Diabetes, like any chronic disease, can come with constant worry, concern, and even a sense of loss. You can find yourselfmourningfor the life you thought you would be leading. In my case, I was mourning a particular identity: my baking identity. I had been the girl who always offered to bring dessert to get-togethers and office parties. I whipped up decadent treats simply so I could sit back and let the praise wash over me, and spent hours at a time flipping through baking and cooking magazines. It may sound trivial, but it was a huge part of who I was.
I never gave much thought to how much sugar I used when I baked. I never had to. I was one of the lucky ones, the sort that stayed slender and fit without much effort. I ate healthfully enough, got plenty of vegetables and whole grains, and built a 30 minute walk into my daily commute. All signs pointed to perfect health and I felt I was free to indulge in my baking addiction. So it came as a surprise when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant with my third child. But it was manageable, and for the sake of my health and my child’s, it wasn’t difficult to forgo the sweets for a few months. I was simply relieved that it would all be over and out of my system before the Christmas baking season began.
And so it was, for a while. And so I thought it would continue, as I had made a greater commitment to healthy eating and regular exercise, going so far as to discover a passion for running. I certainly wasn’t going to go on to develop type 2 diabetes, not if I could help it.I continued monitoring my glucose every so often, and it was with great dismay that I noticed an upward trend a few months after my baby was born. I tried to deny it, hoping that there was some sort of mistake, that hormones were still affecting me or that my meter was broken. But there quickly came a point where I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I remember the morning I admitted it to my husband, after a sleepless night spent admitting it to myself. One of the first things I uttered, in tears, was my concern over what would happen to my favorite pastime. How could I be me without baking?
It turns out that I couldn’t. It wasn’t long before I was scouring the internet, looking for recipes for low carb baked goods. I didn’t expect to find much, so it was to my great surprise and delight that I found a wealth of information on all sorts of low carb alternatives. I knew vaguely of almond meal, but coconut flour? Soy flour? Peanut flour? What were these strange items and how did one desperate diabetic baker get her hands on them? My local grocery store didn’t carry most of them, so I found a website that did, put in a big order, and got to work.
At first, I followed recipes almost to the letter, fearful of changing anything because I had no clue how they would turn out. But as I slowly gained confidence, I began adapting the recipes to suit my tastes and needs. I started to understand how these new ingredients behaved and how I had to adjust the rest of my ingredients accordingly. It wasn’t long before I was taking conventional recipes made with flour and sugar, and attempting to make them over with low carb ingredients. And then I began dreaming up all new recipes, creating them in my head and getting into the kitchen to see if I could bring them to fruition. I had a lot of success, with a few outright failures thrown in to keep me humble.
I was also very pleased to find that my sweetener options weren’t limited to sucralose and aspartame, both of which have always seemed rather suspect to me. Early on, I discovered erythritol, a sugar alcohol that doesn’t cause the digestive issues that other sugar alcohols are known to. The claim that it had little to no effect on glucose levels was one I took with a grain of salt at first. But I was willing to give it a try and use myself as a guinea pig, and was astonished to discover that it really didn’t seem to register on my glucometer. Despite its chemical sounding name, erythritol is actually a naturally occurring substance found in fruits and fermented foods. Although I use it sparingly and usually in combination with stevia, I am far more comfortable with erythritol than with other sugar alternatives.
As I approach the first anniversary of my diagnosis, I realize just how much things in my life have changed. Diabetes has altered my relationship with food in a way I never anticipated. Having to think about what I put in my mouth every single time I eat is something I am still not used to doing. Sometimes I resent it immensely. But I also know that there are many good things that have come out of it. At 38-years-old, I am in better shape than I have ever been in my life and have discovered a love and talent for running, an exercise I previously detested. I am far more conscious of what my whole family eats, everyone’s diet has improved,and I have become a better baker.
In my past life, I never really paid attention to what made a recipe work or what made it fail. I didn’t understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder or the role that gluten played in making bread rise. And it wasn’t until I had to go without that I came to realize that sugar does so much more than simply sweeten our foods. It adds bulk to baked goods, helps whip air bubbles into cake batter, and allows things to brown and crisp up when baking. Baking without sugar is a challenge, no question, but in its absence there are ways to make up for the things it does. My technical baking skills have vastly improved and I am far more creative in the kitchen than I used to be, developing new recipes almost daily. The self I was so afraid of losing is alive and kicking, and even thriving, despite, or maybe I should say thanks to diabetes.
Carolyn Ketchum writes All Day I Dream About Food, a food blog that focuses primarily on low carb, gluten free recipes. She has a Masters in Physical Anthropology and Human Evolution from Arizona State University and has an extensive background in higher education administration. She currently lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children. You can check out her experiments with low carb baking at All Day I Dream About Food .
Photos courtesy of Carolyn Ketchum