Enjoy Your Diet When You Have Diabetes

Control Your Diabetes for LifeMany of the patients with diabetes that I first see often assume, wrongly, that a diet for them is void of not only sugar, but fun, too! In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that monitoring the total amount of carbohydrate in the diet is far more important than the type of carbohydrates eaten. And the good news is many favorite foods can be eaten as is or with slight modifications to make them “diabetic-friendly” yet still enjoyable. Taste doesn’t have to take a back seat but you do need the right tools to make it work.

All too often, advice on carbohydrates for people with diabetes lacks scientific basis and/or comes from someone who is not a nutrition or diabetes expert. Toby Smithson, RDN, LDN, CDE, a type 1 diabetic herself, co-authored the new book Diabetes Meal Planning & Nutrition for Dummies, which sets the record straight on carbs and ideal foods to include in optimal meal planning. Toby lent her expertise to this post and suggests that the key to success and enjoyment of a carbohydrate-controlled diet is planning. “You can prevent impulsive eating if you plan ahead,” says Smithson. She also suggests visiting with a registered dietitian for guidance on successful meal planning that is tailored to the individual.

Mixing and matching carbohydrate and protein-based foods is also essential to controlling appetite, cravings and blood glucose. Smithson suggests picking and choosing favorite foods from lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, low fat cheese and fish with healthier carb foods such as starchy vegetables, fruit, yogurt and grain products within your calorie and carbohydrate needs. Adding in healthy fats like nuts, avocado and vegetable oils help not only contribute calories but can also aid in reducing the inflammatory effects of diabetes.

There’s one added step that Toby and I also agree upon: including more of those foods known to help manage diabetes and promote overall health:

1. Oatmeal – Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which makes it a diabetic and a heart-healthy food choice.  Oatmeal’s soluble fiber helps decrease cholesterol levels while also helping control blood glucose. “People with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to develop heart disease so it is good to choose foods that can help lower your risk of heart disease,” says Smithson.  Because oats are rich in fiber, the carbs they do contain are absorbed at a slower rate compared to may other breakfast cereals.

2. Nuts – Adding nuts to a meal or consumed as a snack can help manage blood sugar readings and help you feel full for longer. “Consuming nuts is similar to strapping on a seat belt as a protective heart health component,” states Smithson.  Nuts contain heart healthy fats, protein and some fiber too. Her and my favorites include:

  • Walnuts – Besides being a plant source of healthy omega 3 fats, studies have shown that adding walnuts to the diet may help in managing weight and blood sugar levels.
  • Peanuts – Consuming peanuts in place of a carbohydrate-rich snack may help improve blood sugar in those with Type 2 diabetes.
  • Almonds – Almonds are a low glycemic food, high in unsaturated fats and fiber. “Studies found when almonds are combined with a high carbohydrate meal, blood sugar levels stabilized and the positive affect also occurred after the lunch meal,” says Smithson.
  • Pistachios – Pistachios are ideal for snacking, especially if you eat them from the shell. Cracking them open helps slow down eating which aids in weight control and over eating at snack or meal-time. Besides, they are a great source of protein and other key nutrients, like lutein, which may benefit eye health

3. Raw vegetables – Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, bell pepper, and salad greens are low in carbohydrate, fat, and cholesterol and also fill you up.  “Raw veggies are a great “go to” food when you have already eaten your allotment of calories and carbohydrates but are still feeling hungry,” stresses Smithson.

4. Beans and lentils – Beans and lentils are lean sources of protein and good sources of soluble fiber which both will help slow the absorption of glucose into the blood stream.  For people with diabetes it is important to acknowledge that beans and legumes are also a source of carbohydrate, suggests Smithson. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have legumes but it does mean that you will need to fit it into your carbohydrate choices for that meal.

5. Berries – Berries are one of the 10 super-foods for a diabetes meal plan according to the America Diabetes Association. They contain important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help protect the body from damage caused by diabetes. Though berries are a source of carbohydrate and are sweet, they are lower in sugars compared to many commonly eaten fruits. Strawberries, for example, contain only 7 grams of sugars per 1 cup serving and have half of the amount of sugar as an apple.  “The biggest benefit is the portion size when compared to other fruits,” says Smithson.  The following is equal to one carbohydrate serving (15 grams carbohydrate):

  • 1 ¼ cup Strawberries
  • ¾ cup Blueberries or blackberries
  • 1 cup Raspberries

Speaking of berries, here’s a terrific recipe I tried from Toby’s book which features an antioxidant-rich red berry sauce served over whole grain French toast.

Whole Wheat French Toast with Red Berry Sauce

This recipe excerpt is from Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies by Toby Smithson and Dr. Alan Rubin. This material is reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Servings: 4

Prep and cook time: 15 minutes


  • 4 slices whole wheat bread
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup skim milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 4 ounces frozen strawberries
  • 4 ounces frozen raspberries


Microwave berries in a microwave safe dish until hot and soft (3-5 minutes). Cut each slice of bread in half. In a medium bowl , whisk together egg, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Dip bread into mixture until well coated. Spray skillet or griddle with non-stick spray and grill toast on medium heat until golden brown on both sides. Top toast with warn berry mixture.

By David Grotto, RDN, LDN

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