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Carb Counting in Singapore

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Carbohydrate counting is hard. I’m pretty comfortable counting for the foods that I often eat at home. But when it comes to foods I’m not familiar with, I do struggle. So when I was overseas in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, I had a pretty interesting time with my diabetes.

For those who aren’t familiar with Singapore, food is a huge part of their culture and social events. Each time friends meet up, it will always be centred around food. Singapore is a multicultural society, which brings along its famous traditional street food. With hawker centres offering mouthwatering dishes for $3 on average a plate, I was in food heaven.

Traditional breakfast in Singapore - 2 soft boiled eggs, kaya (coconut egg jam) and butter on (3 stacks of) toast.

Traditional breakfast in Singapore – 2 soft boiled eggs, kaya (coconut egg jam) and butter on (3 stacks of) toast.

The only issue I had was counting the carbs in my snacks and meals. Thankfully, many dishes are rice or noodle based, making it relatively straight forward to count the carbs. However, most Singaporean dishes are also usually laden with sweet sauces, curries or gravy so counting carbs for those becomes tricky. However, it’s the traditional dishes like the fried carrot cake or lontong and the side dishes such as the satay skewers with ketupat (rice cake) and peanut sauce that throws me off. Not to mention their freshly squeezed juices made for you right on the spot.

Tip: When traveling overseas, do your research on the country’s typical meals and cuisines and what they contain via recipes. Even better yet, find a local place that sells that particular cuisine and test out your carb counting skills before leaving home!

An important key to carb counting is knowing what is in your meal. I’ve been lucky as my mum has learned to cook many Singaporean dishes over the years, which has allowed me to understand what goes into these foods. For instance, fried carrot cake uses pureed radish, made into a steamed radish cake and fried with eggs, preserved turnip and lots of sweet, dark sauce. So I would count for the radish and give extra insulin for the sweet sauce. This meal sounds weird when translated into English, but I assure you, it’s delicious.

Of course, it’s hard when you’re sharing various plates of food, which is often the case in Singapore. You don’t have a plate in front of you to count before bolusing. In these cases, I would just eye off how much off each plate I would eat, do a quick count, and try to keep track of the amount of food I’ve eaten.

One of the most important things I did during my trip was to keep checking my blood glucose levels and managing that the best I can. With all of the guestimating of carbs, there were times I needed to give a correction or that extra glass of juice. Alongside with the eating, my partner and I walked a lot, which balanced the carb loading out a little.

A small snapshot of the foods we indulged in!

A small snapshot of the foods we indulged in!

Most importantly, if you’re overseas, just enjoy the time you’re away. I was initially quite strung up about eating so much more than I allowed myself to back home. And I was definitely weary when I exceed my Total Daily Dose on my insulin pump two days in a row. But how often do I go overseas and what better place would I go to experience foods like these (apart from my mum’s)? Sure, my carb counting was not perfect and I needed to monitor your blood glucose levels a little more closely, but you don’t say no to a freshly squeezed sugarcane juice with lemon while you’re in Singapore!

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Pancreatically challenged, diabetes advocate, PhD student and dietitian - working to positive changes within the diabetes community and healthcare setting. Although diagnosed at age of 19 with T2DM, the type of diabetes I have is under constant debate. Finally pumping as of March 2014.

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  1. Pingback: 2014 – The Year That Was… | Bittersweet Diagnosis

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