Tag Archive: Diet


Diet Sleuth Main Window

Last Thursday’s lunch

One of the problems in carbohydrate counting is figuring out how many grams of carbohydrate are in any given meal. I explained last week how I weigh my food whenever possible. But to get from that to the number of grams of carbohydrate, protein and fat are in a meal, I use a program called Diet Sleuth. This is a program designed for Mac, though a Windows version is available. There are things that have me screaming at it, but I’d have a much harder time controlling my diabetes without it.

The first figure is the main window, with my lunch for last Wednesday selected. (To enlarge the image, click on it.) Double clicking on a food brings up a window to add the food to a meal, with a variety of

Diet Sleuth Entry Window

Entry window for adding a food not in the database

serving sizes or number of grams. I use grams to enter except for the cherries. Since they are pretty uniform in size and one cherry is one of the portion sizes given, I just fill in the number of cherries (10 in this case) and let the program calculate the grams.

The program comes with a large database of foods, based on the USDA database of nutrients. It also has a number of prepared foods, including frozen dinners, fast foods, and snacks. You can easily add any packaged food with a nutrition label. The second figure shows the window for adding a food, filled in.

You can also add recipes. This is particularly useful when you make a large quantity of something and freeze it in serving-size portions. The cookie recipe shown comes up per cookie, but it’s impossible to make every cookie the same, so I go by grams when I’m actually eating one. The only ingredient not in the

Added recipe for Florentine cookies

Florentine cookies, showing window for adding a recipe.

included food database was the candied orange peel, which I added from the package. (By the way, these cookies store very well in the freezer, and I’ll probably make a larger batch next Christmas when candied orange peel is again available. But I rarely eat more than one at a time.)

Problems? Loss of data when I change versions or upgrade my operating system! This is a real problem with added food items and recipes. (It is also the reason I do not guarantee that the version shown is the latest.) There is also a minor bug that puts the “duplicate” button in the middle of the expanded data entry window instead of at the bottom with the other buttons, but I didn’t even know that one existed until I was trying to capture the windows for this blog.

There is another problem that comes up with using any nutrition database: all fruits of the same kind, for instance, are not equal. Take an apple, for instance. Apples vary enormously in sweetness and carbohydrate content per gram. They also vary a great deal by size, if you want to use the “per apple” option rather than per gram. The sizes given don’t often agree with what’s available in the supermarket. That can be addressed by using grams, but the sweetness cannot. Neither can bones in meat.

All in all I’d recommend it as an excellent meal planning tool. You can even use it to keep track of your weight. Just don’t count on it for saving your recipes!

Meals with Diabetes

It would really be nice just to eat what I want, or even just to eat what was good for me. But when you’re using an insulin pump with carbohydrate counting, things are never that simple.

aspargus being weighed

The scale was tared for the weight of the pan; only the asparagus is weighed. This is only 6 grams of carbohydrate; asparagus is not a high-carbohydrate food.

Carbohydrate counting is a relatively complex way to handle the interplay between food and insulin. The simplest way, which is what the doctors started me on 40 years ago, was a rigid diet (the diabetic exchange diet) and an equally rigid schedule of insulin shots. It worked all right during the honeymoon phase, but few people stick to it, and by 10 years ago it wasn’t working. Even when I tried counting carbohydrates to get a more accurate food intake, the intake being dictated by my doctor, I still had problems. Sometimes I would go into shock at the most unexpected times (including while eating); at other times I would go high for no apparent reason.

It wasn’t until I got an insulin pump that I learned the most important lesson of carbohydrate counting: you adjust your insulin to what you are eating, your measured blood sugar at mealtime, and how your body reacts. Some doctors are still not comfortable with this.

The standard method of carbohydrate counting just counts the grams of carbohydrate in a meal, leaving the fat and protein to themselves except for avoiding too much fat and making sure there is enough protein. This works as long as each meal contains about the same balance of fat, carbohydrate and protein. When this balance varies, it’s better to use a complex formula that includes all three, as all eventually show up as glucose in the blood. One formula I’ve seen is grams of carbohydrate plus half the grams of protein plus one-fourth the grams of fat. I use grams of carbohydrate plus half the grams of protein, unless fat makes up more than 40% of the meal. (Not often.)

But how do you get those grams?

If you’re eating prepared food you read the nutrition label. These are actually available online for many national restaurant chains, though it means going online before you go out to eat, or order it sent. (It may also shock you at the amount of fat present.) If you are eating out other than at a national chain, you have to guess – and check your blood sugar often after eating. If you are cooking with fresh food at home, you need to weigh everything and refer to some kind of list, such as the one put out by the FDA, which has nutritional information for all kinds of foods. (The FDA list is available as an iPhone app, and there are may other food listings of this sort online.) Needless to say, this greatly slows down the process of preparing a meal, which is why I tend to rely rather heavily on frozen meals – reading the nutrition labels before I buy!

As to how to weigh food, the ideal is a gram scale, usually digital and battery-powered. Mine’s almost worn out from use, but it’s an essential part of food preparation for me.

As to getting all those weights into a meal, I use a computer program called Diet Sleuth, though it means running back and forth between the kitchen and the computer room to enter the foods I’m going to eat. Next week I’ll describe how it works.