Paleo win! How the caveman diet helped my diabetic mother-in-law

I love a good challenge — mostly because I’m crazy competitive. For example: I tell new girls at pick-up soccer to go home until they learn how to play. Eek! I know, I’m working on it! So when I realized my mother-in-law was in a tough spot with type 1 diabetes and feeling like there was no way her situation with crazy high sugar and long-held food habits could ever change, I thought: Paleo can take this on. Diabetes, bring it!

NOTE: If you’re not familiar with the Paleo diet, it basically cuts out refined grain, refined sugar, beans and other legumes, and most dairy. Instead you eat lots of meats, veggies and some fruit and nuts.

Libby-Cash-Paleo-WinLibby (age 62), grandmother of my dear little boy, graciously agreed to eat only my Paleo cooking for one month (31 days), and see how her body (30 years diabetic) would respond. But even more important: would Libby LOVE the new food? Could she sustain this new way of eating? Would she begin craving stuffed peppers and cauliflower pizza and think “Ugh!” when it comes to pastas and cupcakes?

We needed to change her standard American diet for real and for good!

Libby gathered her sugar numbers a couple days prior to day 1 (Sunday, November 1) so that we’d have a baseline to work with. Her typical diet consisted of cinnamon toast, more cinnamon toast, jalapeño burgers, spaghetti with cheese … not to mention wine and cocktails. Of course she was eating some veggies and fruit, but also lots of grain and cheese.

A normal sugar level is less than 100 after not eating for 8 hours, and less than 140 two hours after eating. Libby had lots of 300-400s. Seriously. Scary stuff. Kidneys don’t last too long with sugar in the 300s-400s, and medications are CRAZY expensive, hundreds of dollars each month even with insurance.

So, we were both ready to get started. I planned out the first week’s breakfasts, lunches, evening s and good Paleo snacks (enough for my family too), then headed to the grocery store.

Game time.

Paleo-Win-Shopping

Week 1 meals

Paleo breakfasts: Sweet Potato Crusted Spinach and Chorizo Quiche from Paleo Takes 5 or Fewer by Cindy Sexton; Sweet Potato Breakfast Cookies from Paleo Magazine’s Reader’s Favorite Holiday Recipe Book and Zucchini Bread.

Paleo-Win-CookiesPaleo lunches: Because Libby is often on the go, I decided to go with wraps. Think Jimmy John’s Unwich. Each lettuce wrap included deli meat turkey and/or salami, alfalfa sprouts, spinach, sliced mushrooms, mayo and crushed salt and black pepper.

Libby would ride her bike to work — way to go, Libby! Wraps made Paleo lunch on the go doable and tasty, not to mention bike-riding scenery was gorgeous.

river-Paleo-Win

butternut lasagna - Paleo WinPaleo dinners: Ultimate Paleo Pad Thai, Butternut Squash Lasagna, Sausage Veggie Stuffing, all three from Paleo Magazine’s Reader’s Favorite Holiday Recipe Book); Spicy, Stuffed Plantains from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook; and super easy Lemon and Herb Chicken with Cream of Mushroom Soup (see my recipe below).

Paleo tweener snacks: habanero almonds, green apples, bananas, Terra Chips and Ghirardelli 72% dark chocolate.

Results

After week 1, Libby’s numbers ranged from 70-150 (with a couple spikes around 199). Pretty dang beautiful!

Almonds-Paleo-WinI was totally excited — Libby was thrilled. We continued our routine of cooking/sharing, and by the end of the month Libby was feeling optimistic. She could see the change. She wasn’t waking up throughout the night, she was feeling level-headed with sugar levels more consistently in the normal range, and she had more energy throughout the day. She also really liked the Paleo food!

Here’s what Libby had to say: “Type 1 diabetes has been a terrible ride for me. Lots of pain and losses associated with neuropathy, renal failure (stage 3), and just the shame of being diabetic. There are so many variables to contend with as a diabetic. Stress plays a huge role. Exercise can make you go into a low blood sugar or increase your blood sugar in certain conditions! Slight infections of any kind elevate blood glucose. Every bite of food has an impact. Alcohol can make you go low, but then make you go high! It has always felt IMPOSSIBLE to manage my condition. I am giving myself this month to figure out a way to change and, for the first time, be successful in managing my blood sugar levels.”

After this revelation, I wanted more than ever to make the Paleo change a lasting success for Libby.

It’s been a couple weeks since the end of the month, and I am still sharing some snacks with Libby and checking in with her. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been better. Real change takes time, and Libby is working hard, putting in real effort. It’s hard to say “no” to Custard Flan and to stuffed baked potatoes, but, with Paleo, it’s all about swapping. For example, you can make custard flan using coconut cream and reduce the sugar content, or stuff a sweet potato instead of the white potato. There are endless rich and delicious foods in the Paleo life that make it totally doable and delicious.

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Sherry

Serves about 5

Prep Time: 10 min

Cook Time: 30 min

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 zucchini chopped
  • 1 8-ounce package button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 4-ounce package shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1½ tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoons tapioca flour
  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1½ shot of sherry
  • Crushed sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, combine oil and garlic. Once garlic is fragrant, add chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently until onion is translucent.
  2. Next, add the mushrooms, zucchini, thyme and a pinch of salt. Mix and cook for 5-7 minutes until veggies have cooked down, significantly. Meanwhile, whisk together broth and flour in a separate bowl. Add broth mixture, sherry and bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 15 minutes.
  3. Finally, turn off heat, remove the bay leaf and add the cream. Mix well and pour soup into a blender. Blend until smooth and return to the pan. Add a touch of salt (if desired) and freshly cracked pepper. Stir well and serve. I like to garnish with another touch of cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

Melissa-Christianson-Paleo-WinMelissa Christianson

Melissa is a home cook, realtor, mom and indoor soccer player based in South Bend, IN. We met at church about five years ago and now attend the same small group where we get all personal and spiritual, then laugh it out over ridiculous stories and tasty dinner. Melissa has excellent humor and style, is a straight talker and carries an air of compelling mystery wherever she goes. One of my favorite things about Melissa is how she shouts in horror and must look away when people talk about gross things.