Monday 11 June 2012

Armed with my Google degree

‘Low-carb’ - the words that strike fear into the hearts of potato-lovers the world over and cause others to protest its value with great conviction; how it ‘changed their life’ and so on.

So what is the deal with low-cab? Is it good for you?

I am not qualified in any way and most of my information is either a discovery of my own clumsy experiments or, the wonder of Google. Enough said, right? But ‘we’ are always arguing that diabetics are the most knowledgeable of all, so here is what I found when trying to find a way of moving to a low carb diet.

About 2 years ago my journey on the pump led me to address my diet and stumble across a book called ‘The Diabetes Diet’ by Dr. Howard Bernstien. ‘Diabetes Diet’ eurgh, like I haven’t seen enough of those! And is he even a real doctor? Anyone remember Dr Gillian McKeith; the so-called Doctor who, as it turned out, gave herself that name and was wholly unqualified to give anything but her personal, slightly unhinged, opinion? Well, I was fully expecting ‘Dr Bernstein’ to be more of a Mr, than a Dr.

Well as it turned out he was a Doctor, a type 1, and was one of the key thinkers behind the whole low-carb revolution in the US (you know, other than Mr ‘shove some more cream in that coffee’ Atkins, that is). As a type 1 patient himself, he discovered some decades ago that carbohydrate was beyond any doubt, the most impactive form of food on his system. And further that these chaotic blood sugars were the cause of most – if not every - complication we ‘duffers’ spend our lives trying to keep at bay. But as a patient, he was practically laughed out of the clinic when he suggested eating low-carb. So what did he do? He got himself re-qualified as a diabetic professional of course, and began his mission to address the education about carbs. That’s one determined dude!

Enthralled by the book I began to make lots of changes to my own diet, with wonderful effects. Eggs for breakfast, removal of pasta and bread and no more high-sugar fruits were the main changes. As a result, I felt great: my blood sugars were vastly improved, I was never as bloated thanks to far less wheat in my diet and after following it strictly, achieved my first ever A1c of 7%.

But I am regularly reminded by dieticians and nutritionists that by lowering the carbs, I have to increase something else in the diet. My intake of healthy meats like tuna, salmon, trout, turkey mince and chicken went up and my consumption of 'crap' went down. But as someone whose greatest diabetes fear is kidney failure (dialysis scares the shit out of me, quite frankly) thoughts about renal disease thanks to the extra stress that the digestion of protein puts on the kidneys, regularly creep menacingly into the back of mind. My defensive argument has always been that low carb doesn’t have to equal high protein.  A statement usually met with the groans unconvinced 'experts'.

But here is why I stand by my assertions, thanks to my Google research. It is recognised that a healthy person should only eat around 0.8 grams of protein per 1kg of body weight. Now, at 140 pounds/10 stone (in a healthy weight bracket with a fair bit of muscle) then I could consume up to 67 grams of protein a day, ‘healthily’. On an average day I would normally eat a two-egg omelette (12g protein), a small handful of nuts mid-morning and mid-afternoon (8g), a tuna salad with lots of red, yellow and green leafy veg (20g, a generous estimation) and for my evening meal I may have something like salmon and vegetables or turkey mince spaghetti bolognese with green beans instead of spaghetti. Let’s call it 10-30 grams of protein to cover all bases.

According to that, even if I had the most protein-heavy dinner I can find, I am still only at 70g, when the recommended daily intake even for those with stage three kidney disease (according to, would be around 67g for someone of a healthy weight. In fact, on days when I have only a tuna steak or chicken thigh (easier to eat organic when you buy the less popular bits!) at 20ish grams, then I am 7 grams under the maximum.

So, with my Google degree and knowledge that I really am only eating medium protein, I continue to be convinced that low-carb, medium-protein and ‘stop faffing about fat’ attitude is the way to go.

The question you have to ask yourself is this; when the renal capacity of your kidneys is 8.8mmol, is it safer to eat low carb but accept carb-fuelled spikes after meals, or is it safer to eat more protein and maintain near-normal blood glucose?

Anna (off to eat a handful of minimal carb, nutrient dense and protein rich nuts).


  1. Great post Anna. I've being started reducing carbs in the last few weeks since I've cut out all grains bread,rice,pasta etc. & other 'crap' (except the morning bowl of porridge - can't start the day without that yet!) It's not that I intentionally decided to go low carb as such - more that I decide that I wanted to cut out or reduce the amount of processed and refined food that I eat (based on the idea that if you can't kill it,fish it,grow it or pick it, its probably not great for you) - you may remember I asked about this in the nutrition session in Loughbourough a few weeks back.

    The first step is to reduce grains since all grain based foods are refined to some extent or the other. And it just so happens that these type of refined foods are the ones that are most carb dense. In order to not reduce overall calories I have been upping the amount of veg, fruit, nuts, eggs, meat & fish. So I have ended with a low(er) carb & high(er) protein diet. I reckon I'm down to having approx 150g of total carbs per day (75% of these would be at breakfast), and have been feeling good, had consistently good BG values, and a much lower insulin TDD (its nice to eat some meals without having to calculate a bolus amount!).

    Regarding protein, I think that so long as you stick with eating reasonable amounts (i.e. your not eating whole turkeys or 8 egg omlettes) of natural protein containing foods each day its not likely you'll be over-doing the recommended amounts, it's only really when you start throwing extra protein supplements,shakes,bars etc. into the mix that the amounts would be exceeding the RDA.

    I'd recommend having a look at the book 'The Paleo Diet for Athletes' by Loren Cordain & Joe Friel as it has some useful info on required amounts of carbs, proteins, fats & other nutrients to allow the body to run efficiently and how to adapt your intake of each depending on your activity levels - basically more carb bias during & after exercising, more protein & fat bias all other times .

  2. HI Brian,

    Yes I remember you well. I think I collared you at dinner afterwards to chat about it quickly (I hope this is you otherwise I am going to look pretty bad now!).

    Thanks for the advice and the details of the book. I must admit my venture into low-carb hasn't been done with any structure, mainly because there is very little support from diabetes teams about low-carb. It still seems to be a taboo topic.

    Hopefully there will be more research into this soon, because it would be so beneficial for people who want to try it and have struggled to achieve better blood sugars levels. I would be interested to see how many got much better results this way

    Thanks for commenting