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Jessica Apple in her kitchen
Jessica Apple in her kitchen

I was diagnosed with type 1.5 diabetes, or LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) at the age of 35. LADA, like type 1 diabetes, is a form of autoimmune diabetes, but in LADA, beta cell destruction happens slowly. In type 1 diabetes, insulin therapy is immediately required for survival. In many LADA cases, however, the disease looks, at first, like type 2 diabetes. The symptoms can be mild. Many people, myself included, are misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes because they present with only slightly elevated blood sugar levels.  

When I was diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults or LADA, I already knew a thing or two about diabetes. My husband, Mike, had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 7 years earlier. At the time, we considered ourselves “healthy” eaters who avoided refined grains and kept our sugar intake to a minimum. My husband had received American Diabetes Association-style dietary recommendations at the time of his diagnosis, so we were under the impression that carbohydrates like “healthy whole grains” and fruit, were, like insulin, necessary for survival. When I was diagnosed, however, I wanted to delay insulin therapy, if possible. Because I’d seen my husband’s struggles with balancing carbohydrates and insulin, and because I’d experienced the struggle myself while using insulin during pregnancy, I wasn’t eager to keep injecting after giving birth. Without pregnancy-induced insulin resistance, my blood sugar was easier to manage. I decided to try diet and exercise as a way of managing diabetes.

Through some trial and error, I realized the only way to avoid blood sugar spikes was to stop eating carbohydrates. If I ate an apple, my blood sugar soared. If I ate an avocado, nothing happened, and I stayed full for a long time. That’s when Mike and I began to question what we’d learned from our healthcare providers about diabetes and nutrition. “Why,” we’d ask (and still ask 10 years later!) “are people with diabetes being told to eat so much of the thing their bodies can’t tolerate?” It made no sense and it still doesn’t.

Together Mike and I embarked on a low-carb journey. Over time it became lower and lower carb. Easing into the diet slowly worked for me, though others find it’s better to just jump in all once. I started out with simple swaps. Instead of eating fruit in the morning, I grabbed a handful of nuts. A sandwich became an open-faced sandwich, and then it became a salad. I made sure every meal had protein and fat, which helped my body feel sated. I learned to eat eggs in so very many ways. Cheese, avocados, full-fat yogurt, almond butter, more cheese, and cucumbers became my staples. There was indeed, I learned, life after bagels. It’s called cream cheese.

Eating low carb has become part of our family’s lifestyle. Though our children aren’t officially on a low carb diet, they are aware of sugar’s detrimental effects, and they limit their intake of it on their own accord. They don’t drink sweetened drinks or juice. We try to have a family dinner together every night and it almost always includes protein, fat, a green salad, and vegetables like zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, or spinach. The more the family embraces low-carb eating, the easier it is to stick with it.

Nearly a decade after being diagnosed with LADA, and almost as long on a low-carb diet, I don’t use insulin or any other blood sugar lowering medication. I’ve never had an HbA1c over 6%. Of course, this is only anecdotal evidence. One story of one woman with LADA who has managed to extend the life of her too few remaining betas cells and avoid injecting insulin for a decade by eating low-carb, is not proof of anything. But, here’s a simple truth. We don’t need a long-term study to know what we should be eating. People with diabetes have all the proof they need about the best diet for their bodies. It’s right at our fingertips. All we have to do is check our blood sugar after eating. The number on the glucometer says it all.

Why are people with diabetes being told to eat so much of the thing their bodies can’t tolerate?

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  • mark Niblack

    November 10, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    This is a balanced, well-written article. Thank you for sharing. When I was diagnosed with LADA, I was fortunate enough to have a diabetes nutritionist educate me on how to manage blood sugars with a low carb diet. So it’s been 4 years for me without needles. Sadly, it seems that most don’t get that guidance and they are told that dieting is for type 2’s and type 1’s have to go straight to meds and insulin. Like you brought out, not everyone is the same and treatments differ in effectiveness, but it would be nice if everyone was presented with this as a possible option for managing their diabetes.

  • nazarin31

    October 19, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    You might want to add a warning about trying management through diet and exercise alone in case it gives impressionable people similar ideas. Because while it may work for Jessica not everyone with LADA will get by without insulin, even on a low carb diet.