They say things come in threes, and with me that has seemingly been true. I originally took on an allotment plot to aid my mental health, then soon after was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I quickly realised that stress was a major trigger for that, and time on the plot reduced ‘flare-ups’. Almost 2 years ago however, I was then diagnosed with Diabetes.
This was, quite frankly, the last thing I ever expected to be diagnosed with. I led a fairly healthy lifestyle – a reasonable amount of exercise, not obese, and didn’t eat or drink ‘junk’. My diet was perhaps carb-heavy, but primarily through grains. Oats for breakfast, pasta for lunch etc – essentially the kind of diet many tout as ‘healthy’. I wouldn’t say I was a saint by any means, I’d have the occasional treat – but I wasn’t a ‘bar of chocolate a day’ kind of person.
When I was diagnosed, my HbA1c (average blood sugar level over the preceding 3 months) was the highest my GP had ever seen at 97 mmol/mol. That’s more than double what would have been enough to diagnose me as a diabetic (the ‘normal’ range being under 42 mmol/mol). I had been unwell for a number of months. Only when the GP ordered a full blood test that we discovered why. Nothing about my lifestyle would have suggested it as a possibility otherwise.
Type 1.5 Diabetes
There has been confusion about what ‘type’ of diabetes I have. I fit little of the criteria for Type 2, yet clearly still produce ‘some’ insulin which means I’m not type 1 (at least, not yet). We’re currently working on the basis that I’m Type 1.5, or LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adults) as it’s otherwise known. LADA shares some characteristics of both type 1 and type 2, hence the term ‘Type 1.5’. As LADA is an autoimmune disease, it does tie in quite well with my previous Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis, also an autoimmune disease. It’s thought that having one dramatically increases the likelihood of getting the other.
Upon diagnosis I immediately started researching what I should be eating, drinking and doing. I discovered that there’s a great deal of ‘bad’ info out there. Most focusing on cutting back on ‘added’ sugar, such as chocolates. Indeed, the NHS themselves state “eat a wide range of foods – including fruit, vegetables and some starchy foods like pasta”. Yes, of course we should be eating fruits and vegetables, but consuming some varieties can be worse than eating a mars bar in terms of blood sugar control (note – eating a mars bar is also not a good idea!). Pasta? Definitely a bad idea.
This isn’t however the right post to explore these points in greater detail (I’ll leave that for another day).
Growing Foods for Diabetics
My diabetes diagnosis was the one thing that really made me focus on horticulture more seriously. Not only was increasing my exercise important, but also learning and exploring fruit and vegetable growing in greater detail. For example, some varieties of the same vegetable can contain fewer sugars or carbohydrates than others. Some ‘low carb’ fruits or vegetables are prohibitively expensive to buy, and some are simply unavailable to buy in mainstream supermarkets. Rhubarb, for example, appears on the supermarket shelves for only 2 or 3 months a year. Yet it’s possible to grow varieties that can be harvested for 10 months of the year – and Rhubarb is especially useful to diabetics. Jerusalem Artichokes are virtually unheard of in supermarkets. Yet they are pretty fool-proof to grow and can be extremely versatile to a diabetic-friendly diet.
Aside from the benefits of growing to suit my particular dietary needs, the exercise and general ‘well being’ of allotment gardening is also of crucial importance. Keeping your blood pressure under control is especially important, which means keeping those stress levels in check. All of which working the plot achieves for me. But it’s also encouraged me to explore the science behind growing too. In particular the concept of reducing the sugar and carbohydrate content of fruits and/or vegetables. This could potentially be through breeding, or simply growing under varying conditions. Either way, it’s something I’ve decided to explore seriously.
Allotment gardening has not only allowed me to have a more active lifestyle and grow and consume suitable foods that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy. It’s also opened an entirely new chapter in my life.