Food choices & hypocracy: Dealing with changing and conflicting food values

Mum has diabetes. For the last two to three years, it's been what you might call "out of control." At least, her doctor does. In the process of making better meal choices for Pops' sake, I've been able to make some menu switches that are arguably better for her as well. Regardless of one's opinion on how humans should be eating in general, the "mostly vegetarian" diet to keep added hormones to a minimum, and the "low carb-no sugar" diet to keep blood sugar in control is generally accepted as "better."

We had a diabetes scare a couple weeks ago, and I think it opened Mum's eyes about the effect the diabetes has had on her body. And what she can expect to continue getting worse if she doesn't get it under control. Fortunately, though it was uncomfortable and scary, part of that scare was her blood sugar that has been high for three years suddenly crashing to a just-below-normal level (and then having to bring it back up a little bit). Now we just have to keep it that way. So Mr. Moon and I took it upon ourselves to start poking at the issue a little more.

Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite, telling her she shouldn't be eating potato chips as I get PMS cravings for nothing other than kettle chips dipped in crappy commercial french onion dip. I also feel like a hypocrite when I talk here about making "better" food choices, but then tell her she shouldn't be eating fruit leather because it's the same as eating a bar of chocolate. Yes, I KNOW it's not the same, however, it does have the same effect on her blood sugar, and that's what I'm talking about. And if she's going to eat candy, I'd rather she eat candied fruit than a spun sugar bomb. But if I can convince her not to eat either one, more's the better. And "better" is what I'm all about.

I know that it sucks to have these kinds of decisions forced on you. To feel deprived. Even now, years after falling off the low-carb bandwagon, I still feel deprived that I can't eat, say, a brownie sundae without getting sick. The first week (attempt) of low-carby-goodness, I ended up pigging out on pasta salad because the carb cravings were so bad and I couldn't mentally adjust to the idea of never having my favorite comfort foods ever again. I DO understand how frustrating it is to have to give up what you view as quality of life, simply for quantity. But the equation gets more muddled when the changes you make can also increase the quality of life, even if you don't realize it right away.

I told Mr. Moon about a year and a half ago that I found myself having what could be called a crisis of faith. I was paralyzed in defining my food values because, to sum up with an example, I couldn't understand how eating a whole potato could possibly be worse for you than a manufactured chemical known to increase the risk of cancer. The evolution of my food values is such that I only recently made the connection that whole wheat pasta is more of a refined grain product than brown rice. To my "low-carby" brain, they're both equally bad carbs. Probably because they have the same amount of carbs and protein per serving! But brown rice will arguably break down slower than pasta, thereby having a lower glycemic load, right? Not so. Brown rice has a glycemic load of 22 as opposed to whole wheat pasta's 15. Keeping in mind that what you eat with them will impact their effect on blood sugar. More protein and fat slows down digestion.

Then there is the bean conundrum. In the food pyramid, beans are listed under proteins because the carby section was listed as grains. When they changed the name of that bottom spot on the pyramid to "carbohydrates," beans got moved there, but also stayed in protein. But beans are solidly in the protein category for vegetarians. When putting together a meal under the new "myPlate" system used by the government and some nutritionists, where do the beans fall? I haven't gotten a straight answer out of a nutritionist yet, including in class to be a certified nutritionist. So, they're protein and carbs--a half-cup serving of pinto beans has 22g carbs and 7g protein, a glycemic load of 14. About the same protein as an egg (which is to say, half to a quarter of a meal's worth), plus an entire meal's worth of carbs and fiber. That doesn't leave any room for veggies! Plus, not exactly the "high" protein content advertised, especially as compared to the carb content. Even for vegetarian meals, I'm still counting them as a carb. Though serving-for-serving, a better choice than pasta or rice!

My biggest issue is just that there are so many schools of thought in nutritive science, and some of them cause conflicting conclusions. The idea that a potato is evil and aspartame is fine. The idea that eating a chicken raised in my brother's backyard is evil but a diet based on soy protein is king, when 97% of soy products in America are known genetically modified foods. The idea that you can eat hydrogenated oils with trans fats but you can't eat a damn pineapple. I just can't get behind some of these things.

Ultimately, when I was low-carb, I found that my mental state was much better when I picked two things each week that were "treats." One was a Treat that was totally allowed on my diet, and I could eat as much of it as I wanted (steak! bacon!); the other was allowed in limited quantities in my diet or not at all, and I'd have a little bit. And I do mean little! One bite of chocolate cake at a birthday party. One bowl of pasta. Three french fries. In retrospect, these little concessions were part of my slow downfall off the low-carb bandwagon. But I think they definitely helped me to make better choices in the long run, because I didn't just stand up one day and say "screw it!" I didn't just eat an entire chocolate cake and never look back. I learned compromise with the realization that the extremity with which I was limiting choices was not sustainable in the long run, and found ways to broaden my scope without swinging like a pendulum to the opposite extreme. How about that, I learned moderation.

I don't know how to teach someone moderation when they refuse to learn about their disease process and the basics of nutrition. And even then, once a person has already hit the stage of medicated diabetes and refuses to take the medications or exercise, moderation is out the window--all that's left is strict diet control. All I'm left with is pointing out other options on a per-request basis. Don't eat fruit leather and drink fruit juices, just eat a damn piece of fruit. Not every meal has to have a starch in it. Things like that. And it's all a lot harder when in the back of my mind I want to be screaming that the diet soda is worse than drinking a glass of sugary juice.

Maybe one day I'll be able to reconcile all these conflicting thoughts and emotions, but today is definitely NOT that day.


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