Protein versus Carbs

Since my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in March, I haven’t written that much about diabetes preparedness. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been prepping, of course, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on food preps for the diabetic.

As always, I’m not offering any medical advice here – I’m just telling you what I’m doing to get our pantry in order. It’s probably a good time to brush up on my disclaimer.

For the uninitiated, Type 1 diabetics don’t make enough insulin due to a wonky pancreas, and have to take daily injections to survive. (Type 2 is where a person makes enough insulin, but for a number of reasons the insulin receptors on the body’s cells get gummed up.) Diabetics of both types have high blood glucose levels without medication, which is what causes all the chronic problems later in life, like blindness and circulation problems. For Type 1 diabetics, every gram of carbohydrate that’s eaten has to be accounted for, and a proportional dose of insulin injected. It kind of sucks, to be blunt – every meal is now a medical procedure, with my wife and I conferring with our daughter on what she wants to eat, calculating the carbs, figuring the ratio of insulin to carbs, measuring her blood glucose, and doing the injection. Such is the life of a diabetic.

It all boils down to this: she can’t make insulin, so she has to take it. The prepping dimensions of insulin supply alone are enormous – for a guy who starts to hyperventilate when there’s less than a year supply of toilet paper on hand, it’s hard to be told a 90 day supply of a vital medication is more than enough. But insulin supply strategy is a topic for another day. And besides, that’s only one facet of effective diabetes preps. Stacking as much insulin as possible is my Plan A, but I’m sure as hell going to have a Plan B and C and D too.

One of my first rational thoughts after the initial shock of the diagnosis wore off was to think about what it used to mean to be diabetic. Diabetes has been known about for eons – the Egyptians described a disease where flies were strangely attracted to the urine of some children – but insulin was only isolated and used clinically starting in 1921. But what happened to kids with diabetes before then?

As it turns out, nothing good. Kids with diabetes just plain died.

At the turn of the last century, some progress was being made in understanding the disease, and a few enlightened doctors actually came up with calorie-limited diets that kept the kid’s blood glucose level in a safe range. Even before the advent of injectable insulin, it wasn’t much of a strategy. It prolonged life, but the kid was starved and weak, and in the end it was always the same, sad story.

Japan, Ireland, Germany, Austria - what could possibly go wrong?
Japan, Ireland, Germany, Austria – what could possibly go wrong?

But in today’s world, it could work as a stop-gap strategy. If there came a point where my stock of insulin was severely limited due to some sort of supply-line problem – and given the countries of origin listed on some of the packages, that’s a distinct possibility – putting my daughter on a severely carb-restricted diet might buy us time to get a steady supply re-established. For every 8-10 grams of carbohydrate she eats, she needs to take a full unit of insulin. Eat a lot of carbs, burn through a lot of insulin. Stay with protein and fat, and the supply will last longer. Pretty simple math.

The old food pyramid: "First, let's kill all the diabetics..."
The old food pyramid: “First, let’s kill all the diabetics…”

At first glance, my food stores and homestead production doesn’t exactly scream “low carb.” I have over 200 pounds of pasta alone. Each 40 pound bucket of wheat has about 23 pounds of carbs. Fact is, almost every calorie I have in storage is a carb calorie, plus I grow carb-rich crops like potatoes, corn and beans. I’m perilously low on available protein and fats.

So what am I thinking? Why do I continue to store carb-rich foods that may become essentially poisons to my daughter? There are a couple of answers. First, carbs are ridiculously cheap and easy to store. That 200 pounds of pasta probably cost us about $150 all told, and it’ll last forever. Second, and more importantly, I have more than just my daughter to feed. I have a family of five, including two hungry teens. Even if my daughter can’t have too many carbs, the rest of us can. And feeding us the carbs would let us direct the precious proteins and fats to her. She’ll eat like the nobility of old, gnawing on joints of venison from the royal hunting grounds, while we peasants are left with grains from the tenant farms.

No two ways about it – I need more protein. Storing protein is difficult – most canned meat tend to be yuck, except tuna, which we stack in abundance. Freeze-dried meat is wicked expensive, but we do have some on hand and should probably look at bringing more in. We often buy meat on sale and stash it in the freezer, but that’ll only last so long in a crisis situation. So protein storage presents some challenges that we’re still sorting out.

Protein production also needs to be stepped up. A flock of a twelve eleven chickens, all of which should be producing eggs by this time next month, is a great asset – a dozen or so zero-carb eggs a day will really help balance the nutritional mix, as will the birds themselves at the end of their productive lives. I came really close to adding a couple of pigs to the homestead this year, but backed out at the last minute when I weighed the whole project against everything else I needed to do. That’s looking like a rash decision now, and I may revisit this next year – a couple of hundred pounds of forest-raised pork would go a long way toward stretching the food supply.

We’ve got some work to do, it’s clear. But at least I’ve got an idea of where to go in terms of food storage. I’ve also got plenty to say about our insulin supply. But for now, I think I’ll enjoy a carb-rich snack while my daughter has a nice slice of cheese.

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