Diabetes & Nutrition: Helpful Tips On What & How to Eat


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Kerry Ovalle, MS, ACSM-CEP, CDCES

An older Asian couple prepares a healthy meal in their kitchen as part of diabetes nutrition management

As a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, one of the questions I hear most often is a simple, yet important, one: “What can I eat?”

It's understandable: it's difficult to feel like you're going from being able to eat whatever you want to feeling stuck on a more regimented plan as part of living with diabetes.

As a result, it's very easy to get frustrated.

Rather than make drastic changes all at once, I usually recommend starting with the basics and building on your education as you go.

Below, you'll find some helpful tips that will guide you toward setting healthy and attainable nutrition goals.

Understand what you're eating 

Reading food labels is a great way to learn about proper portion sizes. It can also assist you with balancing carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fiber, and sugar.

Additionally, take a look at the ingredient list on the foods you're eating as well.

Ingredients are listed in descending order — be on the look out for ingredients ending in –ose, as those indicate sugar (e.g. sucrose). 

Keep a food log  

Keeping track of what you eat can help provide you with a better understanding of what foods you're eating on a daily basis and when you're eating them.

Food logs can also help provide accountability and balance.

While handwritten food logs can be effective, in some cases, tracking apps like My Fitness Pal, My Glucose Buddy, or Weight Watchers can provide additional guidance and education on what is in your food and what your portion sizes should be.

Use the plate method to balance carbohydrate intake and eat sensibly

For lunch and dinner, divide your plate into two halves.

Fill one half with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and tomatoes.

The other half of your plate should feature lean protein like poultry or fish and a healthy starch, like brown rice; that healthy starch should be limited to no more than one cup.

For breakfast, focus on carbohydrates and protein. Good options include toast with peanut butter, eggs with an English muffin, or oatmeal with fruit and nuts.

Avoid skipping meals and eat consistently throughout the day

Too many people think that skipping a meal here or there will help cut calories and improve their overall diet.

However, skipping meals leads to overeating later in the day and prevents your metabolism from working at its peak.

Instead, focus on small, frequent meals or snacks.

This leads to more consistent intake, smaller portions, and a more efficient metabolism.

Avoid sugary or sweetened beverages 

Sweetened beverages will raise your blood sugars quickly, so it's recommended to avoid them unless your blood glucose is very low.

Sweetened beverages are also very high in calories and are often left uncounted in your overall daily intake.

Instead, focus on consuming unsweetened beverages like water, seltzer, unsweetened tea/coffee, or diet soda. 

Additionally, try to include milk and yogurt in your diet, as they're a source of healthy carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and calcium.

Finally, you should also try to avoid sugary foods like cakes, cookies, ice cream, and pastries as much as possible 

Get consistent exercise 

Consistent exercise complements nutrition by keeping your metabolism working efficiently.

Additionally, exercise can lead to weight loss and help make weight maintenance a bit easier.

Ask questions and find support 

It's important to remember that you're not alone on your journey toward healthier living!

You should never be afraid to ask your care team questions or for more information on support resources.

Also, joining a class or support group can be a great way to keep yourself accountable and on track.

Avoid gimmicks 

Avoid any nutrition plans that place severe restrictions on your calorie intake or nutritional requirements throughout the day.

Remember: if a nutrition plan sounds too good to be true, it usually is!

While the tips above will help, receiving ongoing support and education from a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist or registered dietitian can be one of the best ways to achieve success.

If you think you'd benefit from such support and education, please speak to your care team.

Additionally, South Shore Health offers a wonderful Diabetes Education Class series that can be a great way to keep yourself living as healthily as possible.

Kerry Ovalle, MS, ACSM-CEP, CDCES is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and Clinical Exercise Physiologist at South Shore Health.

Learn more about our Diabetes Education Classes and about Nutrition at South Shore Health.