It feels like the pressure to go low-carb has crept up on me by stealth over the past few months. I’ve clicked on links through to podcasts, articles, videos and books all showing how you can achieve perfect, flat-line blood sugars by eliminating carbs. Even if you’re an athletic, growing teenage boy! And you know what? It made sense. I could see the logic. I listened to highly educated professor parents who had analysed all the science. I read a book by a Type 1 mum and her dietitian friend. I read Dr Bernstein. I watched videos of low-carb kids playing competitive basketball. The basic premise that you’re more likely to stay in a healthy range if you are bolusing less insulin – the ‘law of small numbers’ – was a no-brainer. So here’s what I learned from a couple of weeks of trying a low-carb diet, and the conclusions I made for our family:
- You need full family buy-in. Ultimately, a low-carb diet for our whole family is not ideal. I have one super-slim non-diabetic boy who needs building up, and carbs just have to be part of that eating plan. And for an athletic Type 1 teen who is a real foodie, watching your brother eat carbs, while you’re denied the genuine pleasure you get from food, just isn’t sustainable.
- Low carb pizza is revolting. I’ve tried both the cauliflower pizza (made the whole house smell rancid) and the Fathead pizza (feels like a ball of almond flour and mozzarella is sitting in your stomach for a week). But I have come up with a compromise pizza: spread a spoonful of passata over a wholewheat tortilla, sprinkle with grated mozzarella, top with pepperoni (or whatever you like), and bake at 200° for about 5-8 minutes. Really delicious and 30g carbs.
- Low carb baking is equally disappointing. I spent a day (and a small fortune) baking with almond flour, xanthan gum, Xylitol, coconut flour, chia seeds and linseeds. And it all went in the bin. The low-carb bread recipe that promised to taste like brioche made us all retch. The brownies gave us an upset tummy. I concluded that if you’re going low-carb, don’t try to formulate alternatives to the things you love – they will just make you miss the real thing. Eat filling salads instead of sandwiches, try savoury, naturally low-carb snacks (olives, antipasti, crudites etc) instead of sweet, and if you have a craving for cake, eat cake. Just not every day.
- Courgetti is surprisingly good. (If you don’t know, Courgetti is that irritating name for spaghetti made from spiralized courgettes. AKA Zoodles – zucchini noodles – if you’re American.) Yes, Courgetti is a keeper. For me, as a non-diabetic but keen to lose a few pounds, it’s a tasty way to enjoy everyday pasta dishes which are a staple in our family. And you know those moments when your Type 1 kid is high at a mealtime and has to wait until they come down before they can eat? Well, Courgetti Bolognese means they can still tuck in with no more than 8g carbs to bolus.
- Teenage boys do need carbs. Even if (some) science says they have no physical need to eat carbs, I think there’s an emotional need. Teens already have us parents cautioning them about drugs, alcohol, smoking and screens. Adding carbs to the list of ‘things not to do’ is just a step too far. I had the loveliest evening, just me and my boy, making our way through a feast of a curry and nailing the dual bolus. Chatting about school, life and general stuff, while dipping naan in a chicken korma, was a priceless moment that only a takeaway could provide.
So where did we net out? Well, I guess it’s back to that overused word in the diabetes world: balance. It’s clear that a day consisting of scrambled egg for breakfast, soup for lunch and a big chicken salad for supper can generally mean you’ll have a day of great blood sugars. But we all know there’s more to it than that: illness, sport, growth hormones – blood sugar spikes are not down to carbs alone. Low-carb doesn’t fit with our growing family right now, but Moderate-carb does. Encouraging my boy to eat healthily, mindful of what effect certain foods will have on him, using the brilliant technology of his pump and his Libre, having some lower carb meals and some blow-out treats: that’s the best we can do right now.