Surviving with Type 2 Diabetes, by B.H.

There have been numerous discussions in the survivalist and SHTF communities about diabetes, and while Type 1 has been discussed at length, Type 2, which is much more prevalent and equally life-threatening, usually gets little more than a mention and possibly a conclusionary statement that it can be handled/managed with diet and exercise. But what exactly does that mean? There’s no discussion on what such a diet-based treatment would entail in a SHTF situation. It’s not a simple disease to handle. Type 2 diabetes, if untreated or improperly treated, can lead to loss of life and/or limb, just as in the case of Type 1 diabetes. Simple advice, such as cutting out the sugar and doing a few pushups, is not going to solve the problem. Special attention must be paid and special dietary considerations adhered to.

My husband and I are survivalists, but he has a unique problem; he has Type 2 diabetes– a condition that one can manage through proper diet but never goes away. I’ve managed to get him off medications and normalize his condition (meaning his A1C level) by tailoring his meals to be Type-2 safe, or “friendly” (which is the term du jour) to put it politically correctly. Ask me if that makes any difference in our day-to-day existence. The answer would be “No,” and “Thank you for all of your kind wishes.” He needed to lose weight, and I don’t believe that diets work, especially given the number of weight loss diets out there and the increasing growth of obesity despite these diets. Well, you do the math. Instead, I changed the ingredients in all of his favorite foods, including confections, using all-natural ingredients, and we not only normalized his A1C (which has to do with blood sugar levels) but he lost 45 pounds in three months and managed to keep the weight off. It’s been six years and counting. Did that take rocket science?

My husband started experimenting with military MREs and commercially-available dehydrated rations, just to see how they would affect him. It’s always good to be prepared. We do have a division of labor around here; he’s the planner, and I’m the implementer. While salt and sugar are commonly accepted preservatives, the levels in many of these foods sent his blood sugar levels into overdrive. Because his general levels fall just north of the normal range, instead of being able to order what we might consider full meals, he had to pick and choose, wisely, and still it’s pretty much a crap shoot. If we were in a position where we’d have to depend on those MREs and rations exclusively, we’d be in trouble. Blood sugar spikes, especially dramatic and regularly occurring ones, are very stressful and, in the long term, life threatening. Survival means considering all of the variables and food, well, that is pretty basic.

For the record, the three main components that tend to set off, or rather, hasten the onset of Type 2 diabetes are stress, diet, and obesity.

My husband was diagnosed about six years ago and put on medications that had the potential side effect of cancer. These medications were designed to control, rather than cure, the diabetes. Risking cancer for the sake of a band-aid didn’t make much sense to me. I decided to start doing hard research at a systemic level. Since diabetes is incurable and requires being careful for the rest of your life, I knew that my husband would be on meds for at least a year, and if they didn’t prove effective, we’d have to consider stronger meds.

When my husband was diagnosed, I followed my father’s oft-expressed advice. I trusted but verified. Since I didn’t yet know what to safely feed him, he went on the meds and we bought the neutriceuticals developed, for the most part, by pharmaceutical companies. The neutriceuticals were helpful at first but were not a long-term solution, since they: a) were designed primarily for people who were taking the meds, b) contained untrustworthy, unpronounceable ingredients, and c) tasted terrible. My goal was to get him off the meds.

While I’m not a medical practitioner and am not going to even pretend to give you medical advice, I would like to share what my husband and I found from our personal experience. Keeping in mind that doctors study nutrition for a total of three weeks in medical school and nutritionists don’t study chemistry at all, I think that is the reason why Type 2 diabetes has hit such epidemic proportions worldwide to the point where it’s the seventh leading cause of death and growing. Yes, sugar is part of the problem, as are carbohydrates and unhealthy eating habits, which together have a cumulative and devastating effect.

As an aside, I have a lot of doctors in my family. On balance, they can’t cook. They may know medicine, but beyond that they barely know their asparagus from their elbow macaroni. Between that and the fact that their knowledge of nutrition is minimal at best, you can’t exactly count on them for advice on food much less recipes.

As we ventured further into the survivalist mindset, the problem of what to safely feed my husband reared its ugly head again. MREs are laden with sugar and salt. Then again, MREs were primarily designed for young soldiers in the field, who need the carbs and sugar for energy as well as the salt for healthy bodies that were and are put through grueling regimens that would do the average person in, just as their MREs have the potential to do. Food, even an MRE, is not “one size fits all”, and that’s one reason why down the slippery slope we go.

So now I’m working on survivalist versions of Type 2-safe MREs for him. While it is a work in progress, here are some hints and heads up for dealing with Type 2 diets in a survivalist setting. Let’s start about as basic as it gets– trail mix. It’s a good little quick energy booster, and it’s one of the universal favorite snacks for hikers and others, but it’s loaded with dried fruit or fruit that is “enhanced” with sugar (dried cranberries), when the additional sweeteners are unnecessary and do not significantly improve anyone’s health or endurance. Some fruit is just too high in natural sugar for diabetics, yet there they are in almost every trail mix concoction– raisins being one of the prime offenders.

T2-Friendly Basic Trail Mix

  • 1 cup mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews or peanuts)
  • ½ cup mixed dried fruit (unsweetened apples, cranberries, pears, apricots)
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds, hulled
  • ¼-½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/8 cup bittersweet dark chocolate chips (optional)

Do not pass go: avoid raisins, sweetened coconut, dried pineapple, and any sugar-coated fruit, and milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips. Cocoa nibs are acceptable, but they’re not everyone’s cuppa.

Of course, the operative word is “basic”. There are other ingredients you can add to up the nutrition level and to change the flavors/textures, if you’d like, such as dried edamame or dehydrated tofu. We do know that there are those of you out there who avoid any foods that are soy-based. To each his own. Toss in a few dried peas instead.

The sugar and carb levels we’ve observed in many of the survival rations currently available are a red flag; their affects are cumulative, which is why the disease tends to hit around age 40 or so. Why fuel the flames, and why not err on the side of caution, as a general rule? Sugar is not a necessary staple, and do not substitute for it with those artificial zero-calorie sweeteners, either. They’re actually as bad for Type 2s as is sugar, if not worse. Net-net, they’re higher than sugar, in terms of glycemic load. Natural sugar alcohols are a great alternative, are readily commercially available, and can pretty much be substituted 1:1. Birch bark (xylitol, and yes, I know; it’s an unfortunate and very unnatural-sounding name for such a natural sweetener) is one of my favorites and has no unpleasant aftertaste.

High fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, and agave are all no-nos for Type 2s, so don’t even go there.

Losing weight will help, but merely counting calories and adhering to, say, a 2000-calorie a day diet is not the solution. Not all calories are the same. Broccoli is certainly digested and utilized by the body differently than is, say, cake. So eating a 100-calorie piece of cake is not the same as munching on 100 calories worth of broccoli. I know this sounds simplistic, but the message here is that it’s just as important (probably more so) to look at the carbohydrate and sugar counts on nutrition labels as it is to look at calories. (I personally pay closer attention to “calories from fat” rather than just gross calories per serving.) Carbohydrates convert to sugar, which are not good for a diabetic. This doesn’t mean that you should demonize all carbs; some of them, like old fashioned oats, help to bring down glucose levels.

Another reaction I’ve seen from Type 2 patients, pre-Type2 patients, and their caregivers is to go gluten-free. This is potentially another mistake. In commercial and many other recipes, the wheat flour has been replaced with rice flour or potato starch, which are higher in carbs than unbleached white flour. In fact, I’ve talked to a number of celiacs– people who are allergic to gluten– who told me that Type 2 is becoming a growing problem in the celiac community. If you are gluten intolerant, try this: try baking with unbleached flour rather than all-purpose flour. The latter has a number of additives, which producers are not required to disclose. I found that when I was baking with AP flour, as opposed to unbleached flour, my husband’s glucose levels would spike. This didn’t occur with unbleached flour. There is a difference, so why potentially risk diabetes?

I’m just starting to experiment with survival recipes and foods that won’t drive my husband’s glucose levels off the charts. I know that this is a task not every prepper is up for, but there is more to come, and hopefully this heads up is a start that will make you a little more mindful and circumspect about your survivalist food choices, too. Every ingredient matters, and it all adds up. The disease strikes without warning, a little bit at a time, unnoticed, and then all at once. Survival can be tough enough. The last thing you want to do is to go over that cliff, and survivalists need to be creative, both in the kitchen and out in the field!