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Backcountry Menus For Diabetics

Feeding a diabetic hiker takes planning and professional advice, but not necessarily a special menu.

Diabetics eager to log serious backwoods miles better plan a special menu, right? Not necessarily. “With proper education and within the context of healthy eating, a person with diabetes can eat anything a nondiabetic eats,” says Karen Chalmers, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., Director of Nutrition Services at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. That means that the same carbohydrate/protein/fat percentages that apply to the general population of hardworking backpackers also apply to diabetic hikers. Maintain those ratios in the 50:20:30 to 60:20:20 range and you or your partner should get the energy you need. End of story? Not quite.

While diabetes experts agree that there is no such thing as a “diabetic diet,” there are guidelines to help the insulin-impaired maintain healthy blood sugar levels when backpacking:

  • First, and most important, find a registered dietitian who can help you develop a diet that suits your weight, insulin requirements, and activity level. Menu planning for diabetics must be individualized. Only you and your health-care professionals can determine what will work best. If your hiking partner is diabetic, ask him or her to either plan the menu or take your menu to a dietitian.

  • Ration carbohydrates throughout the day so your blood sugar doesn’t spike too high–or even more important, drop too low–at any one time.

  • Always carry a low-fat, high-carbohydrate snack for quickly treating low blood sugar. A couple miniature boxes of raisins are ideal.

  • Don’t focus so much on carbos that you ignore fats, protein, and total calories. A medium banana and a chocolate bar both contain about 30 grams of carbohydrates, for example, but the chocolate also packs 15 grams of fat and 150 calories. Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to controlling diabetes.

  • Bulk up on fiber. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that people with type II (adult-onset) diabetes can lower their blood sugar significantly by increasing the amount of soluble fiber in their diets. The most effective foods in the study included backpacker-friendly fare like oat and rice bran, apples, dried peas and beans, barley, fruits, and vegetables. Just make sure you introduce fiber gradually and drink plenty of water to keep things moving through your system.

  • Finally, remember to test your blood sugar frequently both during and after your hike, since extended or intensive exercise can lower your blood sugar for hours after you’ve hung up your hiking boots.

Although there are no “special” foods required for a diabetic diet, the following suggestions for snacks and a 3-day backpacking menu will help you convert a standard diet into one that’s healthier, not only for diabetics, but for any trail tromper. The menu provides about 1,500 calories per day; fill in extra calories as needed with snacks spaced throughout the day, rather than just increasing the calories of the main meals. These suggestions should not be substituted for the advice of a registered dietitian.

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