From LADA to Low-Carb: The ZenoBar Story


This content was published as part of an advertising partnership with ZenoBar.


LADA diagnosis

“Your lab work is normal,” my doctor said reassuringly after my annual physical. “…Oh, your fasting glucose is 103, but I’m sure that’s just a blip since you’re thin, fit, and healthy. See you next year!” Hanging up, I thought, “Blip, what blip?” After some quick research, I bought a glucose meter, ate 100 grams of white bread and watched the readings climb to 175 – prediabetic, according to the internet. My doctor referred me to an endocrinologist who said, “Don’t worry. You don’t have a diabetes problem, and I’m willing to bet you on it.” We shook hands.

A week later, my two-hour glucose test confirmed my worst fears when I hit 206. It was of little consolation when my endo apologized after admitting that I had “won” and had late-onset Type 1 – or LADA. Oddly, neither he nor my general physician suggested doing an A1c test so today, I can only guess at what level I was at then: 6.0, 7.5? I still have no idea. The signs were clear in retrospect. My lower legs often swelled at the end of the day (sonogram tests couldn’t identify a cause), I had an operation for a frozen shoulder, had proteinuria, and had experienced kidney stones twice. All of these are expected complications of diabetes. Soon after my self-diagnosis, I discovered the brilliant work of Dr. Richard Bernstein and began the challenging, ultra-low-carb diet that he recommended. With a 7-year old son, I was committed to doing whatever it took to get healthy.

A diabetic hero

Bernstein’s personal story is fascinating. He was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12 and for the next 20 years, had worsening complications. While in his 30s, with three small children, he felt like an old man and was concerned about his longevity. As his insulin doses grew, so did his hypo incidents. Finally, he saw an ad in a medical journal for a meter to help emergency room physicians tell the difference between an unconscious drunk and an unconscious diabetic without the need for lab samples (labs were often closed on nights or weekends). He became the first person to use the meter for multiple, daily blood tests, watching his own peaks and valleys range from the high 30s to over 400mg/dl. By testing repeatedly each day while experimenting with diet, he brought his levels down so that he only needed one-sixth of the insulin that his doctor prescribed.

Today at 85 years old, Dr. Bernstein is the picture of health. He continues to see patients in his Mamaroneck, New York office, lectures widely, and still does heavy workouts at the gym. His cholesterol and triglyceride levels are at the low end of normal range, his coronary heart scan score is 1.0, virtually plaque-free. He religiously maintains a blood sugar of 83mg/dl and his A1c hovers around 4.7. He is probably the oldest Type 1 to be in such fabulous health 73 years after his diagnosis. Obviously, he’s a role model for us all!

What the heck does an ultra-low-carb, vegan diabetic eat?

There’s one major difference between Bernstein’s diet and mine – he is a carnivore, but I’ve been near-vegan since my 20s. So, I’ve had to modify his recipes extensively and do my own experiments with low carb veggies, low-sugar fruits, and plant-based milks and protein sources. Some of my solutions are breakfasts with almond or soy milk yogurt plus unsweetened cranberries (with Monk-Sweet or erythritol added), plus a spoonful of hemp seeds for omega-3s. And lunches and dinners involve lots of salads and low-carb veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, avocado, hummus, tofu, and seitan. Fortunately, I find that most restaurants are happy to customize salads. Veggie stir fries are always great.

What’s out? Bread, pasta, cereals, muffins, in fact, any type of grain is completely off-limits. But there was one big problem – what to eat between meals when I’m starving? Snacks of celery and carrot sticks (even with almond milk cream cheese) aren’t filling enough, and too many nuts can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol due to their high saturated fat levels (controversy rages over saturated fat right now, but the nutritional researchers at the Harvard Health Newsletter, among other respected sources, still warn us against it, so I’m being cautious). After a frustrating search, I realized that nobody was making a low-carb, low-sugar energy bar.

ZenoBar is born

So, I decided to make my own. After finding a wonderful partner on a vegan nutritional blog, I resigned as bar-maker-in-chief (thank God… she is 1000% more talented!). Sue Papuga and I collaborated on over 2,000 recipes – all made in her kitchen in Chicago – before hitting the winning combination. With guidance from a food scientist, we used allulose as a sweetener, since it is a naturally-occurring “rare” sugar found in jack fruit, figs, and corn, that is undigestible and doesn’t raise blood sugars. (Unfortunately, it still must be listed on the label as a carb even though it doesn’t affect glucose, which can really cause trouble for diabetics who over-bolus for it and then hypo. Our advice – be cautious!)

Many Type 1s have told us that they don’t need to bolus with ZenoBars. Others who produce no insulin at all say they need up to two units for Strawberry Nut, which has our highest net carb value. We also kept saturated fats low, and fiber high to blunt the impact of carbs (plus fiber is super important for gut health), used non-GMO ingredients, and chose sustainable suppliers whenever possible. Recently, we added a new flavor with vegan chocolate chips (which have erythritol as a chip sweetener).

Since our ultra-low net carb bar was the opposite of all the other bars on the market, we named it for the philosopher Zeno, who was respected by Aristotle for his brilliance in turning conventional thinking upside down. With the help of ZenoBars, I’ve dropped my A1c down to 5.1, and am still hoping to join the 4-Club one day.

WRITTEN BY Russell Long, POSTED 08/06/19, UPDATED 07/17/20

Russell Long, the youngest U.S. America’s Cup Skipper in history, and the first person to break the 50 mph barrier in a sailboat, was diagnosed as LADA in 2013. He founded the environmental organization, Bluewater Network, which he merged into Friends of the Earth. He continues to do environmental advocacy work when not working on ZenoBar.