Most humans would agree that they enjoy food. Social events or intimate gatherings usually include food in some form or fashion… tailgate parties… business meetings… dates… bridal showers… the list goes on and on. Yet, when one receives the unwelcomed news that they have a disease which requires him or her to change their way of eating, it can be very overwhelming! Let’s face it, the diagnosis of diabetes does not automatically come with a shut-off valve that immediately eliminates food cravings. Furthermore, receiving such a diagnosis during one’s senior years can make the diet changes quite difficult to understand. As a Care Manager, I have a conversation of this kind at least once a month with clients:
“Tell me about your blood sugars.”
“Oh… it was up today but I don’t know why."
"What have you eaten?”
“Just some Frosted Flakes with a banana.”
Although that example is a bit bizarre (it’s actually true), even many conscientious clients experience trouble complying with a balanced, diabetic diet. Many view the dietary changes as a sentence to a life full of boring consumption. But, eating healthy does not have to be drab! Here are some tips for managing a diabetic diet without sacrificing one’s love for food.
Take Control of Portion Sizes
Often, it is not what we eat but how much we eat. Eating correct portions of food allows you to combat weight gain. There is evidence that fat cells are more resistant to insulin. This being true, one can conclude that decreasing the amount of fat cells in the body via weight loss would equal less resistance to insulin. One rule of thumb to use for portion sizes is to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (veggies that grow above the ground), one fourth with a protein (i.e. meat), and one-fourth with a starch (i.e. potatoes, rice, bread, corn, etc.). If you must have that second helping of food, eat another serving of a low-caloric food, such as a non-starchy veggie, berries, or a lean protein. These choices do not raise blood sugar as much. When ordering from a restaurant, consider eating one half of your meal and saving the rest for another time whenever your meal is prepared in large portions (This will also stretch your dollar!)
Don’t Be Deceived by Hidden Sugars
Sugars often disguise themselves within foods that are often considered healthy. Granola bars, for example, are often loaded with sugar and calories. Instant oatmeal, widely known for being “heart healthy." has added sugars. Greek yogurt is also a healthy choice for a snack; however, one must remember to reach for the unsweetened containers. Condiments, such as ketchup, barbeque sauce, pasta sauce, and salad dressings usually have added sugar. Be sure to read labels to ensure that the “bad” ingredients don’t outweigh the good flavor.
Not All Carbs are Created Equal
It is important for diabetics to consume carbohydrates. Yet, you must be selective when choosing. Palm-sized portions should be enjoyed. Consider the following choices:
- Potatoes – Although both contain similar amount of carbs, the sweet potato has more fiber and is more gentle on the blood sugar than white potatoes.
- Rice – Brown rice is a whole grain and is therefore more nutritious than it’s white counterpart (cauliflower rice is also a great option!).
- Breads – Sprouted, sourdough, and dark rye breads have lots of fiber and maybe fewer carbs. They also may be more gentle on the blood sugar and makes one feel fuller longer than white bread.
- Jellies – All fruit jelly shows more favor on the blood sugar than jellies with added sugars.
- Flour – Almond flour and coconut flours are good alternatives to white, bleached flour, as they are low-carb. There are many good recipes on Pinterest using these flours as staple ingredients!
Drink to Your Health
Drink plenty of water if fluid restrictions are not present. Drinking before meals will help prevent overeating because it gives one a feeling of fullness. But…. what if you don’t like water? Adding a few squeezes of lemon or lime to this healthy beverage may make it more favorable. Often, drinking water at room temperature can be a bit easier to consume in large amounts. Drinking unsweetened tea or diluted fruit juices (without added sugar) also allows for healthier options.
Cut the Calories… and the Fat!
Here are a few ideas for satisfying food cravings without forfeiting your health:
- Lasagna - add fresh or chopped spinach to the meat sauce and eliminate the pasta noodles. Layer cheeses as usual.
- Try open-faced sandwiches… or have a lettuce-wrapped sandwich.
- Enjoy a satisfying omelet for breakfast - but use liquid egg whites.
- Pacify your desire for crunchy with roasted garbanzo beans - Yum! (ditch the potato chips).
- Try dipping your empty fork into salad dressing before piercing salad greens instead of pouring an ample amount of dressing over the entire salad.
- Enjoy a burrito in a bowl, instead of wrapped in a tortilla.
- Instead of grabbing sugary cereal for a snack, substitute it with a non-sugary (is that a word?). cereal with a bit of fruit added (limit yourself to ½ of a banana if that is the fruit of choice).
- Instead of grabbing some cookies or cake to satisfy that sweet tooth, try a small bowl of fruit with some low-fat cottage cheese, or fresh strawberries topped with low-fat whipping cream, or 85% dark chocolate instead.
In addition to providing nourishment, food is indeed a source of enjoyment to many. Receiving the diagnosis of diabetes does not necessarily mean that one must kiss his food cravings “good-bye”. Instead of approaching diabetes with the mindset of things you CANNOT eat, focus on the creative steps that be taken to continue experiencing eating as a pleasure! Of course, it is difficult to discuss a diabetic diet without mentioning that it should be paired with exercise, which also decreases blood sugar levels and diminishes fat cells. Monitoring blood sugars routinely while making such changes allows you to determine how your body responds to the food you include in your diet. You can manage diabetes and ALSO enjoy eating… don’t let it steal your joy of food!
“15 Benefits of Drinking Water and Other Water Facts.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290814.
Allison, Serene, and Pearl Barrett. Trim Healthy Mama: Welby Street Press, 2014.
Brown vs White Rice - Which Is Better For Your Health? www.healthline.com/nutrition/brown-vs-white-rice.
“Insulin and Weight Gain: Keep the Pounds Off.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Nov. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/insulin-and-weight-gain/art-20047836.
Sweet Potato vs. Potato: What's the Difference?www.healthline.com/nutrition/sweet-potato-vs-potato.
“Understanding Excess Weight and Its Role in Type 2 Diabetes Brochure.” Obesity Action Coalition, www.obesityaction.org/get-educated/public-resources/brochures-guides/understanding-excess-weight-and-its-role-in-type-2-diabetes-brochure/.
Written By: Care Manager - Tomika Brown, RN