If yoiur A1C is high, the clock is ticking. All manner of dire consequences can befal you, so please get it under control while you can!

Last May (2011) I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I can’t say it was unexpected. Even an amateur geneticist would have found it an easy prediction. After all, my brother, mother, and daughter have also been given the “Family Curse”. I was fortunate enough to keep it at bay for 47 years.

Yes, the routine is somewhat inconvenient, and it’s a bit of a pain having to count carbs and calculate your insulin, when your family and friends are just diving right in. Luckily, I have always eaten a relatively healthy diet, so only minor changes were required to stay on top of my blood sugar levels. Losing 35 pounds of fat 7 years ago gave me the perspective I needed to tackle the problem.

Double Vision – Not the Foriegner Version

I will say that when my vision got blurry, it really did scare the crap out of me. Probably not as bad as the other drivers, though! Actually for about 2 weeks, mt vision was blurry to the point where I could not recognize my wife standing at the center of a tennis court when I was at the baseline.

Thankfully, it was only caused by temporary changes to my eyes when their moisture levels changed due to elevated blood sugar levels. Everything was back  normal in about 3 weeks. I even managed to win a league tennis match during my Mr. Magoo phase. An episode like that sure makes you appreciate sight more than ever, though.

My first 3 month doctors appointment after being diagnosed revealed my A1C was 5.9. Your A1C is a prime indicator of how well your blood sugar is under control. It basically measures your blood glucose levels for the previous 90 days. Part of that 5.9 reading included the period immediately post diagnosis, when my blood sugar levels were still a bit out of control.

A 5.9 A1C reading is essentially what a healthy, non-diabetic person would measure. Since then, however, things have gotten better, and now I hit in the mid 5s. My last one was 5.4. In addition, I take very little insulin each day to make that happen. It comes down to two things: diet and exercise.

On the diet side, remember these three words: Low Glycemic Index. I’ve been posting about the virtues of low glycemic index carbohydrates here since 2008, and it’s great to finally measure how well the low glycemic lifestyle really works. For new readers, a food’s glycemic index is a measure of how rapidly it makes your blood sugar levels rise after you eat it. Lower is better, and equates to a slower blood sugar rise.

The Twosome You Want to Know

There are really two things you want to look at when checking your food’s carbohydrates; glycemic index and glycemic load. Glycemic load is simply how much carbohydrates are in the food per unit of mass. Again, lower is better. Glycemic Load = (GI value x carbohydrate per serving)/100. I know, you were told there would be no math, sorry!

Making sure my dietary carbs primarily consist of low glycemic index and load carbs is the secret to keeping my A1C low. Blood sugar spikes wreak havoc with your A1C levels, so minimizing them is vital to ensure your levels stay close to normal, while minimizing the amount of insulin you have to take. Many times I can eat a full and complete meal and take no insulin whatsoever.

Glycemic index reading use either glucose or white bread as a baseline, depending on the specific scale. Just in case you thought white bread was healthy if you left off the butter, that should open your eyes. Actually, for a diabetic, a spot of butter on the bread would probably help, for reasons I’ll examine later.

A1C Sucess Rules

Here are some quick ways you can achieve something similar to what I have done. If you’re also diabetic, make sure you consult your doctor before attempting any dietary changes.

1) Substitute high glycemic foods for ones with lower glycemic index ratings. When eating fruit, for example, stay away from bananas, switch to apples. While bananas  hit your blood stream like you just downed a six pack of that tasty Mexican Coke with the real sugar, apples have a relatively low glycemic index.Instead of loading up on rice with your stir fry. Leave that for others and add extra veggies instead. Foods high in dietary fiber tend to have lower glycemic indexes, but not always.

Vegetables are the kind of carbs you can eat copious quantities of, since both their glycemic index and load ratings are very low. In fact, on may occasions I can have a chicken stir fry with no insulin, and my blood sugar will only rise from 85 – 90 to about 115. Experiment by starting with a very small portion and monitor yourself closely if you’re going to try this.

Technically, low glycemic index foods measure under 55, but I like to target foods under 40 as low GI fare. These include peanuts (14), seeds, lima beans (32), pinto beans (38), kidney beans (27), soy beans (27), chick peas, apples (37), milk (27 whole, 35 skim), non-fat yogurt – artificially sweetened (14), raw peach (30), tomato juice (38), prunes (29), vegetables such a broccoli, spinach, cauliflower (18-25) .

It is important to check the number of carbohydrate grams in addition to the GI. Steamed and raw vegetables  score so low on both the GI and GL scales they are essentially zero carb. Sure, eating  pound of them may incur blood sugar consequences, but you get the point.

2) Always combine foods to moderate the blood sugar rise, unless you’re eaating nothing but very low GI/GL meal. Here’s where the butter on the bread comes in handy. Fat moderates blood sugar by slowing the  sugar’s absorption. Protein will also do this. That’s why eating food combinations is so powerful. You can effectively reduce the foods’ glycemic index with the proper combination.

 3) Eat raw and minimally processed foods to help keep the glycemic index low. Cooking helps break down the carbohydrates so they can be digested more quickly, effectively rasing the GI. Processing also does this, especially when foods are ground up into fine particles. Just how a log burns slowly, but small kindling is consumed in seconds, finely ground foods are digested and set onto your bloodstream much more rapidly.

 4) Stay away from bread, even whole grain. Yes, this can be pure hell for many people. If you are going to eat bread, the less processing, the better. You can buy breads that are made without flour, and these are the best, with white bread being the worst (it’s just like pure sugar to your body, remember?) Bread has a way of hiding, and you can find it almost anywhere. Remember, deep fried foods are normally breaded with white flour.

Breakfast cereals are even worse than bread, due to the cereal companies’ propensity to ensure nearly every one of them is so sugar-laden a bear would find them too sweet (but not our nation’s children, apparently). Most breakfast cereals have GI ratings in the 70 – 85 range. One of the worst offenders? No surprise, it’s corn pops with an 80. Maybe that’s why Kellogg’s changed the name from the more descriptive Sugar Pops, finally dropping sugar from the name back in the ’80’s. A couple of breakfast cereals you may not expect to be so high on the GI totem pole are Corn Flakes (84), Grapenuts Flakes (80), and Corn Chex (83). Note that adding the traditional milk will lower the overall GI compared to the cereal alone.

5) Eat more, smaller meals. In addition to being less nutrient efficient, large meals tend to put a more severe load on your system, due to their higher glycemic load. Smaller meals break the carbs into smaller portions, helping to keep your blood glucose levels more even.

6) The “E-word” – Yes, getting regular exercise, especially of the moderately high intensity variety, will help keep your blood sugars low, and consequently your A1C measurements. Of course there are numerous other exercise related benefits, too. You’ll probably lose weight, feel better, and who knows, you may meet someone special out on the bike trail, on the tennis court, or in the gym.

The Trap

Note you can eat meats to your heart’s (perhaps not?) content. The same goes for virtually anything else low carb. There is one trap I have to warn you about, however. Just because a food is low glycemic index does not mean it is especially healthy or will help you lose weight. I fell into the tap of eating cheese as a snack. While cheese certainly fits the bill of a low GI snack, it is highly caloric, and can help you pack on the pounds if you go overboard.

There are many low GI foods that are not especially healthy, such as chocolate cake. Fortunately you can usually apply the low GL test and weed these out. For example, while the aforementioned chocolate cake is fairly low on the GI scale, it has a significant glycemic load.

Do Your Reading

Even if your typical reading only includes the Sunday comics and a brief perusal of People Magazine, there is something else you should read that’s quick, easy, and will really help you to keep your A1C under control; the nutritional information on food you’re considering throwing in your shopping cart. While most of the foods I advocate don’t have nutritional labels, since they’re raw veggies and fruit (be careful, many fruits are high GI).

Look for the number of carbohydrate grams vs fat and protein. Check for flour, and most of all, screen for any of the 2076 kinds of processed sugar the food producers seem to have discovered they can add to your food. If an ingredient ends in “ose” it is a sugar, and if it contains HFC (high fructose corn sweetener) I usually look elsewhere.

I’ve had diabetic friends follow these simple rules and be amazed at the difference. One even told me that it was making a difference in people’s lives. I can tell you, knowing that feels great. You’ll probably find that your body’s insulin resistance is much lower, so you can use less insulin. Again, check with your doc on this kind of stuff.

Following these guidelines have helped me keep my A1C in the normal range. I hope they can do the same for you as well. Even if you don’t have diabetes, this kind of diet, combined with regular exercise is a great way to keep yourself healthy and fit.

If you’ve had any experience with this, please feel free to chime in with a comment. Also, please share this with your family and friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google + and LinkedIn would be much appreciated, too.