I have been encouraged to write about food as it relates to diabetes so I thought I’d tackle it this weekend.

As I gaze out on grass growing in the back pasture and an aged groundhog nibbling under the bird feeder, I am wondering how to approach such a broad topic. Diabetes is complex and as individualized as each person. As a caregiver, three times over to diabetic family members, I have learned this well. It is suffering largely unseen and steeped in paradox as it is only predictable in its unpredictability.

I’m not a medical professional nor diabetic.

When I had gestational diabetes, I learned if I needed food, my mind would fail me. The ultimate betrayal. I learned how to reduce those moments when your head is screaming you need to eat but not allowing you to complete the process. To the question “have you ever had a life and death experience?” the diabetic is apt to respond “Yeah. Every day.”

I need to write about diabetes because most of us don’t.

Diabetes scars. Obvious scars are from pricking fingers or inserting needles or cannulas into various body parts. There are less obvious scars from high sugar levels causing tiredness and the lowest of lows, exposing weakness. The scars etched on the eyes from observing judging outsiders. The scars from emotional swings of sadness and happiness, at times nearly simultaneously. These are scars for which there are no Band-Aids, no immediate cures, and no dietary adjustments.

When my mom was diagnosed in the 70’s, she was told she had at the most, ten years left. She lived 31 years more until diabetes complications got her at the age of 83. I attribute her “success” to her tenacity and eating well. She was justifiably angry with the disease as she had always eaten lots of fruits and vegetables with small sides of meat and complex starches. This shows “eating healthy” is no guarantee of health, but as exemplified by her longevity, it definitely helps favorably tip the scales.

No food approach to diabetes will achieve the same results for everyone.

Everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods. I’m really tired of diets claiming to be “end-all cures.” From my experience and observation, they should be treated as policy and not law. There is one constant, and that is being sure to maintain a system of exercise appropriate to ability and eat a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each of those last three is digested and reacts differently based on individual, overall health, and activity. Diabetics and their caregivers need to be astute and learn how these components work best together. I was once perplexed as to why spaghetti and lean meatballs would drive my husband’s sugar rapidly high even with small servings. From his endocrinologist, I learned that while I meant well, more fat was needed to digest the food evenly.

A home of purely “healthy” foods with little or no sugar can be a diabetic’s nightmare.

My first experience with my husband having an insulin reaction had me running next door in a nightgown, across the snow-covered lawn to see if my neighbor had orange juice as our home didn’t have candy and beverages were sugar-free.

  • When treating a low blood sugar, Karo syrup is a diabetic’s best friend. It gets rapidly into the bloodstream. Because it keeps indefinitely in the cupboard, it can always be on-hand. When mouths are clenched, put it on the diabetic’s lips where it will be absorbed until a better treatment is obtained.
  • Ice cream, honey, and milk are better than nothing for treating a low blood sugar, but they break down more slowly. An insulin reaction requires an immediate remedy so reach for orange juice when danger of choking is not present. There are tubes of glucose (liquid sugar) available for purchase. The contents are easily squeezed into a mouth and good for traveling.
  • When there’s the danger of choking, don’t choose remedies that need to be chewed. When the danger of choking has passed, ingest a balance of carbs, protein, and fat for slow, level absorption.
  • A good carb, protein and fat combination is a slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter and a beverage such as milk or juice. This is an important follow-up to prevent a rebound drop from the insulin reaction and its simple sugar remedy.

As an observer or caregiver of a diabetic, acknowledge that in consultation with healthcare assistance, the expert is the diabetic. Being supportive and non-judging is a great help.

Are you a caregiver to a diabetic or diabetic yourself? Post your story in the comments. It’s important to all of us to learn from each other. Thank you.