Let's Talk About Diet and Diabetes

The International Diabetes Federation has named November 14 (tomorrow) of every year as World Diabetes Day. It is the biggest campaign each year to raise awareness about diabetes, about the health risks involved, and to promote policy changes regarding healthy eating. 

Check out this infographic that the CDC created to illustrate how diabetes affects the American population alone. You can see that diet, among other lifestyle changes, plays a huge part in diabetes prevention and management. 

FROM CDC

FROM CDC

How is Diet Related to Diabetes?

Becoming mindful about what you eat is one of the key elements in preventing Type II and managing Type I and II diabetes. When we eat sugars and starches, our bodies break them down into smaller pieces called glucose that are then released into our bloodstream. Our bodies then use a hormone called insulin to take up that glucose from the bloodstream to muscles and body parts that need the energy.

In Type I Diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin to take glucose from the bloodstream, and this is treated with insulin injections. In managing this type, learning which foods will cause blood sugars to spike, when to check blood sugars, and when to use insulin injections is crucial for keeping blood sugars at a healthy level

The most common causes for Type II Diabetes are being overweight and not enough physical activity. When we eat sugars and starches but are not needing the energy it provides, our bodies continue to convert them to glucose. At first, the pancreas will create extra insulin to make up for the extra glucose in the bloodstream, but eventually, it won't be able to keep up anymore. It will not be able to make enough insulin, which means chronically high blood glucose levels, which then means damage to the eyes, nerves, heart, and kidneys. Type II diabetes is treated with lifestyle change, medications, and insulin. 

What Should We Be Eating?

So if sugars and starches make our blood sugar go up, what should we be eating instead to maintain healthy blood glucose levels? USDA's Choose My Plate offers a great visual for how to organize your plate during each meal. In general though, we want to fill a quarter of our plate with protein, another quarter, a quarter (only) of grains and starchy foods, and half our plate with nonstarchy vegetables.  When buying canned and packaged items, make sure there is no added sugar, sodium, or fat. The following lists of best food choices are from the American Diabetes Association

Best choices for grains and starchy veggies:

  • Whole oats, oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Parsnip
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Green peas 
  • Corn
  • Dried beans (black, lima, pinto)
  • Lentils 
  • Dried peas (black-eyed, split)


Nonstarchy veggies to fill half our plates with:

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage 
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Daikon
  • Eggplant
  • Greens (collard, kale, mustard)
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Salad greens
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Tomato

Making SMART Goals For Healthy Eating

Don't forget to make SMART Goals when working towards diet changes!

If you are used to eating steak and potatoes for dinner, you do not want to immediately start using the plate rule above or you will find yourself giving up very soon. A sample SMART goal for you would be "I will fill one quarter of my plate with nonstarchy veggies for dinner once a week." You can modify the meal (dinner -> lunch and dinner), time (once a week -> twice a week), and amount (one quarter of the plate -> one third) components of the goal as you progress. The long-term goal would be "I will fill one half of my plate with nonstarchy veggies for all meals each day." 

If you are used to eating the suggested a-quarter-of-the-plate amount of starchy vegetables during a meal but may not always choose from the "best choices" list, your goal might look a little different. Try "I will replace half of my starchy veggies during each meal with the veggies listed in the best choices list at least 3 times a week." 

See the difference?

Put Your SMART Goal in a Smart Spot

Now, jot down your goal on a piece of paper, maybe even draw a picture, and think about where to put it. If you say "I'll remember it," your pants will go up in flame at least once in the next week. So, think about it. Take a second. Bling. 

Where do you tend to make your food choices? It may not always be the kitchen, right? And if it is the kitchen for you and you want to put it on the fridge, how often do you actually look at your fridge? Would you notice a paper there? The way my fridge is placed, the door opens out to a wall, so I hardly ever see the door of my fridge. Do you have a junk food cabinet? Would that be a good place? 

If you eat out a lot, what would be a good choice for you? If you tend to go through drive thrus, you could tape one on your car somewhere (safe and legal). If you walk to get food, maybe make a little copy to put in your wallet. 

  Got questions?