Friday 7 September 2018

One day one photo - 7: Sugar-free diet

I am now of an age where it is common to start taking pills to manage that trio of mid-life healthcare problems - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Prescribing for these conditions is so common that some doctors even advocate that everyone over 40 years of age should be on pills, or maybe a polypill - at least a statin to control the bad cholesterol. Then we are constantly bombarded with how sugar is the enemy and that type 2 diabetes is the ticking time bomb.

I get all that, and I do my bit to keep these problems at bay. But I have to say, as I get older I have to work harder and harder to manage it.

I am pretty disciplined with managing my lifestyle factors - keep down the salt intake, as there is a family history of hypertension. I'm not a big cake or biscuit eater so that's not a problem. And you may have guessed, dear reader, that I like to do a bit of sport!

But, for all the training and racing I do, and despite having a good body mass index and pulse rate I have still had high readings for blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol. The doctors in my area are keen to manage these priority conditions in the community, and is very quick to try and put everyone with a raised reading on some kind of medication. But I said no, no, no!

As someone who has spent many years working in pharmaceuticals and reading about clinical trials I sooo don't want to take medications for any condition if I can get away with it.

So the answer to managing any high reading is to have even tighter control on my lifestyle and managing the numbers.

No such thing as a sugar-free diet - sugar is all around!
As mentioned, I've never been in the habit of eating much in the way of sugary things, and I'm not a big alcohol drinker either.

So I have really had to look closely at everything and the granularity of it all and really find out where the sugar is to stamp it out.

The fact is, there is sugar just everywhere. It is nigh on impossible to have a completely sugar-free diet.

Clearly stuff like cakes, sweets and biscuits are big culprits; then there are things like baked beans, processed foods, ready meals. sauces that go on salads. And don't even think about having juices and smoothies!

But then even "healthy foods" recommended by Public Health England have sugar - pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables, nuts, wholemeal breads, a Mediterranean diet.

I have eaten lots of those things, but apparently these so called "good" sugars have given me no joy in reducing that all important HbA1c number that indicates whether or not you are diabetic. So I have had to significantly reduce the healthy stuff too!

So now, I am on things like porridge with pumpkin seeds, eggs, meat, fish, courgettes, french beans, nasturtium. These last three items are things I have been growing on my allotment and in the garden and are sprouting all over the place! No choice but to eat them really - good job they are low in sugar!

I have to be very measured about things like tomatoes, lentils and pearl barley. Sometimes I push the boat out and have some Ryvita or tortilla chips. Bread is strictly off limits.

But I have to say, this no-sugar diet is tough. My shopping trips are really prolonged as I spend ages poring over nutritional information for even the smallest packet of seeds. After 45 minutes in the supermarket I may leave with just an aubergine, a tin of tuna, and some pumpkin seeds!

This lack of carbohydrates has left me often feeling hungry too. When I have one meal, I avidly look forward to the next meal. In fact, I am constantly thinking of food! If I were of a slightly less resolute disposition I would be feeling hangry - and not a pleasant person to be with!

But anyway, after two weeks of following this monk-like diet I have noticed a 3kg drop in weight, and perfect blood pressure. I will need to take a blood test for the blood glucose and cholesterol readings. Hopefully they should be okay too - they'd better be after all this!

I can live with a slight drop in weight - I am now 57kg, but I think losing more weight at this rate may make me disappear, and I may not even have the strength to carry my bike during a cyclocross race!

To be honest, in the long-term I can't see myself following this regime so strictly as it's not that practical. The cyclocross season has started, plus I am preparing for a marathon, and I can't see how I will survive those races with such a low energy intake. Woman cannot live on courgettes (and pumpkin seeds) alone!

It's not even sociable either when going to a restaurant or a dinner party. You can't really have a good time sitting there with a carrot and a glass of water while everyone else is tucking in and enjoying the evening. I even have a race coming up where there will be wine and hog roast on offer. For the £40-odd I paid I don't want to miss out on that!

So for now, I will stick to the this no-sugar diet, but after a couple of weeks I will revert to a hybrid of this diet with normal food. You've gotta live a little.

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