Last month I had the pleasure to talk to Ginger Vieira with Diabetes Daily. The conversation was posted on their site, but If you missed it, enjoy the below. Here is a link to the original post as well. Have a healthy one!
Kelly Schmidt was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she 8 years old. Today, she follows a low carb, real food diet, uses a continuous glucose monitor and predominately an insulin pump.
“I take months off from my pump going on shots from time to time (mostly during the summer). Of all the kids in my family (I am the youngest of 4), siblings and their children, I am the only one with type 1 diabetes,” explains Kelly.
Kelly is a registered dietitian, a dietitian nutritionist, and certified group fitness instructor. Her book, “Primal Eating and the Paleo Diet” is a guide for anyone interested in eating a diet focused on whole foods and fewer carbs. Learn more about Kelly’s work at PaleoInfused.com.
Ginger: Okay, first, let’s start with your own definition of the Primal/Paleo diet…
Kelly: Conventional wisdom tells us all food and food groups are healthy in moderation; however, the paleo and primal diet challenges this theory. For example, as nutrition research continues to grow out of its infancy, data is showing that foods that contain gluten-containing grains (including wheat, barley, rye and non-certified gluten free oats) can damage nearly every part of the body, including the brain, digestive tract, skin and pancreas.
The paleo and primal way of eating and lifestyle presents a nutrient-rich diet that affects every cell in the body, which can present itself in long-term health, a strong immune system, energy, glowing skin, and more. To paint a picture of what foods are allowed in a paleo lifestyle consider – all fruits, vegetables, quality protein from poultry, beef, game meat, all animals, seafood, eggs, nuts/seeds and healthy fats including olive oil, palm oil, avocado and coconut. Things that are purposely missing include – grains, man-made/vegetable oils, dairy, legumes, sugar and soy. One distinctive difference between paleo and primal, is a primal lifestyle includes more carbohydrate food sources, such as white potatoes and rice, but also high quality forms of dairy (full fat, grass-fed, raw, organic; read the book for more information!).
Ginger: And how do you feel it would benefit people with diabetes?
Kelly: If I had to provide a one word answer, it’d be “endlessly.” And this would be for everyone, not just those of us with diabetes. But getting to your question, the first and foremost benefit I see with this population is better blood sugar control, and being able to predict blood sugars verses chasing blood sugars. Follow this up with more energy, better sleep, weight loss and more. It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s a road in the right direction. We have to understand eating food dense in nutrients is great for our health, but it’s never good to overdo healthy food. Eating too much of anything is unhealthy and can cause inflammation, high blood sugars etc. Point being, eat when hungry, stop when satisfied.
Ginger: Has diabetes and nutrition ever been a struggle for you?
Kelly: While my diabetes is in great control now, I was a teenager and didn’t prioritize my diabetes or diet at times. Nothing extreme, but I certainly had a need for improvement on my labs, especially while I was in transition of living on my own in college. From my personal experiences in the last two plus decades, I more than understand the struggles and dedication needed for good blood sugar and my choices have come a long way. In life, especially with managing my diabetes, I am a student eager to learn on what I can improve regarding mental health, supplements, exercise, meds and diet.
Ginger: How did you become passionate about this approach to nutrition?
Kelly: Can I copy and paste my book here? I kid. Honestly it all began with the silver lining of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a disease that is so influenced by what we eat. From there I planned a way to pursue a career as a dietitian and once I got into the field, I had many personal experiences, predominately controlling blood sugars, which lead me to question conventional wisdom. In 2009 a friend nudged me to participate in a conference her company was doing the event planning for, and speaker after speaker had a common theme among their message and it was to eat more real food. That’s common sense, but wait, what did that really mean?
Fortunately I had some one on one conversations with the speakers and asked how they thought I could tweak my diet to improve my blood sugar. Immediately the response was hands-down, cut the gluten out of my food choices. I was paralyzed. I thought, “How could I do that when I have so much to watch in my diet already?” But I had nothing to lose, and I have never turned back from that weekend. From there I returned home up north, and cut the obvious gluten culprits from my food, and over time, became squeaky clean gluten free. Moving on, I dug further into what using food as medicine meant for me, and truly assessed how certain ingredients made me thrive verse spike my blood sugar, alter my digestion, mood, sleep, etc. Going through this personally, I was and am more than excited to help people learn that “feeling good,” has various meanings, and today I eat foods that I love, and love me back.
Ginger: What are the most common misconceptions people have about the Primal/Paleo diet?
Kelly: One big misconception I discuss often with people is that this diet is not meat only nor meat heavy. Yes, there is a focus on protein, as I believe it’s vital for optimal health, but the lifestyle encourages produce, micronutrients coming from fruits, vegetables and nuts/seeds, maybe even more so than animal protein. Generally the paleo diet is lower in carbohydrates than the Standard American Diet, but it still offers foods rich in nutritious carbs ie. Fruit, yams, taro, sweet potato, white potato, plantains, etc. It is also not a fad diet. I could jump on a soap box here, but it’s a lifestyle. If you really see what the “paleo” experts are eating, it’s not 100% compliant. It’s a template of paleo foods, and non-paleo foods that work for us individually. Did I just have some organic hummus? Yes, and it was delicious. At this point, I tolerate it very well, and above all I truly enjoyed it.
Ginger: Could a person who is drawn to certain aspects of the diet add some of it to their life without going full-blown, 100% paleo?
Kelly: Absolutely. A diet that is enhanced with more real food, replacing something processed, is always a win. And I indeed do not advocate a 100% paleo diet to many, if anyone. Food is pleasure and if we look at what we eat with a black and white frame of mind, we are missing the benefits of such nutrition. For example, I eat quite paleo, but I will enjoy cheese, rice, quinoa and few other items when I want. I just know what works well for my body and my health and progress a diet on this note.
Ginger: Are there certain common mistakes a person might make when they first start down this path?
Kelly: There are some common themes I see. One being, people will eliminate all non-paleo foods from their meals/snacks and next thing you know, they are significantly undereating. When taking on anything new, I advise to have a plan and eat beyond eggs for breakfast, salad with protein for lunch and chicken and broccoli for dinner.
Seek out whole real food, but also nutritious food with diverse nutrients i.e. organ meat, different forms of protein (go beyond poultry), sea vegetables, seafood galore, various fruits and veggies. There are so many veggies that people try when jumping to this lifestyle ie. Zucchini noodles, vegetable-based lasagna, eggplant pizza crust, plantains (my fav!!), and more. Another situation to note, is this diet will likely bring down someone’s total carbohydrate intake if they are coming from a standard American diet, yet, people also tend to, in addition, cut down on fat. No need to be fat phobic. This way of eating it about listening to what your body craves and finding a whole food source to fulfill that.
Ginger: Lastly, what are a few tips you might have for someone who is really interested in adopting this approach to nutrition?
Kelly: Do a little homework before jumping in. Know it’s something to move towards in making it a true lifestyle over time. No need to consider this as a diet you are going to go on, and then jump off once you hit a health goal. Not to plug my book, but I will, find a resource as such, and in the back I have also included a handful of other resources that can further help people including blogs, books and podcasts.
Ginger: Thank you, Kelly!