Monday, January 4, 2010

What are we eating?

Since returning to my Virginia apartment I have been shocked by the stark difference in my insulin needs compared to the 10 or so days I spent at my parent's house in New York. In Virginia I have 100% control over the foods I eat and pay super close attention to where the food is sourced from, the level of processing and how organic the contents of the food are when I go to the super market. In NY my parents do the best they can to cater to my nutrition needs but without the hours spent with a sports nutritionist, countless articles read and dedication to studying food labels that I have the effectiveness of food choices is somewhat reduced. Additionally, since I was at home for just a short time a lot of food choices aren't as economical for my parents as they are for me, and lets face it eating healthy can be prohibitively expensive.

My diet in NY was not all that different from my diet in VA but the composition of the food was very different. The major noticeable meal difference was what I had for breakfast. At my parent's house I don't have access to my blender, chia seeds, odawala super food or organic fruits that I have in VA. So instead of making my customary fruit shake for breakfast each morning I would have an English muffin with peanut butter; I tried going with yogurt and granola but the taste of the strawberries in my Dad's industrial size bag of frozen fruit was kind of disgusting, so I thought the English muffin was an "ok" alternative. It was the less noticeable differences that caused the biggest problem for insulin needs.

At lunch I normally have an organic salad of baby romaine or spring mix with some organic chicken sausage, chia seeds and an oil & vinegar dressing. At my parents house I would have a non-organic salad mix, oil & vinegar dressing, and chopped up turkey cold cuts (no chia seeds). For my customary salad I need anywhere from 2 to 2.5 units of insulin depending on how big the salad is and if I add any extra veggies to it. At my parents house I needed close to 4 units of insulin to cover the salad! Is it possible that processed cold cuts and non-organic greens could make that big of a difference?!?

While at home each evening my blood sugar spiked well above 250; granted my dinner meals were a bit less healthy than they are in VA but it's not like I was having fast food or pizza. On three separate vacations I had to take in an additional 6 units of insulin after dinner to get my blood sugars inline. The major difference between meals at my parents and at my VA home was where the food was sourced from. In VA I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods, in NY my parents shop at the A&P. I make sure I eat grass fed meats where my parents will buy what the supermarket has that day; I eat as little processed food as possible, where my parents will buy a lot more canned goods. To no fault of theirs, we expect lean meats and vegetables to be healthy, but then why were my insulin needs so much higher in NY than VA?

I also recently watched Food Inc., and was shocked at how the industrial food complex has fundamentally altered the composition of the foods we eat. In the past chickens took twice as long to mature as they currently do and never reached the weight that today's industrial chickens do. Corn and soy were introduced to the diet of cows and chickens to make them grow bigger, faster. Given all that the meats that I eat in Virginia are grass fed, organic and antibiotic free; the meats I was eating in NY however were lean but not organic or grass fed. I think that small difference also contributed to my much higher insulin needs; which is food for thought.

Now that I've been back on VA for about a week before I embark on my next cross country trip to network in Oregon my blood sugars have come much more inline. I've had way more lows than highs, and for me that's a good thing. I'd much rather have a blood sugar of 75 than 300; as orange juice tastes a lot better than blurry vision and a head ache make me feel. I'm not sure I'll ever have a full understanding of why my insulin needs were so much different but I do know this past month has heightened my awareness of how important it is for me to eat clean.


Scott said...

It is amazing how control of food, or in some cases lack of control of food (including the overprocessed, genetically-modified, non-organic foods that constitute many Americans diets) impacts glycemic control. The real challenge, however, is the fact that for many people, they simply do not have the luxury of eating better because of a lack of supermarkets in neighborhoods or financial constraints. You can help to address these issues by joining the effort that Food, Inc's producers are sponsoring, which works to ensure access to better foods, often locally-sourced.

Anne said...

I always have difficulty with my blood sugar levels when I visit my parents in Salt Lake. I have decided that, for me, the biggest factor is that I am much less active. At home, I walk to work (40 min total), am busy during the day, and get in good quality workouts. Visiting my parents, I tend to be much more relaxed, sleeping more and taking it easy. I drive more to get places. This last time I pre-emptively increased my basal rates by about 30-40%. That was a little aggressive and I had more lows than normal but at least I wasn't running about 250 the whole time. The weird thing is that I usually eat less when I go home. I guess perhaps that is because I am less hungry due to less activity.

They also live at a higher altitude which may have an effect, although I think that the activity level would be more significant.

JulyDream said...

Absolutely incredible! While I may struggle reading labels in Sweden this quarter, this definitely gives me something to think about when I return to VA!