“You can have pickles? Or gelatin? Or cucumber slices!”

My mom tried to make these options sound appealing and delicious, but when I was kid and my blood sugar was super high, pickles weren’t what I craved. My body wanted to chug water and cheeseburgers simultaneously in efforts to cleanse the ketones and sate the high hunger.

“Can I have something else?”

“Not right now. Those are the free foods you can have, until your blood sugar comes down.” she’d reply.

The phrase “free foods” was a real one, twenty years ago in our household. At the time, my diabetes mischief was managed by Regular and NPH insulin and by the American Diabetes Association’s exchange system for meals. This was before carb counting was a common practice, so most often people with diabetes followed a structured diet. Mine, back in the day, made for a lunch that included “two starches, one meat, one milk, one fruit, and one fat.” It was very on-the-nose and we didn’t deviate much or else the peaks of my insulin would make for a crappy afternoon of blood sugars.

“Free foods” were the foods on the exchange list that supposedly wouldn’t cause a budge in my blood sugars. I could eat pickles by the pound, sugar-free Jell-o by the bucketful, and cucumber slices until the cows came home. (It took me two full years to make the connection between pickles and cucumbers.) These foods are tasty enough in their own right, but they are not a proper snack, from the perspective of a nine year old.   (Except for the gelatin. Sugar-free gelatin was a wobbly, colorful mess that was always fun to slurp down. Can’t deny that.)

Years later, now that I’m using an insulin pump that’s filled with fast-acting insulin, counting carbohydrates and bolusing according to my established ratios is how I tackle food. But old habits die hard, and sometimes when I’m high, I find myself looking for “free foods.” Worse, I’m calling them “free foods.”

“What do we have that’s free?” I’ll ask over my shoulder as I’m rummaging through the refrigerator.

My husband is confused. “What?”

“Free foods. Do we have any?”

“All of our food … we paid for all of that food.”

Now, the foods I turn to when my blood sugars are high are things like spinach salads, almonds, iced coffee, and … sliced cucumbers. (Old habits die hard. Currently, we have a patch of cucumbers growing in our back garden, and they’re almost ready to pick.   Since they weren’t bought at the store, can they be considered free-on-all-counts foods?)

In my head, I still consider them to be free foods, even though I know that there are hidden little carb counts in every bite that I need to be aware of, but they don’t hit my blood sugars very hard at all, and feeding the high can take the edge off. Every little bit helps when I’m coaxing a 250 mg/dL off the ledge … even if it’s being coaxed with cucumber.



(this post was originally published as part my work with Animas)