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Don’t let diabetes sideline your favorite foods.

GEHA | March 4, 2021

Tips for eating right and managing diabetes

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t eat your favorite foods – you’ll just need to eat smaller amounts or enjoy them less often.

Eating right means eating healthy foods in the right amount and at the right time to ensure your blood sugar stays in your target range. Here are some ways to help you eat healthier.

Meal planning

A meal plan is a blueprint for when, what and how much you should eat to get nutrition while keeping the optimal blood sugar level. Carbs, fat, protein and fiber all affect blood sugar levels differently. Carbs raise blood sugar levels quickly. Eating fiber will help carbs that contain other fibers from elevating blood sugar levels so fast.

Watching and limiting how many carbs you eat at one time can help keep blood sugar levels on target. Talk with your doctor to determine your optimal amount of carbs per day and meal.

Overeating can easily happen unintentionally. One way to make sure you are eating the right amount is to use the plate method. For this, get a nine-inch dinner plate and fill half with non-starch vegetables (cauliflower, green beans, salad, broccoli), and fill a quarter with lean protein (eggs, turkey, beans, chicken, tofu). Fill the remaining quarter with grains or starchy foods (pasta, potatoes, rice).

Grocery shopping

It is easy to get overwhelmed or distracted at the grocery store. Here are some ways to help make sure you walk out the door with only what you need.

  • Make a shopping list to help stay focused.
  • Plan meals a week in advance before going to the store.
  • Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
  • Shop the outside aisles for fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and dairy.
  • Shop the inside aisles for beans, spices, frozen fruit and vegetables without sauce.
  • Not everything that claims to be low fat or reduced sugar is healthy.
  • Read food labels carefully.

Food labels

Knowing how to read the Nutrition Facts label can help you make better choices.

  • Look at the serving size first and see how many servings are in the package.
  • The total carbohydrate section breaks down the types of carbs in the food, including fiber and sugar.
  • Select foods with more fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Pick foods that are low in calories, saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.
  • Avoid trans fat.
  • Remember the % Daily Value is based on eating 2,000 calories a day. You may need a different level of calories, depending on age, activity level, gender and diet.

Compare this information against other brands of the same food. It is remarkable how different the nutrition levels can be from one label to the next.

If you are eating properly, it should show on your A1C test. This is a blood test that can identify prediabetes, diagnose diabetes and monitor how well your diabetes treatment plan is working. The A1C test results are reported as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher your blood sugar levels over the past two or three months and the greater the risk of developing complications from diabetes.

Baseline A1C tests are recommended for adults older than 45, or for adults under 45 who are overweight and have a parent or sibling with Type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes, it is important to get an A1C test at least twice a year. You may need to be tested more frequently if your medicine changes, you have other health issues or your test results don’t match what’s expected based on your treatment plan.

Unlike other medical tests, there is no need to fast or do other preparation before the A1C test is administered. Typically, the test involves a sample of blood from a finger stick or lab draw. The test measures how much glucose, or sugar, attaches to the part of a red blood cell that delivers oxygen to the cells. The test results are an average of your blood glucose levels over the past three months and are reported as a range of percentages.

Diabetes occurs when blood glucose, or sugar, is too high. Too much glucose in the blood can cause health problems over time. More than 9% of people in the United States have diabetes, but of that group 25% don’t know they have it. Talk with your physician if you suspect you may have diabetes.

“Diabetes and dietary supplements.”, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, May, 2018.
“Eat well.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 September, 2019.
“A1C does it all.”, American Diabetes Association.
“The A1C test and diabetes.”, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, April 2018.