One banana, two banana, three banana, insulin – by Helen May


I have always liked good food, but I can get bored with the same this so I am always looking for something different. If a new restaurant opens in town, I have to check it out; an unusual vegetable appears in my weekly veg box, I’m immediately looking for new recipe ideas; I go on holiday to a different country and I’m trying out the local cuisine.

For over 30 years, that just meant trying something new. If I liked it, I’d eat it again and, if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t eat it again. I guess I’m lucky because I have no food allergies and my Dad was always trying to grow something different in his allotment so I grew up eating different stuff.

Since school home economics lessons, I’ve known about the constituents of food: protein, carbohydrates, fat, fibre, vitamins, … But wanting to eat a variety of food, I have, almost by accident, had a balanced diet.

It feels as if 90% of the population has tried to lose weight at some time. So I know about calories. However, I am part of the 10% who have never had to diet. Maybe that’s because I can’t sit still for long or because I like fresh fruit and vegetables or I’ve just been lucky with my genes. The point is, until I had diabetes, the only time I counted food was when I am weighing it out for a new recipe.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, that all changed. I had to learn which food included carbohydrates (I still pay little attention to the amount of fat, protein, etc and rely on a varied diet to keep it balanced) and count the number of carbohydrates in everything I eat.

The easy option would be to buy food with the carbohydrate count written on the packet. But, the mango in my veg box has no label on it, the menus in restaurants have no breakdown and, if the dumplings in Beijing came in a box, I wouldn’t be able to read it. Another option would be to weight everything I eat and I have read about people with diabetes who weigh everything but taking scales to by friends when they cook for me or to a smart restaurant or on every holiday, would distract from my enjoyment of food. So, unless I changed what, when, where and how I eat, I have had to come up with a different approach.

I estimate how many carbs are in my food. At first, I was a frequent visitor to to find out how many carbohydrates are in a typical serving of my usual foods. It doesn’t have everything but it’s a good start. The next step was to work out how many units of insulin to take. Thankfully, I need about 1 unit of insulin for 10 grams of carbohydrates so the maths is easy. Over the last ten years, I have learnt a bowl of past needs eight units of insulin, an apple needs and a half units and a big muffin needs six units.

I still come across food which I do not know: the last thing I was checking was how many carbs in a falafel. Sometimes, I forget like, when I have jam on toast, I forget the jam. Occasionally, I get it wrong so I have to eat more due to a hypo or take more insulin due to a hyper.

Since being diagnosed with diabetes, I still enjoy good food and I still try out different things. Now, eating means maths: estimating, adding, dividing, … Luckily, as well as liking food, my inner nerd likes maths. So I still enjoy mealtimes …even though I might get the maths slightly wrong.

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