by Vickie de Beer

by Tia

My son Lucca was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2010 at the age of 8. Since the first day of his diagnosis, we have been very diligent and motivated to manage his glucose levels as well as possible. We listened to everything the doctors and dieticians taught us and followed the rules meticulously. We fed Lucca a low-GI diet and weighed all his food. We did what is referred to as carb counting and kept the amount of carbohydrates in line with the guidelines.

Lucca’s endocrinologist was very happy with his results. Every 3 months, he went for his average

blood glucose results test called the HBA1C and it was always well within the standards prescribed by the doctor. He patted Lucca on the back and told him that he was one of his top patients. As a side note, he would always say: “Now you just have to work on the extreme highs and lows of Lucca’s glucose levels”. I always asked how he suggested we do that. We tested Lucca’s glucose levels constantly (this was still with the finger stick method) and we ate the prescribed low-Gi diet. We injected Lucca’s insulin 30 minutes before eating and we avoided high-sugar snacks, what else could we do? But he could never give me a clear answer on how to avoid the roller coaster of glucose levels.

Fast forward a few years and I met Prof. Tim Noakes at the launch of the Real Meal Revolution book, where he explained in great depth that we (humans) do not need to consume so many refined carbohydrates in our diet, in fact, it was making us sick. He explained that we can get enough good, fibrous carbohydrates from vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and green beans to sustain us. He believed that we should rather focus on good sources of protein (like eggs, dairy, grass-fed beef, and organic chickens) and good fats (like olive oil, coconut oil, and butter) as forms of energy in our diet. Something clicked in me, and I suddenly understood what was causing the roller coaster effect in Lucca’s glucose levels!

I went home to start the process of changing our family’s diet to a low-carb diet. It took us almost two months to transition to low-carb and also for Lucca’s glucose levels to show the desired results. In fact, I was at the point of giving up because I did not see any difference in Lucca’s glucose levels. But from one week to the next, we saw an improvement, although Lucca’s glucose level was on the high side, we could see that it was very stable – no extreme highs and lows. The week after his glucose level dropped to below 7, operating between 5 and 7 constantly, a real miracle for us. Lucca’s personality also changed, and I realized how awful he really felt in the past – he had more energy and became a happier little boy.

People with type 1 diabetes always say that diabetes is a moving target. What works one day will not work the next, and some days you just have unexplained high glucose levels even if you are doing everything right. Managing diabetes became a lot easier on a low-carb diet because we removed the one differentiating factor that caused roller coaster glucose levels – refined processed carbohydrates. We knew how Lucca reacted to the food we gave him because we never included unstable things like bread, pasta, potatoes, pizza, crisps, sweets, or cookies. If Lucca had unstable glucose levels something else was causing it and we could hone in on the problem; it could be stress, a virus, tiredness, hormones, or glitchy insulin.

In 2018, Lucca started using the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System. This small device really took Lucca’s diabetes management to the next level. One of the most significant changes for us was that we were now able to track Lucca’s glucose levels continuously throughout the day. With the traditional finger stick glucose testing, we received single data points and specific moments, and we had to fill in the rest ourselves – not very accurate or trustworthy. But now we had access to a continuous stream of data, but also for us more importantly, the night. We could now see trends in Lucca’s glucose levels that we only guessed at previously. Nighttime hypo’s (every parent of a child living with diabetes’ biggest nightmare) could be detected well in advance, and insulin ratios could be adapted accordingly.

Lucca could take more responsibility for the management of his glucose levels, and he could clearly see the effects that things like late nights, exercise, and exam stress had on his glucose patterns. He had a lot more freedom to be a young, independent teenager with a quick scan of his phone over the device on his arm using the FreeStyle LibreLink app, and not using the cumbersome finger stick method.

We could also really fine-tune Lucca’s low-carb diet even more. We could see that he reacts

differently to different types of protein and could quickly adjust his insulin dosages. We could set Lucca’s time-in-range markers ourselves, and he can now operate for many days at 90% in range. The peace of mind and independence that FreeStyle Libre gave Lucca helped him to reduce a lot of his own anxiety about diabetes and helped us manage his glucose levels even better. For us, the change to a low-carb diet together with the use of the FreeStyle Libre have been the biggest game changers in managing Lucca’s diabetes and ensuring that he will have a healthy, happy life.

FreeStyle Libre 2 launched in South Africa in April 2024, which now includes real time continuous glucose monitoring with optional alarms sent straight to compatible smartphones.

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