Nutrition is extremely important for everyone, especially if you have diabetes. Some of us look at the nutrition facts on food labels and count calories, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, and protein. Some even study the ingredients to avoid artificial flavors and refined sugars. Whether you do these things or not, we all have room for improvement when it comes to nutrition, but where do we start?
To learn more about this topic, I reached out to Linda Hittleman, a registered dietitian (RD) and certified diabetes educator (CDE). Linda has been a practicing dietitian for over 25 years and also teaches nutrition classes at Nassau Community College in New York.
Daniella: What are some important things to keep in mind about nutrition?
Linda: It’s cliche to say this, but you are what you eat. If you follow a healthy diet, you won’t necessarily be protected from illness and diseases, but there is scientific evidence that shows you may decrease the impact. If you just eat high-calorie, processed foods without much nutritional value, you are more prone to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, hypertension etc.
Daniella: Is there a recommended diet for a person with diabetes (PWD)?
Linda: Yes, there is.
Like all of us, people with diabetes (PWDs) need to get energy from an outside source: food. For PWDs, it’s important to focus on the amount of carbohydrates consumed. I recommend carb counting in the beginning and not excluding heart healthy foods that contain carbohydrates. A registered dietitian/certified diabetes educator can help PWDs figure out the right amount of carbohydrates to consume, taking medication and activity level into consideration.
People with T2D should minimize processed carbohydrates such as white flour, white rice, white pasta, starches, and anything with added sugar. Processed carbohydrates tend to break down rapidly and cause a quick rise in blood sugar, which may require more medication to keep blood sugar levels under control. Eating too many processed carbohydrates may also make it harder to control weight, I encourage healthier forms of carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. Besides causing a slower rise in blood sugar, they may also help you feel full longer due the slower breakdown of carbohydrates and added fiber. Plus they are chock full of nutrition!
PWDs are also at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and would benefit from a Mediterranean style diet which consists of more a plant based diet and healthy sources of fats such as olive oils, avocados, nuts and seeds. Lean proteins and fatty fish are also recommended. Ultimately, maintaining and watching calorie intake is very important for those with T2D. Using websites such as eatright.org can help with meal planning. I also encourage some type of activity daily because it makes a difference in not only blood sugar numbers, but weight and overall well-being.
For those who want a snack, I recommend something low in carbs such as a cheese stick, a handful of nuts, greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs, or veggies and hummus. I stress a plant-based diet. This doesn’t mean going vegetarian or vegan, in fact, incorporating lean protein is also beneficial, whether it’s animal or plant-based. I also recommend that people limit french fries, soda, and fast-food. Instead, stock up on sweet potatoes, eggs, greek yogurt, beans, olive oil, fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, grains such as quinoa, and tuna.
Daniella: What are some common mistakes PWDs make in meal-planning?
Linda: PORTION CONTROL! People can be either too strict or too generous with their portions. I recommend measuring food using scales and spoons, then putting it on the table so you have an idea of what a real portion looks like. That way, when you’re at a restaurant, you’ll know an appropriate amount to eat. Also, some PWDs cut out complete food groups like fruits and vegetables. This is a HUGE mistake.
Daniella: What is the best way to approach calorie counting?
Linda: My personal approach is to figure out approximately how many calories a person requires and then figure out how many servings of foods they can choose from each group. I think this is specific to a person and also depends on whether a person is on medication, exercises, etc. Once you find the right balance, I calculate how many calories the person needs each day to reach a target weight and then divide it into however many meals and snacks they consume daily.
Balance is the key. A sedentary person can have seven small meals a day and it would be a disaster because they would be constantly eating and not knowing how much was eaten. However, athletes, or people who are very physically active, can eat this way because their bodies need the constant energy. It’s important to remember that all carbohydrates break down into glucose in the bloodstream, not just the processed ones.
Lastly, I strongly suggest that people communicate with their medical team and meet with a dietitian to help with meal planning. Not all dietitians are certified diabetes educators, but they can get the ball rolling. It’s all about communication and education since everyone is different. See what works and what doesn’t work for you. Nutrition has a huge impact on our lives and overall health. Eating healthy is a key step in managing your health, and is especially important if you live with diabetes.
This blog was created for informational purposes only and represents the professional experience of Linda Hittleman, RD CDE. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical condition.