Healthy Eating & Diabetes

By: Molly Boll

As people living with diabetes, we have to follow a three-step process in managing our diabetes. The three components that help us to control our diabetes are good nutrition, exercise, and taking our diabetes medications as prescribed. We cannot leave out any one of these components and expect to be healthy. This fourth article in the “Living Your Best Life with Diabetes” series will continue to concentrate on good nutrition.

As a person who has lived with Type 2 diabetes for 27 years, I have found that following a good diabetes nutrition program takes much focus. I am constantly battling what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it. This article will attempt to give you some of the lessons I have learned about good nutrition over the years. If nothing else, please learn from my successes and failures.

The most challenging problems I have had with eating have been:
Controlling portion sizes
Eating foods that are healthy/available at all times
Eating at about the same time every day and disciplining myself to take my blood sugars at least 30 minutes prior to eating
Including a variety of nutritious foods in my daily diet
Finding the energy to spend the time in the kitchen to cook healthy diabetic meals.

All of these situations need to be overcome in order to maintain a fairly even and normal blood glucose level throughout the day.

Control Portion Sizes

I believe most of us have problems with portion control. Have you noticed that the size of muffins, candy bars, soft drinks, and restaurant foods have all grown over the years? The movie Super Size Me addresses this issue. As portion sizes grow, people tend to eat more than they need to stay healthy. This is just one of the factors that contributes to the epidemic of obesity in our society.

Larger food portions have more calories. Eating more calories than you need may lead to weight gain. Too much weight gain can put you at risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Managing your weight involves looking at how much you eat and how often you eat.

Remember that a “portion” is how much food you choose to eat, while a “serving” is a standard amount set the by the U.S. Government, or sometimes by others for recipes or diet plans. The portion size you are accustomed to eating may be equal to two or three standard servings. As an example, a nutrition label for cookies may show the serving size as two cookies. If you eat four cookies then you are eating two servings – which means double the calories and fat. So be sure to read the nutrition labels on food packages to see the suggested serving size.

Portion control is my very biggest problem with food intake. To get your portion control under control, I would suggest keeping a food diary. Take note of how much you eat, when you eat, what kinds of foods you eat, where you eat, and why you eat. Studies have found that people who write down everything they eat tend to eat far less and lose more weight than those who do not record their food intake. If you find that you want to eat when you are not really hungry, try taking a break to walk around the block or call a friend. Another way to track portions is to use measuring cups and spoons to measure your portions, and then put the correct portions onto your plate before you start to eat. This will help you to see what a standard serving of food looks like.

Here are some other ideas for controlling portions at home:

Take a box of crackers, for example, and divide it into single-serving sizes in small plastic bags as soon as you get it home from the grocery store. That way you can just grab a small bag of crackers, instead of being tempted to consume a much larger portion when eating directly from the box.

Avoid eating in front of the TV or while busy with other activities. Pay attention to what you are eating and enjoy the smell and taste of your foods. Eat slowly so that your brain gets the message that you are full.

Take seconds of vegetable or salads rather than higher calorie foods such as meats or desserts. There’s nothing wrong with having an extra large portion of steamed veggies!

Have Healthy Food Available

Most of us have opened the refrigerator from time to time and said, “There sure isn’t much in here to fix for dinner!” Having a variety of healthy foods readily available is an important part of maintaining a balanced diet. This requires meal planning in advance. Plan your shopping trips to the grocery store by making a list of what you’ll need to cover your weekly menu. Shop one day per week and learn to cook a few things in large batches to freeze in single-size portions for future use. You’ll want to have enough healthy food on hand to prepare three nutritious meals and two small snacks each day. Including snacks in your daily plan is important, as it will lessen your tendency to overeat at dinnertime due to excessive hunger.

Eat at the Same Time Daily & Take Blood Sugar 30 Minutes Before Meals

How difficult is it for you to eat at the same time daily? There are so many factors that go into managing your diabetes. Although it can be tempting to let some of these slide on occasion, there are certain things that MUST be done. One of these “musts” is eating at the same time each day to keep your blood sugar under control. The other “must” is taking your blood sugars 30 minutes prior to meals, especially if you are on insulin. As a cook, I always found it difficult to take my blood sugars while cooking dinner. Now when I take the sugars 30 minutes prior to my meals, usually before I start cooking, I can be more focused on taking the blood sugars. I must admit that, after all these years, though I am faithful in taking my insulin, I constantly have to remind myself to take the insulin about 30 minutes prior to mealtime.

Eat a Variety of Healthy Foods

Some people think that having diabetes means that you have to start eating special foods or following a complicated eating plan. In truth, a healthy¬†diabetes diet¬†simply translates into eating a variety of nutritious foods in moderate amounts at consistent times. This means eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. A healthy-eating plan that is naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories isn’t just best for diabetics, it’s really the best eating plan for everyone.

Here are some tips to help you include a variety of nutritious foods in your diet.
Whole Grains: To eat more of this food group, choose whole grain versions of refined carbohydrates. Eat whole wheat bread instead of white bread, and brown rice instead of white rice. Use whole grains in mixed dishes, such as barley in soups or stews, or bulgur wheat in casseroles. Substitute whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancakes, waffles, or muffins. Use rolled oats as breading for baked chicken, fish, and veal cutlets. Use brown rice, bulgur, graham flour, oatmeal, whole-grain corn, whole oats, rye, whole wheat, and wild rice.

Vegetables: Buy fresh vegetables when they’re in season, as canned vegetables tend to be high in sodium. Stock up on frozen vegetables for quick and easy cooking. Buy easy-to-prepare vegetables, such as pre-washed bags of salad greens, and then add baby carrots and tomatoes for a quick salad. Packages of pre-cut veggies and carrots make convenient and healthy snacks. Make veggies taste better by using a low calorie dip or dressing. Keep a bowl of fresh cut up veggies in the refrigerator for use as snacks.

Fruits: Keep fresh fruit on the counter or in the refrigerator, so that you’ll be more likely to pick up this healthy snack when you’re hungry. Buy fresh fruits in season. For convenience, buy packages of pre-cut fruit, such as melon or pineapple, for a healthy snack.

Proteins: Include more fish in your diet. Look for fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring. These can be prepared into salmon steaks or filets, salmon loaf, or grilled or baked trout. Include dry beans or peas in your main dishes, such as chili with kidney or pinto beans, stir-fried tofu, split pea or lentil soup, black bean enchiladas, or hummus spread on pita bread.

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a great tool to help you choose food types for the management of your diabetes. The GI is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 – 100, according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed, and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels and have been proven to benefit your health.

Low GI diets been shown to improve both glucose and lipid levels in people with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. They have benefits for weight management because they help control appetite and delay hunger. Low GI diets also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance. With this in mind, I would recommend learning more about the Glycemic Index by visiting the following websites, which are excellent resources for this subject:

Some additional resources for planning a nutritious diet include:

Find the Energy to Cook Healthy Meals

The final challenge that I’ve had in maintaining a nutritious diet has been mustering up the energy to cook healthy meals on a regular basis. To meet this challenge, I’ve found it helpful to make larger batches of recipes when I’m feeling motivated. I can then freeze single serving meals for future nights. On my off days, I just reach into the refrigerator, choose a frozen meal, and add a nice big salad to round out my dinner.

Healthy eating with diabetes can be challenging, but there are many tools to enhance your ability to become healthy. Eat balanced meals; use fresh fruits and vegetables; eat healthy grains; substitute beans and legumes for meat; limit dairy products where appropriate; keep portions controlled; and eat at the same times daily. Becoming familiar with the Glycemic Index and using it to choose a variety of healthy foods in your diet will help you lose weight and lower your blood glucose levels. People living with diabetes and do nothing about it make a very big mistake, as this disease can be controlled and you can go on to live a long life. Just remember that your success with your nutrition program starts with the first step!

If you are experiencing some of the warning signs of Type II diabetes, it is suggested that you mention these to your doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, if you have any further questions about diabetes, or about the information contained in this first article, you are welcome to email me at: and I will attempt to answer your questions. If I am unable to do so, please note that I have access to Dori Khakpour, RD, CDE, a nutritionist who has worked with people with diabetes for over 20 years, for further advise on diabetes. It is my goal to attempt to inform you about this deadly disease so that you can prevent it, or, if you already have diabetes, to help you control and manage it.

Molly Boll, MBA, is a member of the Trilogy at Redmond Ridge Community in Redmond, Washington. She has been a Type II diabetic for 27 years, and has developed the Diabetes Wellness Group, a community-based diabetes educational group that gives seminars throughout the Seattle area. Molly is currently on the Diabetes Educational Review Board at the UW Medical Center/Diabetes Clinic. Molly has spent over 35 years working in the Seattle business community as a VP of Marketing for a major seafood firm, and various other positions, including accountant and business manager.

We’d like to thank her for allowing us use of these excellent articles.