Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A Diet for Dogs and Diabetics?

For several years I ate a mostly vegetarian diet. I continued to eat fish, but other meats were off the menu. Pasta and rice were the foundations of many a meal; breakfast was cereal, fruit, toast. My reasons? I believed it was the healthiest option, and I was concerned about the treatment of animals raised for food.

Waiting for the delivery truck, behind Whole Foods

Then I started paying closer attention to the ways different foods affected my blood sugar levels. I read some books and articles about a phenomenon I'd already experienced first-hand — the extreme difficulty of matching exogenous insulin doses to carbohydrate intake — and I radically cut back on carbs. While nothing makes Type 1 diabetes easy to control, reducing my carb intake made things a little easier by limiting the impact of one of the four hundred variables that can affect blood sugar control.

Predictably and reasonably, some people asked: "Don't you need carbs to fuel your exercise?"

I used to think so, but apparently not. I haven't noticed any change in my energy levels (other than the usual fluctuations I've always experienced). And, for what it's worth, lots of low-carb/primal/paleo nutrition experts, argue that the small quantity of glucose we do need (for the brain) can be manufactured internally or acquired through a small amount of dietary carbohydrate.

Kinda cute, how this guy identifies himself ...

[This photo has nothing to do with food, except that it was taken on a walk with Freddie during which I was thinking about this post!]

Going back to my vegetarianism, however, cutting back on carbs also meant cutting back on meal options. So I started eating meat again (except for pork — pigs are just too much like dogs for me to think of them as food).

Fortunately, by this time, there were lots of pasture-raised/free-range/drug-free/organic/hippy-dippy/ethical meat choices available (though I realize that, for many people, there's no such thing as "ethical" when it comes to eating animals, and I respect that view ... except when it means feeding a vegan diet to a carnivorous pet!).

There was also, by the time I cut back on carbs, an interesting and growing body of research indicating that sugar and grains are a far more serious health threat than poor ol' demonized fat.

I enjoy eating meat/eggs/fish, and, having experienced various health improvements (not just diabetes ones) after ditching grain products, I can honestly say I'm not missing pasta or bread or cereal (OK, maybe cereal a little bit — but it's very weird not to be tempted much by the likes of hot cross buns and chocolate croissants).

Enter Freddie — befanged hunter/scavenger, digester of raw prey, gnawer of bloodied bones!

Winner of today's pinkest tongue prize!

[Yesterday we tried a new trail. We've now walked 12 of the 33 dog-friendly trails in Pacific Spirit Park! Freddie sniffed much potential prey but caught nothing — not even a low blood sugar, as I was more or less in range the whole time.]

Freddie loves his food, and although much of it comes from a specialty shop for dogs and cats (I've written about the place here), he sometimes eats the same stuff that Paul and I do. The last time I made stew, for example, I set aside a portion of raw lamb chunks for Freddie's dinner and cooked the rest for us (and the guy down at the dog park). I'm convinced by the people who argue that grains are bad for dogs, so Freddie's diet is, like mine, grain-free. He doesn't seem to like vegetables as much as I do, but if you count green tripe, which he loves, then our diets are really quite similar.

The Bone Mat!

AND YET (there's always a "but") ... it's unsettling, to put it mildly, that my dog (not to mention his humans) eats considerably better than most of the world's population. "Steak for everyone" is obviously not a sustainable dietary plan for the planet, even if all the vegetarians were to opt out.

Much bigger brains than mine have been tackling this problem for some time now and aren't in any need of my assistance. In our own little family, however, I'm thinking it might be time to replace much of the lamb and beef with ocean-wise fish and/or to start experimenting with stews of smaller, foresty animals (rabbits?). Food for thought ...

And now, on a completely different topic ... it's that time of year again! The time when Heather and Paul start anticipating the summer teaching term and spending increasing numbers of hours engaged in, er, scholarly pursuits.  

Walking With Freddie has, since its inception in late September 2013, been posting almost daily, but, for the next few months, I'll be cutting back to a weekly(ish) schedule. If you've been enjoying the blog and want to be notified of new posts, be sure to sign up for email notifications (on the home page) and/or, if you have a Google+ account, sign up as a Walking With Freddie follower (also on the home page).

Many thanks, as always, for your visit!


  1. I will read every one of the blogs, no matter how often (or not often) you post!
    Re this entry - it is SO hard to "do the right thing" re food choices, especially if one is a meat eater (which I definitely am). I know that free range and free run don't guarantee that the animal had a lovely, bucolic existence like our raised animals did on our farm when I was growing up. They can still be many to a box/stall, indoors a big chunk of the time, and organic doesn't mean a nifty animal existence for sure either. And I'm not wholeheartedly anti-GM either. My head usually hurts after thinking about it all too much, and need to have a steak from Safeway!

    1. Thanks, Leigh! You rock!

      And excellent points about so-called ethical animal practices. What kind of farm did you grow up on?

  2. Good read; thanks Heather! My wife is vegetarian and I am aside for on Fridays when/if we go out to eat I'll have fish. It's the last of my Catholic upbringing that I hold onto.

    You hit some great points on the postitive effect that being a vegetarian has on the environment. I remember reading some where that eating less or no meat is the most green thing an individual can do. As for the less carbs or Paleo diet, I've struggled with this. I do eat less carbs than most, but I do eat carbs or grains specifically. When I do I eat whole and unprocessed grains. I've been curious to find out how eating a low carb diet would effect my performance on the bike; carbs equal fuel. The best thing I've found to combat the BG spike from eating carbs is to bolus 20-30 minutes prior to a meal. I'll guess I'll have to try a low carb diet.

    As for Gus, he eats Newman's Own dog food :)

    1. Thanks so much for weighing in on this, Aaron! Clearly there's much to struggle with here. Eating big animals is, as you point out, pretty terrible for the environment if much of the world's population is doing it (and where do they NOT have McDonald's these days?). So, yes, having had my little return-to-meat fest, I'm becoming increasingly committed to eating more wild fish and other non-cow/lamb protein sources.

      Re. carbs and fuel, I've tried to do an extremely low carb, ketogenic diet (where fat-burning becomes the main fuel source), but I never seemed to be able to stay in ketosis (as measured by blood ketone strips — and, yeah, it felt weird to be *wanting* ketones, but of course it's a different phenomenon from DKA). So I'm not sure, but I think I'm probably getting my energy from some combination of carbs and fats. In any case, it feels OK, and my lower insulin doses mean fewer and smaller screw-ups.

  3. This was pretty fascinating.
    I went vegetarian nearly 16 years ago and over time I turned into a happy almost entirely vegan. BUT... a happy vegan that refuses to push my view on others.
    It's all a very fine line with dietary needs as well as choices (since I also have celiac disease).

    Post however much you want, your loyal readers (me et al) will be here to read.

    1. Thanks, Scully — for reading the blog and for sharing your hugely well-informed perspective, which I dig and respect!


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