March is National Nutrition Month and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has a new theme every year. This year’s theme is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.”

Do you ever feel confused about what to eat and what not to eat? Do you ever feel like you’ve received conflicting information? Have no fear! The questions to your answers are finally here!

1. Do I have to follow a strict diet?

Every yer the American Diabetic Association (ADA) releases an updated “Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes.” This year the ADA is emphasizing that “diabetes care must be individualized for each patient.” Therefore, there is no strict plan that you must follow. It’s a good idea to sit down with a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and/or a Registered Dietitian (RD) to discuss your food options and individualized meal plan choices.

2. I was told to watch my carbohydrates. What does that mean?
The first step to improving your diet is understanding which foods have the biggest impact on your blood sugar. Carbohydrates turn into glucose more quickly as compared to proteins and fats and have the biggest impact on your blood sugar. Therefore, it is important to have portion control with all types of carbohydrates. Often, carbohydrates are referred to as “sugar,” however, carbohydrates include more than sugar.  Carbohydrates include both healthy and unhealthy foods, which include starches or grains, dairy, fruit, table sugar, and desserts and sweets. All carbohydrates have an impact on your blood sugar.

3. How many carbohydrates should I have in a day?
A general recommendation for carbohydrate intake is to include 45-60 grams per meal and have 3 meals per day. Carbohydrates are limited to 15-30 grams for each snack; you can have 0-3 snacks per day. Make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian and/or Certified Diabetes Educator to help you with your own individualized meal plan to help meet your personal goals!

4. What does a 45-60 gram meal look like?
A few examples include the following:

  1. a fried egg sandwich on a 100% whole wheat English muffin + 8 oz glass of low fat milk
  2. a turkey and cheese sandwich on 2 slices of whole grain bread (with lettuce, tomato, spicy mustard) + small bowl of fresh fruit
  3. a piece of grilled lemon pepper chicken, sautéed spinach with garlic, 1 cup cooked brown rice (seasoned and cooked with low sodium broth)

5. What does a 15-30 gram snack look like?
A few examples include the following:

  1. an individual container of flavored yogurt
  2. plain yogurt + 1/2 cup fresh fruit
  3. 5-6 crackers + 1 tbsp peanut butter

6. What is one quick, easy tip to improve my eating habits and help improve my blood sugar?
There is more than one way to quickly and easily improve your eating habits. One of the most popular recommendations is to have portion control and to follow the balanced plate method. First, begin with a 9 inch plate. The typical plate these days is a platter-sized plate or about 13 inches! Cut your 9 inch plate in half. Half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables. Examples of these include asparagus, beets, carrots, collard greens, cauliflower, green beans, okra, radishes, salad, tomatoes, and wax beans. Then, take the other half of your plate and cut that in half. That leaves you with 2 quarters. One quarter of your plate should be lean protein and one quarter of your plate should be grains and starchy foods. Examples of lean proteins include eggs, skinless chicken and turkey, pork chop, ham, fish, lean beef, and tofu. Examples of starches include potatoes, yam, sweet potatoes, yucca, plantain, rice, pasta, noodles, bread, corn, and green peas.

portion control

7. What is an easy way to eyeball portions?
One of the more popular ways to estimate portions, especially when you are dining out and your measuring cups are not available, is to use your hand.

Proteins should generally be limited to the 3-4 oz OR the size of your palm (not hand!)

Starches should generally be limited to 1 cup OR the size of your fist or a tennis ball size.

There is generally no limit to non-starchy vegetables.

8. How can I improve the taste of food without adding butter or salt or sugar?

Trying to limit intake of sugar, salt and butter or saturated fats is a great idea. Not surprising, this is a popular question; about 1 in 3 Americans have high blood pressure and about 2 in 3 people with diabetes have high blood pressure or report taking high blood pressure medication. People with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to have heart disease or stroke compared to those without diabetes. Based on the most recent data from the CDC, 35% of adults in the US are obese and 69% of adults in the US are overweight and/or obese.

A lot of people know to limit the use of the salt shaker, added butter and added sugar, but finding an alternative for flavor can be challenging for some. Don’t forget that the simplest of ingredients can provide additional flavor; this can include items such as onions, shallots, garlic, black pepper, red pepper flakes, ginger and cinnamon. A couple of quick ideas come to mind. Instead of brown sugar added to your oatmeal, try fresh fruit and cinnamon. Instead of butter and pasta, try sautéing garlic in a little olive oil and then mix with pasta along with some herbs such as oregano and black pepper. Instead of adding salt to a fried egg, try adding red pepper flakes for a spice of heat!

In order to become comfortable with a new flavor, the trick is to try cooking with it many times until you find the combination that you enjoy the most. Next time you’re in the grocery store, consider purchasing a new herb or spice! See list of common pairings and more ideas!

9. Where can I find easy, quick, healthy recipes?
This is a very common question. We all live busy lives these days! Sometimes we feel like we don’t have time to do much else other than our routines; we have to drop the kids off at day care or school, then go to work ourselves, not to mention the traffic we get stuck in. Then, there’s the laundry that’s been piling up in the corner, afterschool soccer or dance to take our kids to and so much more. Believe it or not, cooking can be quick and fun! It can be an activity for the entire family. Please see links below!
Recipes for Diabetes Management
Videos on Cooking for Beginners
Recipes for Healthy Living

10. Do I have to avoid all added sugar including sweets and desserts?
It is best to try to limit intake of added sugars and sweets and desserts; however, try to remember the common saying “All foods in moderation!” If you’re someone who likes sweets and desserts, see if you can find an alternative first. If you’re a chocolate lover, try a fat free chocolate pudding or chocolate flavored yogurts or even a fudgesicle. If you’re a sweet lover, try a popsicle or even a bowl of in-season fresh fruit or a dessert flavored yogurt (such as key lime pie or cheesecake flavors.)

When a celebration occurs such as birthdays, parties, or holidays, try to ask yourself if you really want it or do you ‘want’ it because it’s in-front of you. If you’re going to eat it because you can and it’s right in-front of you, consider walking away and saving your indulgence for when you really want it the most. If you do want it, then give yourself the allowance to have it. Follow a couple, simple, quick rules. First, have one dessert (not two or three.) Second, have portion control and try to have a smaller sized dessert than you typically would! And finally, savor your dessert!! Eat slowly and enjoy it!

Remember, having diabetes doesn’t mean avoidance of all of your favorite foods or eating flavorless foods. A little knowledge and a little portion control goes a long way to improving your nutrition intake and ultimately your control of diabetes. Make an appointment with a CDE or RD today to help you develop a meal plan that works best for you!