‘Cooking our way to better health’
When Stephanie’s husband didn’t worry about his diagnosis, she didn’t either. Then they learned better
When my husband Silas was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it was a complete shock to both of us. He’d always been pretty healthy, worked as a horticulturalist so was strong and fit and, although he carried a few extra kilos, who doesn’t?
He went to the doctor when he was about 45 for something unrelated but, as it had been a while since his last medical appointment, the GP jumped at the chance to run some general tests. The urine analysis showed high glucose and he was told
without alarm to ‘watch that’ and ‘maybe lose a few kilos’.
A year later, the follow-up test results were just as worrying.
Fasting blood tests led to the inevitable conclusion he had joined the ranks of the 100,000 or so people who develop type 2 yearly.
When I think back on it, there’d been a period of a couple of years before his diagnosis when he’d been eating a lot of refined carbs and sugars – white bread and honey, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, that kind of thing – and didn’t seem to have an off switch. He rarely felt completely satisfied by a meal and could eat as many as eight pieces of toast for breakfast and still happily consider another.
But, despite this time being read the riot act by his GP and leaving the surgery with a fistful of prescriptions, the news hadn’t really hit home. He took the first course of his diabetes medication, perhaps a few cholesterol and blood pressure pills but, because he had no symptoms, it was hard to accept he had a problem. It felt as though this could have been a clinical error and no further scripts were filled. Neither of us knew much about the disease and if he wasn’t going to worry about it, neither was I.
It took turning 50 and a dawning sense of mortality for him to take the diagnosis seriously. Control and medication were taken and the situation improved for a while.
After a couple of years, and long before it was trendy, he gave up sugar, honey and maple syrup. Just stopped them dead, believing abstinence is easier than moderation. That move didn’t much change his HbA1c, but it did herald an acute sense of appetite and satiety. Finally, he had an off switch, and with that came a gradual loss of about 5kg. He also joined the gym, having been told of the benefits of weight-lifting and resistance training, but loathed it as much as all other exercise. A stroll with the dog and the incidental movements and lifting of his job are as much as he’s prepared to do.
So, despite stopping sugar, his HbA1c continued to creep up, until three years ago, when he cut all the major high-GI carbs – bread, potatoes, pasta, noodles and rice. It meant we had to find new ways of cooking, but it was worth it because the move triggered a dramatic drop in his blood glucose and triglycerides.
Luckily I adore pulses and, with their low GI, Silas was prepared to keep eating them (refusal may have led to divorce). So, instead of making fish cakes bound with mashed potato, we’d use mashed white beans, and they tasted even better. Slow-cooked stews I would serve with pureed chickpeas instead of rice or mash, which was another improvement. And cauliflower rice became a fairly regular inclusion to our meals as well.
We were both really annoyed remembering the Healthy Food Pyramid which, from the 1980s to 2007, had carbs dominating the ‘eat most’ category. All through the 1990s our regular midweek meals were pasta, noodles or rice based and it was the decade we were probably at our fattest. Little wonder there’s a diabetes epidemic.
Nowadays, Silas eats hardly any fruit, and he’d never eat as much as a whole apple or pear. He favours low-GI fruits such as cherries and berries and steers clear of high-GI tropical fruits and grapes. He feels good starting the day with homemade muesli and yoghurt, oats being an acceptable carb and, as a rare treat, he’ll eat savoury pastry in say an onion tart or yum cha dumplings.
Alas, his most recent tests have shown the HbA1c is on the up again, which his GP says may be an aberration and is rechecking. Until the next test comes back, the advice is to stick with his diet principles but limit portions, lose weight, boost exercise and book in to see an endocrinologist. Looks like there’s only so much you can do with nutrition alone, and it’s probably time for a meds review.
Despite being read the riot act by his GP, the news hadn’t really