shells, or make rounds of grated cheese and bake it for a crispy cheese ‘taco’ shell.

MASHED POTATO
Cauliflower mash is a great alternative. Trim the florets off the cauliflower and cut into chunks. Place in a bowl and microwave for 5 to 8 minutes uncovered until cooked through. If you don’t have a microwave, steam the cauliflower on the stove with a little water to stop it burning, draining off any excess water. Add a tablespoon of butter, or to make it extra creamy add a tablespoon of cream or marscapone. Stir it all together. Throw it in a blender or food processer to puree into a smooth consistency. Add seasoning to taste, and some grated cheese if you like. Great on top of a casserole or pie, on the side of some meat or roast, or to accompany some baked fish.

Low GI & low carb

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was given books on low GI eating. I could eat pasta, basmati rice, apples, pears, sweet potatoes, grainy breads, oats – anything with a GI of 55 or lower would have the least impact on my blood sugar levels. It was how I should eat to avoid sudden spikes in my sugar levels, according to my diabetes educator, dietitian, GP, and endocrinologist. Watermelon, corn flakes, mashed potato, rice cakes – anything rated as high GI – was a no-no. Anything in the middle – couscous, pineapple, popcorn – was still OK in moderation. So, armed with GI tables and low GI recipe books, I went on my way and ate accordingly.

What is GI?
The glycemic index is basically a measurement of the rate of absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. It is a scale from 0 to 100, and is broken into 3 categories – high (70 or more), medium (56 to 69), and low (55 and below). White bread, corn flakes, and sweets are among those rated as high GI as they raise blood sugar levels more quickly because the glucose in these foods is more rapidly absorbed in the blood. Foods on the lower end of the scale, such as beans, basmati rice and al dente pasta, have a slower release of glucose into the blood, making them more ideal for diabetics than higher GI foods.

Now, 9 years on, with years of up and down trial and error of different foods and trying various ways of eating, I have had my fair share of low GI. I admit that eating a sweet potato is better on my levels than eating fluffy white potatoes, grainy sourdough bread is better than crumpets and white bread, and oats are better than corn flakes. So, low GI has some merit in my books. It has helped with controlling my blood sugar levels, to an extent.

But the amount of low GI carbs I was eating was not. There are times when I have eaten sweet potatoes, baked beans. sourdough toast, or lentil soup – all classed as low GI – and my levels have skyrocketed. Low Gi is great in theory, and it does provide a good basis for knowing which carbs to eat and which ones to avoid in order to avoid massive spikes in blood glucose levels. I haven’t eaten corn flakes or rice cakes for years, because I know from experience that they have the same effect as eating sweets for me. But it is also important to factor the amount of low GI foods you are eating. Eating a big sourdough pizza is difficult to manage. Having a small piece of grainy bread with your eggs is easier to manage. Having just an omelette is even easier still.

I was never told to lower my carb intake by dietitians, nutritionists, endocrinologists, GPs, or diabetes educators. When I had an HbA1c test result of more than 9, my diabetes educator was visibly angry at me for not being more careful. But I didn’t know what to do. I was following the advice they gave me. When I confessed to the dietitian and nutritionist that I thought my eating habits were what was affecting my high levels (sometimes rising up to 25 mm/L post-meal), I was told I could still eat anything I wanted, as long as I carb counted correctly, and stick to low GI foods. Keep having basmati rice, wholegrain pasta, grainy breads, low GI fruits.

It wasn’t until I spoke to other diabetic friends that I realised I could gain better control of my levels by eating lower carb. It was also speaking to them that I reaslised GI affects people differently. Some friends said they couldn’t go near pineapple because it had a high GI affect on their levels; other friends admitted to eating watermelon, which is a high GI food, and said it didn’t spike their levels.

I read some books, including Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution and The Diabetic Diet, and put some theories into practice. Eating low carb, with the concessional small portion of low GI carbs, has proven to be the diet that works best for managing my sugar levels. It is not easy to maintain healthy blood sugar levels when you are eating carbs all the time. Counting carbs at every meal is not easy or always possible. Opting for lower carb foods, and opting for small quantities of low GI foods, seems to work best for me.

But, taking these ideas to a dietitian does not get such a positive response. Low carb is still controversial. At a type 1 diabetes talk, run by JDRF that I attended in November 2015 in London, the dietitian who was giving a presentation about food, exercise and diet for type 1 diabetics did not want to hear about low carb diets and the positive effects it had proven for many people in the audience. These people swore that low carb had improved their overall blood sugar control, lowered their HbA1c levels, and gave them ideal triglycerides and cholesterol levels. She basically shunned the evidence, said that no trials had been done therefore there was no real evidence, and kept promoting the traditional food pyramid of a high carb low fat diet, even for diabetics who struggle every day with keeping levels low when eating a high carb diet.

Dr. Bernstein, a long advocate of the low-carb diet for diabetics, shuns the glycemic index, saying that it is not accurate enough to provide stable sugar levels. There are so many variables: How cooked the food is (Do you boil peas for 5 minutes or 20 minutes? What happens if you overcook the pasta by a couple of minutes?); How processed it is (Is it mashed, juiced, pureed, or eaten whole? How refined or course is the flour in that bread?); How ripe or unripe it is (How green is that banana? Were those plums picked early or late?). How the testing was done and who was tested (Was it tested on diabetics or non-diabetics?), and what the outcomes show (Does the effect of GI differ from person to person?) are all questionable variables. Every body is different, and we absorb different foods at different rates depending on the person, so how a sweet potato affects my blood glucose levels is going to be different to how it affects yours.

Note that.a lot of GI tables also differ. Some say bananas are high, some say they are medium, some say that bananas are low if they are unripe. There are a myriad of wholegrain breads available – so which one is 55 and which one is 68? Pureeing a vegetable will impact its absorption. Cooking a vegetable soup for an hour and a half compared to half an hour will also make a difference. That’s because every bit of food, and every person, and every test, has its variables.

So, what do we take from this? Our aims as diabetics is to have a ‘normal’ HbA1c of below 7 – in fact, if we talk of ‘normal’, it should be closer to 5. That means having mean sugar levels of about 5 or 6, ranging between 4 and 8, never going above 10, all the time. This is incredibly tricky, particularly if you are eating carbs, whether they are low GI or not. Low GI makes it easier to not have large spikes in the teens and 20s (which, believe me, happens, sometimes more often than you would hope). But, eating a portion of pasta, rice, or wholewheat bread, even if they are low GI, can have a roller coaster impact on your levels if you don’t get the carb counting 100% correct and if you miscalculate things like how ripe the fruit is, how pureed the vegetable is, and how processed the bread is.

No matter how much I tried to count carbs and get my portions right, I have still suffered from unstable sugar levels for years. I now opt for lower carb, and when I have some carb, I make sure it is a small portion and try to go low GI on foods I have tried and tested myself, but I don’t invest everything in GI tables.