Controlling our carbohydrate intake is of course important to diabetes management. While the Internet's overflowing with low-carb recipes and dieting advice, one site that seems to stand out is the excellent blog called Ditch the Carbs.
Although the site is not specifically for people with diabetes, it seems to have become a resource in our community. Our DiabetesMine correspondent Rachel Kerstetter had the opportunity to talk with Ditch the Carbs founder Libby Jenkinson from New Zealand recently about the site and low-carb living.
DM) Hi Libby, we know you work in the medical field, but how did you discover the world of low-carb? And how has it helped you?
In 2013 I attended some incredible LCHF (low-carb healthy fat) workshops here in Auckland, New Zealand. They were led by Professor Grant Schofield and Dr. Caryn Zinn, who are at the forefront of low-carb academia and advocacy.
I began to question everything I had ever known regarding nutrition and weight loss. As a registered pharmacist, I began to research the use of low-carb for incredible diabetic control. Using a low-carb approach to achieve stable blood sugars, reduces complications from chronic high blood sugars (that result from the current food pyramid) and lowers the risk of hypos for type 1s because they have reduced their insulin requirements significantly.
Personally, I have been on and off diets all my life, my earliest was the Scarsdale diet when I was 11. For the next 30 years I would meticulously count calories or points to lose weight, but my weight would fluctuate greatly and my diet was unhealthy. I would eat cake and junk food as long as it was within my calorie or points allowance.
Do you have a personal connection to diabetes?
My father had uncontrolled type 2 diabetes and I had gestational diabetes in two of my three pregnancies. I suspect if I had not discovered low-carb, I would be pre-diabetic by now and 10-20 kg heavier. After my final pregnancy, I tried to lose the excess pregnancy weight by running, eating whole grains, fruit, vegetables, skim milk and low-fat food. I was living the classic high-carb, low-fat roller coaster and trying to exercise my way out of it.
Is that what led you to starting your low-carb web site?
After attending the LCHF workshops, I began Ditch the Carbs in February of 2014 as a bit of a hobby/experiment to keep me on track.
My lightbulb moment occurred when I attended the “Low-Carb Down Under” conference and listened to a variety of leading low-carb academics speak.
I was amazed at the engagement from the audience when the speakers stood together and discussed what they ate each day. Voila! The science is there, but unless people know how to put low-carb into practice, it won’t improve public health.
How did the site begin to gain traction and how have people reacted to it?
I began by posting meals we ate as a family, taken on my iPad. To this day, all the meals I post are our family meals, only with a better camera and hopefully slightly improved photography skills.
As the years passed, I began to learn new skills that were required to bring my website to a professional level. I still do 95% of it myself. My monthly reach has grown year on year beyond my wildest expectations. I manage to reach millions of followers every month through my website, numerous social media channels and newsletter subscribers.
Ditch the Carbs is now the leading low-carb website in New Zealand and Australia, and one of the top low-carb websites in the world. I truly feel I have helped more people regain their health in the last 3 years by creating this site than I have in the last 25 years dispensing medication.
Families are loving my recipes and my down-to-earth approach. I am a busy mum so I don’t use difficult techniques or hard-to-find ingredients.
I give away as many free resources I can on the site. I have free low-carb FAQ and diet sheets, free recipe eBooks, a one-week low-carb challenge, a 5-day sugar free mini course, and each year I run my own Sugar Free September campaign.
I refuse sponsored posts so I can remain independent and trusted. I have written articles for Diet Doctor, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. I will also be appearing in many more.
Congratulations! You were not only a registered pharmacist but also an aspiring dietician when you started DTC. Have you pursued that goal?
I initially wanted to retrain as a dietician or nutritionist so I could teach others what I have learnt. Sadly there are no low-carb degree courses. I would have to learn the traditional low-fat food pyramid and all the outdated low-fat advice just to gain some qualifications whilst doing my own LCHF research. It would have cost me tens of thousands, impacted my family and I would have probably ended up working part time helping only a few people. So therefore, Ditch The Carbs was born.
I run my website, free online support groups and other low-carb pages that help families with low-carb lunch box ideas. I also have plans for a second website this year, meal plans and a 4th book.
I have recently resigned as a practicing pharmacist, so I can dedicate all my time to helping others live low-carb.
Why do you have such a huge focus on families?
I am passionate about helping families in practical ways to make the change to eating whole foods that are low in carbs. I have three children and knew immediately we should all be enjoying the low-carb, nutritious lifestyle.
When I began eating the nutrient dense, low-carb way, it was difficult to find family friendly recipes, especially school lunch box ideas. I wanted my site to help others make the transition of going low-carb as easy as possible. I feel so strongly about children eating real food and getting off the soda, sweets, fruit juice, pizza, pasta and fries.
We all want our children to grow up with an incredibly healthy attitude towards food and nutrition. Sure they can have treats, but they need to know the importance of eating well and nourishing themselves.
Where do the recipes on your site come from? Do you develop them yourself?
All my recipes on Ditch The Carbs are low-carb, sugar free, grain free and gluten free. Many are Keto and Paleo. I began by adapting our family favourite meals, such as spaghetti Bolognese, into low-carb versions, and I still do. I can easily look at any recipe and formulate it into a low-carb alternative. Once you work with low-carb recipes for a while, it becomes second nature to adapt everything you see. Even ordering at a restaurant, I can do a low-carb makeover on many menu options.
What are your top low-carb snacks?
Simple snacks are best. My kids love tinned/canned tuna in olive oil, cheese cubes, meat off the bone, grain-free granola, low-sugar berries with heavy cream etc.
What are some of your favorite recipes?
Our favorite recipes have to include:
- Keto waffles
- Grain-free granola
- Low-carb almond flour bread
- Fat Head pizza and salad
- Keto bacon cheeseburger casserole
- Slow cooker beef stroganoff
- Easy keto chilli casserole
- Coconut flour choc chip cookies
- Low-carb raspberry swirl cheesecake
You've also compiled "Ultimate Guides" to low-carb flours, artificial sweeteners and alcohol... How did you research these guides and what are some of the primary takeaways?
I always begin from questions readers ask me frequently or a topic I want to learn about.
I began my series of Ultimate Guides to be an evergreen reference for those starting out, or as a reminder for those who have been low-carb for a while. I want my website to be a long-lasting guide for those who are on day one or those who have lived low-carb for a number of years.
I use nutritional values from the USDA and NCC (Nutrition Coordinating Center) databases.These are the most accurate, as many other databases have too many “user added” values. I also research nutrition papers and trusted authorities for further information. I often cite research papers, but much of what I write is practical advice from my years of experience cooking and baking low-carb meals.
We noticed you feature a page on "How to Eat for Diabetes" that refers to low-carb guru Dr. Bernstein. Did you work with him directly? Or where do you get your diabetes recommendations?
As a pharmacist, I saw the complications from chronic high blood sugars. I saw patients who couldn’t manage their medications nor their blood sugar levels. I never give advice via my website as major lifestyle changes, especially those that require titration of medication, cannot be done without a full and thorough medical history taken and full, ongoing support with medical professional advice.
I also direct readers to the community Facebook page, TypeOneGrit, or to Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes University. TypeOneGrit is the most incredible group who follow Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solutions. They have all revolutionized their blood glucose control, along with a controlled and reduced need for their medication. Complications of chronic high blood sugars are reduced and so is their risk of developing hypoglycemia. They live by the “law of small numbers” from Dr Bernstein. “A low-carb diet requires a low level of insulin which reduces your risk of hypoglycemia and insulin resistance’.
I have not worked with him directly, but Dr. Bernstein is a pioneer and should be recognized for his incredible work. He believes that those with diabetes are entitled to normal blood sugars.
Beyond DTC, you've built an online community, including a Facebook group with more than 21,000 members. Can you tell us more about how members use this group?
I started my Low-Carb Support Group so readers could ask their questions in a private environment. Not everyone wants to share their weight loss journey publicly. Members love to share their before/after photos privately in the group. Everyone in the group helps one another with moral support and practical advice. I encourage every question to be asked, because there is always someone who can help.
I have also started a Low-Carb Lunchbox Hacks group, where I help readers with the dreaded packed lunch -- for school and for work (we can’t let the kids have all the fun!). I share photos of the lunch boxes I pack each day there.
You also have several eBooks for sale including a "Simple Carb Counter." Can you tell us about these resources and where they're available?
I have written three books: Low-Carb Starter Pack, Low-Carb Families and Low-Carb Lunches. They are available as eBooks for immediate download from my website, or printed copies from Amazon. I have begun writing my fourth book and a range of meal plans.
Wow Libby, that's quite the story and accomplishment! Thank you for sharing and we hope our readers will enjoy Ditch the Carbs as much as we have.
**Dear Readers: Tune in later this week for an interview with the Low-Carb Pioneer himself, Dr. Richard Bernstein!**