Most of us like summer – breezy days and eating al fresco, and holidays to pack for. When you have diabetes, you may already have your own check-list of things to take with you if you travel abroad. But as well as all that tackle, there’s also the factor of ‘foreign food’. Some of us wouldn’t touch the stuff; but for others – it’s what holidays are about!
Whether at home or abroad we could all encounter tapas to tortillas, pasta to pizza and baltis to baba ganoush.
Going overseas means it is likely to be warmer. You are likely to do more exercise than normal even if it is just walking to the beach and the occasional lazy swim. You’re also going to be more relaxed. All of these factors will conspire to give you and your diabetes a bit of a challenge.
Some people's blood glucose levels might go up (or down) with the new change of scene. I've sometimes experienced this and I take more care in the first few days when I'm somewhere new, doing more tests to stay on the safe side. Then, if necessary, I can either reduce or increase my doses a little, to balance it out and get on with enjoying my holiday.
And I always keep my blood test kit handy and a sugar source – I’d much rather be prepared than let my diabetes impair my holiday fun.
You are also away from the normal routine of feeding yourself: you’re more likely to eat out, and there may be food stuffs that you’re not familiar with and therefore do not know how to gauge them in terms of carb-counting (if you carb-count). There may be proportionally either more or less meat than you are used to. Spanish tapas tends to be meat-based (various forms of ham and sausage) while Italians may favour a large bowl of pasta with nothing much more than pesto on top – so heavy on the carbs but not protein.
In many cases, the foods might be low-carb or no-carb – salads and meats for example. But then there are the breads, pastas, paellas that can pack out a meal as well as ice creams and other desserts you might want if eating out. These can pack a hefty carb wallop, so take that into account with your doses, or try to share portions so that you don’t have a whole one to yourself – a little bit of what you fancy does you good!
As part of any holiday planning, understanding a little about how the foods may differ at your holiday destination before you go will hold you in good stead – ask around or invest in a travel book (one with major foods translated if possible). Diabetes UK has a good series of leaflets on various travel destinations that also have emergency contact details should you hit a rough patch (‘Delhi belly!’) and need help or someone who knows the lingo better than you do. Wearing some medical ID when abroad is also a good idea.
Back in Blighty, there’s a similar variation in play – more salads and fewer stews. However, while nearly all salad ingredients are no-carb, you can add in some staples (like some pasta or brown rice) to a salad to give it some carbohydrate value to go against your insulin intake, or even just some bread. Summer drinks can be high-sugar, even squashes and cordials can pack quite a sugary punch, so go for low-cal or ‘lite’ versions if you can.
Sue Marshall is a freelance writer with Type 1 diabetes. She also runs Desang.net, an online resource and directory of diabetes products, including kitbags she designs.