It’s been almost 4 weeks since I started The GI Diet by Rick Gallop after my Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis. Before my brain injury I had been following a low-glycemic index (GI) diet; but not being able to cook for many years and the other changes wrought by the injury resulted in me having strayed and forgotten many aspects of this diet. This book is one of the easiest to follow in terms of figuring out what is low GI and what is high, but there is a lot to learn.
Gallop divides foods into red light — foods with a high GI and are verboten — yellow light foods — mid-range GI foods that should be eaten with caution when maintaining weight or not at all when losing weight — and green light foods — low GI foods that can be eaten at will. This was good. But then he went on to say that one must cut out all sugar, coffee, and chocolate. Um, yeah, OK.
He recommends replacing sugar with Splenda or some other artificial sweetener. Now having studied sweeteners in nutrition when at the University of Toronto, I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to touch them with a barge pole. As well, as one who loves to bake, I’m prepared to make substitutions, like apple sauce for some butter and some of the sugar, but I’m not prepared to use Splenda instead of sugar. If I had Type 1 diabetes, I would of course make different choices, but I have marginal Type 2, and because of my brain injury I’ve already had to cut out a whack of stuff that result in either my body temperature going even higher than it is or bloating. Also, the brain eats glucose for energy, and after heavy mental work, my sugar need rises like you wouldn’t believe. If I don’t have something with sugar in it, my brain doesn’t work so good. So the idea that I can’t have sugar on top of not having salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, spices, etc. etc. does not sit well with me, to say the least.
The other aspect of the nothing sweet rule, unless it’s artificial, is that eliminates natural sweeteners like honey and molasses that do have nutritional value. Certain kinds of manuka honey are said to have immune enhancing properties; blackstrap molasses contains iron (the organic kind is the only tasty version). Maple syrup of course is Canuck to the core, so how many real Canadians are going to give that up?
And then he says no more coffee and chocolate:
“The trouble with coffee is caffeine [actually that’s also it’s benefit]. It’s not a health problem in itself, but it does stimulate the production of insulin….insulin reduces blood sugar levels [good reason to have that teaspoon of sugar in it then, eh?], which then increases your appetite [not mine, but then I’m odd]. Have you ever ordered a venti from Starbucks and then felt positively shaky an hour later? That’s your blood sugar hitting bottom. You cure it by eating a bagel — which isn’t helpful when you’re trying to lose weight.”
That’s actually never happened to me. If you’re getting the shakes, then you’re drinking more coffee than your body can handle — so don’t drink that much! — and the caffeine has probably overstimulated your central nervous system, which it’s wont to do, being a stimulant and all. Again, note that not all the population responds physiologically the same to the same substance. I asked around and apparently diabetics do drink coffee without any ill effects; in fact research is saying it may help with Type 2. So one must pay attention to one’s body and balance out one’s priorities. For me, being alert is the most important thing.
It seems to me diet gurus reflexively frown down upon coffee and chocolate. Yet they have beneficial effects. Coffee helps with ADD; it can help with mild asthma also. Decaff, which Gallop says is OK, does neither. Regular coffee, not decaff, also increases mental alertness, and it can help with exercise tolerance, allowing a person to exercise longer. Cocoa can do the same thing even more effectively. I’ve written before about all the good things about chocolate. It seems to me that diet gurus talk about coffee and chocolate as if everyone is swilling down 7 or more cups of coffee and gorging on an English grocery aisle of candy bars masking themselves as chocolate. I don’t believe that’s the case. Gallop allows that if one must, one can drink one cup of coffee a day. I have mine black with a teaspoon of sugar, and I rarely finish it. I also vary the time I drink it so that I will not develop a tolerance to it (something I learned at university) and thus don’t need to up the number of cups I drink to get the same effect. Apparently, the experts are saying up to 2 to 3 cups a day is fine.
As for chocolate, I ain’t giving it up. I am heartily tired of everyone frowning down upon it, and to be quite frank, how many dieters stay off chocolate once they get to their target weight? I bet none. Once you add it back in, you’re adding in calories you haven’t learnt to accommodate in a healthy diet and you’re probably eating the same kind you did before you went on a diet instead of adjusting your taste buds to good quality, dark chocolate. So is it any wonder your weight creeps back up once the diet is over. Far better to lose weight while still eating chocolate, I say. I call it the chocolate variation.
Gallop also divides nuts up into those that are OK within limits and those that should not be eaten when losing weight. One of those in the latter category are walnuts. Yet walnuts are very good for the brain and body with all those omega fats in them.
I started to wonder at that point that with the emphasis on the glycemic index and little fat, if the nutritional and functional side of food was being totally ignored. Now if you’re overweight but otherwise healthy, you could probably knock out walnuts and not notice any change in your mental acuity, or knock out chocolate and not have any pain or energy repercussions. But for those of us with chronic illnesses or injuries, these diets really need to be modified to include the fact that some foods are necessary to keeping problems at bay or at least not so bad. Brain injuries in particular are hardly understood (despite what over-confident docs say) yet are affected by what you eat, as I’ve learnt over the years. As well, trauma always increases nutritional needs, and too many brain injuries happen because of trauma. Yet doctors know little about that side of nutrition, and the diet books are aimed at the general public, not the injured one. There is a great, gaping hole in this side of losing weight while trying to regain health.
So I continue to add a teaspoon of sugar to my small cup of instant coffee. I still have my up-to-but-no-more-than 10g per day of Green & Black’s 34% milk chocolate every so often and my cup of hot chocolate with skim milk at the end of the day. I currently use Green & Black’s hot chocolate mix but will be switching over when the jar is finished to Cocoa Camino’s dark chocolate mix. I rarely ate store-bought cookies anyway, preferring to bust stress by baking my own. I haven’t had the energy to bake in awhile, as does happen, so my cookie consumption is pretty low right now. It goes in phases anyway. And when I do bake, I’ve been using whole wheat cake and pastry flour for years and years — a low-GI flour — and when I remember I substitute unsweetened (organic) applesauce — also low GI — for half the butter. I recently tried butter-free half-the-sugar double-chocolate cookies. They were good but more like mini muffins than cookies.
So far, I have steadily but slowly lost weight, except for a recent 600g abrupt drop in 2 days. Next time, I’ll talk about the point of the book: changing my diet to the low-GI way. What a kerfuffle that has been!