Food Logging & Changing Diets

This week I decided to make a change in my diet. In order to measure how my body reacts to the new diet, I’m logging the food I eat – at least for the next week in the adjustment period. There are no shortage of apps and websites that enable you to log your food. Search your local smartphone app store for “food logging,” or a variation of that term, and you’ll find a number of apps hungry for your attention.

The trouble with food logging is that it’s a very manual process. Whatever app or website you use to enter the details, there are several steps involved. You have to search for each piece of food you’ve just eaten, figure out the portion you ate (which can require a combination of Google search, a unit conversion app and a calculator), then enter the data into your chosen food logging app or website. Even for a simple meal, there are typically at least four or five separate items to log. Repeat that process five or six times a day, including snacks during the day, and you have your daily food logging process. It’s not only a largely manual process, it can be a chore at meal times – which are supposed to be some of the most relaxing times of the day.

Despite the effort, if you’re changing your diet then logging your food for a period of time can provide meaningful data to help you in your goal.

Going Low-Carb

My own goal is to reduce the amount of insulin I inject every day (I’m a type 1 diabetic), plus lose a few kilograms off my waistline. As a diabetic, I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve control of my blood glucose levels (BGL). Oddly, I’ve never tried a low-carb diet before. Perhaps because it’s a controversial one for diabetics – the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has historically not endorsed the diet, although at the end of last year it appeared to change its position. Regardless of ADA’s support, it’s a fact that if you consume less carbohydrates in a day, your body needs less insulin to manage your BGL. Ergo, reduce carb intake to reduce insulin requirement.

The low-carb diet has proven very successful for at least one long-term type one diabetic, author and physician Dr Richard Bernstein. His strongly held view is that less carbohydrates per day leads to less insulin dependence, which leads to a longer, healthier life. He’s proven it in his own life – he’s in his late 70s now, after getting type 1 at age 12. I’m currently reading his book, ‘Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars’, to find out more.

Unlike my 3-week gung ho experiment with the vegan diet in 2011, for the low-carb diet I’m making a gradual change only. I’m not doing a full low-carb diet, like the famous Atkins diet, at this point.

I’m starting out by removing the following high-carb foods from my diet: bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals. For now, I’ll keep fruits – which are also high-carb – in my diet. That’s because I’ll need a way to offset the low BGL readings I will encounter during the adjustment period, as I consume less carbohydrates. I’m particularly focusing on breakfast, since I ultimately want to remove the need for rapid-acting insulin. I take two types of insulin every morning, before breakfast: long-acting and rapid-acting. The latter is to counteract high blood sugars after breakfast, which had been a problem for me last year.

Food Logging Apps

Which brings me back to food logging apps. Yesterday morning I had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast, instead of my usual two pieces of wholegrain toast and peanut butter. I tried logging the new brekkie into Fitbit’s Food Log, but the carb count seemed too high. It stated 9.1 carbs for scrambled eggs, which I’m fairly sure is wrong. So I opened up another app that I joined a while ago, FatSecret. I have that app hooked into TicTrac, a dashboard I’m testing out for daily health tracking. FatSecret’s iPhone app, confusingly just called Calorie Counter, appeared to have the correct carb count for my scrambled egg breakfast (2.68 carbs). So I ended up logging all of my food intake from yesterday into FatSecret.

As you can see, food logging can be an imprecise thing – I don’t know for sure whether the carb count of my scrambled eggs was closer to Fitbit’s count, or FatSecret’s. But that doesn’t matter a great deal. The point of my food logging is to track the foods I eat so that I can cross-check it with my blood sugar levels. I don’t need pinpoint accuracy to do that, just a best guess. Which is indeed what my blood sugar level readings are, as blood glucose meters are notoriously imperfect (but a heck of a lot better than the urine tests Dr Bernstein was forced to endure as a child and young man – viva la technology!).

For the record, I’ve already seen a noticeable improvement in my BGL after breakfast. So much so that – for testing purposes – I skipped the rapid-acting insulin this morning and had normal BGL after breakfast. Although I noticed an unexpectedly higher BGL later in the morning. So I’ll need to continue testing, logging and monitoring.

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