Happy new year! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season filled with tasty food and beverages.
My Xmas was delightful; I spent six days enjoying sugar-free mojitoes on a lounge chair next to the ocean/pool in Mexico. It really doesn’t get better than that, you know?
But, preparing for the trip reminded me that enjoying (in a relaxing way, not in a oh-shit-my-BG-is-suddenly-400-whoopsies kind of way) the international food and drink situation as a diabetic requires a little bit of forethought and planning. While it’s easy to find good alternatives to food and drink things here in the States, one can’t take them for granted or assume they’re available outside of the country. So I thought I’d devote a post on this (focused on both food and drink) to share some tips I aggregated via my own successes and lessons learned on this last outing.
Bring basic snacks and supplies with you
I didn’t go to a third world country, but I happen to know that Mexicans aren’t the healthiest eaters. I was also planning on leaving the resort I stayed at for a couple of activities, and wanted to be prepared with my own snacks in case what they brought for our snack was cookies (turns out it was). And, I didn’t know what kind of sugar alternatives the resort would have available for my drinks, and obviously, my drinks were the most important part of the trip! So, I recommend bringing:
- Sugar alternatives. I’ve already talked quite a bit about my love for Stevia. I packed up a bottle of liquid Stevia and several Stevia packets and just brought them with me. When I went to the beach/pool during the day, I put them in my beach bag, and when I went for meals at night or found a nice place in the evening for a drink, I carried them in a small shoulder bag. Turns out Mexico has discovered Stevia too (and theirs was actually better!) and I needn’t have worried, but I’d have been up shit’s creek if my only option was Splenda or something (because ew).
- Protein bars. I brought a couple of these along in case I missed a meal for some reason or needed something quickly; I prefer the ONE brand because they’re very low sugar and don’t taste like cardboard, and I have a perfect ratio of insulin-to-protein bar that I know works to cover them. I did end up eating both of them, one on the plane and the second on my snorkel outing off the resort.
- Go-to snacks of choice. When I need a snack or get hand-to-mouth syndrome, my go-tos are usually jerky and nuts; they’re not heavy carb and give me a good dose of healthy protein and fat. Turns out the snack options at the pool weren’t great so I ended up going through what I’d brought and was glad I had it. In addition, the snacks on my off-resort snorkel tour were cookies and bananas; about as high on the Glycemic index as you could get. Luckily, I had brought my own stuff and was perfectly happy (and with a normal BG) most of the day.
- Low supplies of choice. I mean, duh – but in case for some reason this is news to someone, it’s always good to have these along wherever you go (I carried them with me day and eve). Also good to make sure you choose options that won’t melt if they get warm sitting out all day. I had a pretty good low one night and ended up drinking a Mexican coke out of the mini bar instead of getting into my low supplies (and Mexican cokes are HARD CORE sugar bombs), but felt better knowing I had stuff with me.
History has recently proven that Mexico is probably not the place to bring out your inner 21-year-old, drink too much and do stupid shit. You’ve likely heard all of the horror stories about bad things happening to Americans in Cancun, for example, most relating to some type of alcoholic beverage (roofies, poisoned tequila, etc.). So while I feel confident I can travel safely in Mexico as long as I’m careful and aware, I stayed very wary of what I was consuming. Further, Mexicans like their drinks with a LOT of sugar, pretty much no matter what it is, so I knew I’d have to figure out a foolproof method for getting drinks that were okay for me to consume.
Here’s what worked for me:
- Learn how to clearly ask for what you want in the local dialect. Don’t assume that everyone speaks clear English anywhere just because you’re there (we as Americans tend to do this). Obviously at resorts that are filled with something like 80% American tourists, a majority of the staff there will speak decent English, but that is not always a given. Plus, I like practicing my Spanish when in Mexico, because when in Rome, you know? So, before I went on my trip I taught myself how to ask for a sugar-free mojito (Quiero un mojito sin azucar/I’d like a mojito without sugar), and identified a backup drink in case I ran into problems (diet coke with rum). Not gonna lie – I got huffed at a LOT by making this special request because apparently it is sacreligious to drink a sugar-free mojito and the staff were appalled at my poor taste – but I got what I asked for.
- Ask for a better liquor than what they automatically give you. I stayed at an all-inclusive resort and obviously they go through a LOT of alcohol so it’s in their best interest to save money by giving people the cheaper/well brands of liquor. The cheaper stuff is higher in sugar content and can consequently give you a spectacular hangover when consumed in large quantities. Pretty much anywhere will have better quality liquor available for no more cost and will be happy to give it to you if you ask. By doing a little research when you arrive to identify the better quality brands available and specifically asking for them when you order a drink, you can better manage your BG and avoid a massive headache. And then you can wake up the next day and start your adventure all over again!
- Bring sugar alternatives with you in case they aren’t otherwise available. As discussed above.
- Taste your drink first before adding sugar alternatives and consuming. Duh, right? Yeah. I was having consistent success asking for my mojitoes without sugar, so I didn’t think to much when one drink was a little too sweet – I just assumed I’d added too much Stevia. On my fifth day at the resort, after four hours in the afternoon with a BG of 260 stubbornly refusing to come down no matter how much insulin I took, I realized I’d consumed a sugared beverage. My request had not made it to the bartenders appropriately, I guess. And then, because I can’t learn my lesson the first time, I did the same thing again that evening. While I normally would taste my drink first anyway, I had gotten complacent. Always taste your drink first – even if it’s the 20th one!
- Avoid the beachy, sugary stuff. Being a diabetic can really be a bitch sometimes. One day I REALLY wanted the strawberry daiquiri my neighbor was consuming and spent some minutes pondering how I might be able to make that happen without going into DKA. Unfortunately, there’s just not really an option; while I can sit at home with my diabetic bar and make myself martinis with all of the lovely alternatives I’ve identified, finding those (and getting someone to make a drink with them) in a foreign country is unlikely at best. On the plus side, you will likely be the only one feeling wide awake and peachy the following morning because you didn’t consume alcohol with a pound of sugar. Silver lining.