Carbs in crosshairs to help deny diabetes

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Editor's note: Reporter Sheila Hagar is writing about prediabetes education and experiences from a personal perspective in a series of columns, of which today's is the second. This series will not contain every fact about diabetes, nor should it replace medical advice from your physician.

As promised, today we are going to talk about carbs, food and bacon.

Bacon really does not belong in a true food group, unless we can slot it into desserts, but I don't care.

We are also going to talk about exercise, because Maria Lizotte tricked us.

It was the second class, and my third session with diabetes educators at Walla Walla General Hospital on Wednesday.

Maria and her teaching partner, Lynda Bren, started off explaining the benefits of exercise for prediabetics and diabetics.

There's the usual stuff, of course, that we all know exercise does, even if we don't practice it. Blah, blah, blah. But the fact that exercise makes our muscles suck up glucose? That's some special magic, baby.

Well, and then, Maria said, with regular exercise and some weight loss, carbs don't have so much power over your blood glucose count.

Which, as you'll recall, you want to be under 110 before breakfast and under 140 two hours after eating.

If exercise was a pill you could take, it would be the No. 1 seller, Maria told us. It improves mood, helps manage weight, boosts self confidence, increases energy and -- TA DA -- can help prevent diabetes.

And you want to avoid diabetes with all your heart and toes. In case you missed it, there was a recent news story out of Roseburg, Ore., involving a 61 year-old man who had lost feeling in his feet due to diabetes.

While he was sleeping, his dog ate three of his toes.

"The man told emergency responders that he fell asleep on his couch and woke up to find pieces of his foot missing."

If ever there was a graphic reason to avoid diabetes, this has to be it.

The dog, it was decided, was not in the wrong.

Now then. Let's talk about food, the kind not found close to your ankle.

There is really good news here. Although people dealing with the disease must take many steps to eventually refine their diet by calories, complex or simple carbs, and good versus bad fats, you get to start off by only looking at carbohydrate numbers.

Let's look at bacon, just as an example. Zero grams. Eggs. Less than half a gram. Salmon? Steak? Zero again.

Red wine, five ounces, contains about four grams, depending on the varietal. Four lovely grams.

Fruit, as wonderfully healthy as it is, must be eaten with caution. It may have only natural sugar, but it's still sugar. One medium banana will average 30 grams of carbs -- nearly a whole meal, which should range between 30 and 45 grams for women.

The sneaky foods are pastas, peas, corn, potatoes. Generally healthy, but not to those trying to control blood glucose.

Grains in general are to be used with caution; bread, most of it, is sliced and loaded. Remember, reading the label is your ammo against getting tricked, Maria taught us.

Protein and veggies are a diabetic's best friends. Plus, you can have some butter on those delightful asparagus spears and there are some amazing low-carb dressing for your salads.

And there's bacon.

A Krispy Kreme doughnut equals 22 grams of carbs. A serving of oatmeal has the same, Maria said. "But the doughnut will cause a big spike in blood glucose and damage your blood vessels." The oatmeal has fiber and nutrients, while the Krispy Kreme has ... a lotta sugar.

No one is advocating a carb-free diet, she emphasized. "That's crazy. But if you know what and how much to eat, you can give your pancreas a little less workload."

And for goodness sake, keep track, Maria told us. "If you bite it, write it." Cute.

With care, signs of diabetes will begin to resolve. Blurry vision, mental confusion, the lethargy associated with elevated blood sugars -- all start to gradually diminish.

Using the blood glucose meter to figure out what gets your glucose knickers in a knot and being consistent with each meal is the ticket out of Diabetes Land, with exercise as the getaway car.

By the end of this second class, I had not yet drunk the Kool-Aid. I told myself I was working up to things. "No sense rushing this," I thought. Frankly, I was scared. I didn't want to learn this stuff and I didn't want to read the labels of my favorite foods.

Our class was warned our first low-carb trip through the grocery store could take two hours. I had certainly read labels for decades, always looking for fat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and the like. Never for carbs.

I finally went shopping. I bought food, really good food. Like peanut butter! Eight grams for two tablespoons! Once I realized there were some excellent and delicious choices, I went a little crazy.

And I bought a set of weights and some resistance bands. I may not have made it to the YMCA, but my muscles still need me to act like I did.

I'm just going to say it out loud, I've got a little gun action going on in my biceps now. You don't want to mess with me.

Next time I promise to have no toe-eating pooches. We'll talk about fiber, taking it easy with fats (Goodbye, bacon! We loved you so! But you can still visit.) and the fact that I've hankered after an ice-cold Coke only once in weeks.

Seriously, this really is not about deprivation. You know me, I'd be whining if it was.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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