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Just Tell Me What To Eat!

‘Doc, this low-carbohydrate theory is all very fascinating. But just tell me what to eat!’ I hear that often as I stray into the finer points of insulin and metabolism. 

Okay. I get it.  

So, here’s a weekly shopping list.  It is a realistic and practical list and driven to a price.  Twenty-five items, 30 grams of carbs per day, 2000 calories daily, and 97grams of protein daily. For a little over £28.  And it could be cheaper if you shop around.   For a couple or family, you will get better value through economies of buying larger packs. The keto lifestyle is just as healthy for people without Type1 diabetes. This is no ‘special’ diet. It is a UK-based diet and was compiled in the late spring season when several local fruit and veg were becoming available. Any number of variations based on country region, health beliefs, concerns for the environment, religion, and ethnicity are possible. This is an example of what can be done on a budget. You will pay more for the first week to stock your cupboards with ingredients that can be used in the future—around £8 for the first week. But your second and subsequent shops should be cheaper as you use those ingredients up.  

Your food budget will determine what you eat ultimately. Food is an investment in your and your family’s health, so it is worth considering upping your budget if funds allow. Health is a gift. If you have it, nurture it always.   

There are some things that Type 1’s should consider.  Make sure you are confident in what you are doing. Talk to your healthcare professional and agree on a personalised plan.  You will need to have learned how to manage basal insulin, how to count carbohydrates and adjust rapid insulin. You will need hypo rescue, and this is best as pure glucose. This is a keto list with under 30g of carbs a day. If you are transitioning slowly, then add carbs and reduce energy from fat. There is a table with the relative energy and nutrients in the food. For energy, it is roughly fat ( minus the protein) because there are few carbs. You might need to adjust your protein depending on your requirements. 

This shopping list has been pared down to the minimum number of ingredients needed for an exciting range of foods. There are just 23 things to buy. If your budget allows, more green, leafy veg or berry fruits could be added. But there is enough food here already to keep you healthy. Some of the ingredients will be used in future weeks. The same applies to other cupboard stock items such as olive oil, coconut oil and mayonnaise. Coffee has been used as an example of a beverage, but it tends to be more expensive than tea, so if you prefer tea, then your costs will be lower. The price has factored in the weekly amount. Your first week’s list will be approximately £8 more than you strictly need for that week. But these cupboard items will keep fresh for a while.   

All the food here is considered to be real food. However much you choose to spend, ensure it is real food. Refined, processed, brightly packaged offerings with health claims are more likely ‘not’ food at all in the real sense of the word.  They are made like that so that they have a long shelf life. So why not extend their shelf life by leaving them there? When times are less plentiful, you might need to revise your strategy. But for now, eat real food.  

Just over three-quarters of all food consumed in the UK comes from supermarkets. And just over a quarter of all supermarket shopping is done at Tesco.  So, to make this practical, the focus is on supermarket shopping at Tesco. There is another table with a price comparator from a range of supermarkets. There is no reason whatsoever not to shop around. Tesco could have been any supermarket chain. Each supermarket has its good and bad points, where they source their products, price, range, etc. The lists were compiled from the store’s online shops. Aldi does not include their fresh food online, so an estimate of prices was done there. There is also a price comparator for cost per kg. This will help you to see where further savings can be made by shopping around. A weekly keto shop for the same items can be done for under £30 to over £40  from these three supermarkets. This is in line with what a straw poll of non-keto people came up with for a weekly shop for an individual adult. So, a keto shop is in line with their usual shop.  

Keto and very low carb are often cited as expensive and faddy. But this is simply not true. Agreed it could be a fad, and some people will try it and decide it is not for them. It is optional for those fortunate people who don’t need to worry about carbs. It doesn’t have to be expensive to eat real food and very low carb.  

There are no recipes as such in these blogs, but there are suggestions. You see, not everyone has the time or interest to make ten ingredient dishes. Not everyone has three meals a day. Not everyone snacks.  T1 low-carbers ideally should aim to avoid snacking unless they are rescuing a hypo.  And a lot of people eat the same sort of food regularly. So, this is a shopping list for the week. There is enough energy and protein, and there are few carbs. If you make dishes from this list throughout the week, you will definitely be keto. You will need to agree on a strategy for carbohydrate management with your dietitian or health care professional, but you will not lack in nutrition. If you have a growing person to feed, perhaps more protein and fat might be needed. But for most people, the amount list will be enough. Adjust it to your personal needs.  

It is a mixed diet, but you will get an idea from the list where the energy and protein are coming from. It is a so-called ‘western’ food-based diet. If you are vegetarian, then you will be looking to rebalance the nutrients to cut out the meat. But this is there as a guide to cheap, practical keto.  

Go local. Go garden. Go hedgerow. 

Local shops such as greengrocers and butchers, plus those selling ethical foods in bulk, should not be overlooked. We are used to paying for our food and not usually growing or rearing our own. We are also used to being remote from food production. Remote not just in the production sense but also the geography. Do you need blueberries from Peru when strawberries are growing in your own country? Do you need strawberries in October when blackberries are more plentiful? Here is a website showing which foods are seasonal in the UK at any particular time. 

So why not get to know your food. What conditions does it grow in? Are you happy with that? Are you okay with herbicides and pesticides if it means cheaper food at the expense of small animals and insects? Are you aware of soil health, how critical it is to life on earth, and how some farming practices are ruining the soil? If your chicken on this shopping list will have more room in the oven than it did throughout its short life, would you buy it?  Would you purchase eggs if that chicken lived all of its life in a small wire cage?  The chicken in this list has a red tractor label, which is a start. It is not the cheapest, but there are perhaps better-kept ones for more money. The eggs are free-range. Have you ever seen a cow eating soy or grain by choice? Have you seen a cow standing in a shed for hours on end by preference? To feed the 7 billion hungry mouths on the planet, compromises will have to be made. Ideally not. For those on a very tight budget, it might be a necessity right now. But the unnecessary spoiling of our environment might be something to consider as a part of your shopping rules in general and when circumstances permit.  A lot of farmers are doing their bit for healthy, sustainable food. We should be supporting them.  

Not everyone has the luxury of a garden or the space to grow all of their food. But it is surprising what can be done. There are some blogs on gardening on this website.  Give it a go if you can. For example, the strawberries in this shopping list would cost the same as a few plants. If you kept those in a tub at home, you could recover your investment a few times over during the growing season. From just a few easy-to-grow plants. And they multiply to give you even more next year. Or to give plants to friends.  

Don’t forget to keep an eye out in your local hedgerows. Many cycle paths, footpaths and towpaths, even those that pass through urban areas, will be covered in blackberries in the late summer. Why not pick a few and freeze them?   

Yes, there will still be a need for supermarket shopping, but there is a lot of fun to be had and money to be saved by looking elsewhere.