Robin Ellis is best known for his role as Captain Ross Poldark in the original BBC classic series - he then returned to play a cameo in the recent smash hit adaptation of Poldark and is set to return in the new series, to be aired later this year. As well as his acting career, Robin has always been a passionate cook, but was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1999 and since then has settled on a low-carb Mediterranean diet in order to successfully control his condition. Amazingly, he managed to avoid taking medication for 6 years after his original diagnosis. Here, he explains what a Mediterranean way of eating has done for his health, and the small changes you can make to reap its many health rewards and keep diabetes at bay.
1) The Mediterranean Way
I have to watch what I eat because I am Type2 Diabetic, which means my body cannot process carbohydrates (sugar) as efficiently as someone who is not diabetic. I love to eat and ever since early visits to Italy and Spain I've enjoyed eating the Mediterranean Way. I don't call it a diet - I don't think diets work. Or perhaps they do for a few weeks but after that …
Research now shows that the Mediterranean way of eating is one of the healthiest on the planet. So: Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, brown rice, wholewheat pasta and legumes, seasoning food with herbs and spices (so less salt is required), includeing nuts and seeds, reducing the amount of red meat you eat, eating fish, limiting dairy and cooking with olive oil are all good choices.
2) Out with the whites
there's very little I don't eat - but I do say 'out with the whites'. This means processed carbohydrates like white rice, white pasta, white bread, white flour. when digested, these refined foods convert to sugar too quickly in the blood for the insulin impaired diabetic body to distribute safely. but I don't feel deprived! Far from it. Wholewheat pasta, brown or basmati rice and whole rye bread have become staples, and in fact, I prefer them. it's surprising hwo quickly dreaded change can become the norm!
3) Avoid potatoes
Especially mashed potatoes (this is particularly important for those who are pre-diabetic or think they might be in danger of developing diabetes). Potatoes have a high GI (more on that in the next point) so sweet potatoes in moderation is the way to go. It seems like a contradiction because of their fibrous texture, but sweet potates take longer to digest. They're delicious too, and ever more fashionable - sweet potato chips are become more and more popular in restaurants.
4) Get to know the Glycemic Index and Glycemic load
Getting to grips with these words will help you work out which are good and which are bad carbohydrates . The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a measure, on the scale of 1 to 100, ranking carbohydrates according to their effect on our blood glucose levels and thus their post-meal impact. The Glycaemic Load (GL) is a measure of the impact of the glucose in a single portion of food.
5) Don't let the kitchen spook you!
I have always liked to cook, which I count as a blessing. Cooking is not rocket science. If you cook you are in charge of what you eat and being in charge of what you eat is important for everyone but especially so for diabetics: it keeps you ahead of the game.
6) Take exercise
I do a half hour of yoga for softies in the morning first thing. It's a series of stretches, learned over the years. It makes me less irritable and allows me to feel virtuous early in the day! Tones me up too. Then before lunch I walk for twenty minutes. Ten up the lane and ten back. Done! It gets the heart going. Simple.
7) Be tested!
This depends on your age but over fifty it's wise to have annual general check-ups/blood tests for blood pressure, cholesterol, heart, blood sugar, eyes, feet etc.
Diabetes is a hard one to spot. A school friend emailed me seventeen years ago saying he'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer and I should go for a test. I did and my prostate was OK but my blood sugar was on the high side. After six months my doctor tested me again - I was diabetic. I had no symptoms and would not have known. Diabetes is a sneaky beast.
8) Be vigilant - read the labeling on food packaging and look for sugar content
Beware of hidden sugars. Low fat yogurt, for instance, often has added sugar substituting for the fat taste.
Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics by Robin Ellis is published on 3rd March 2016 by Robinson, £18.99.