Figuring out what, when and how much to eat is tough when you have diabetes. A registered dietitian can help you piece together the diabetes nutrition puzzle.
When first diagnosed with diabetes, people often share a common concern: “What can I eat?” Visions of a sugar-free, low carb, bland lifestyle may fill their minds.
Defining the diabetes diet
The fact is that a diabetes diet is no different than any other healthy, balanced diet. It emphasizes:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole-grain carbohydrates
- Lean protein
- Nonfat and low-fat dairy
- Limiting foods high in salt, saturated and trans fat and added sugar
- Eating regular meals
- Portion control
- Eating slowly
Along with exercise and medications, good nutrition can lead to better blood sugar control. This will lower your risk of serious complications, like heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.
Good nutrition is central to managing diabetes. But, creating a new eating plan is challenging. Trying to figure out how much protein or carbohydrates you need may tempt you to abandon your healthy eating plan all together.
Luckily, you don’t have to figure this out alone. A registered dietitian (RD) can help. With your dietitian’s guidance and healthy serving of self-discipline, you’ll be on your way to good blood sugar control.
The dietitian’s role
A dietician is a key player on your diabetes care team. Dietitians are trained, educated and certified in nutrition. Their job is to help you adopt healthy eating habits that lead to good blood sugar control. Your dietitian may also be a certified diabetes educator (CDE). If so, he or she can help with even more aspects of your diabetes care.
Studies show that working with a dietitian helps people with diabetes prevent or delay diabetes complications. In fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests that everyone with pre-diabetes or diabetes get nutrition counseling (also called medical nutrition therapy or MNT.)
The nutrition counseling session
Your dietitian will review your current diet with you, and suggest changes to help get your diabetes in check. Together you’ll create a meal plan tailored to your needs. It will be based on:
- How well your blood sugar is controlled
- Weight goals
- Activity level
- Medication and insulin use
- Other health goals, such as lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol
- Food preferences
- Willingness and ability to make changes
Your dietitian will show you how what, how much and when you eat affects your blood sugar levels. He or she will also teach you how to:
- Choose healthy meals and snacks
- Balance food with exercise and medications
- Plan ahead for eating away from home
- Make healthy choices when dining out
- Create a sick day meal plan
- Prepare balanced meals
- Read a nutrition label
- Control your portion sizes
You’ll continue to meet with your dietitian to make sure your meal plan is working.
Is nutrition counseling for me?
The ADA suggests that all people with diabetes or pre-diabetes work with a dietitian. Nutrition counseling may be especially beneficial if you:
- Are newly diagnosed with diabetes
- Have pre-diabetes
- Having trouble getting your blood sugar under control
- Need to lose weight
- Have high blood pressure or cholesterol
Finding a dietitian
Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian in your area. You can also find a dietitian by searching the American Dietetic Association’s Web site, www.eatright.org, and looking under “Find a Nutrition Professional.”
Make sure you choose someone who has experience with diabetes. The ADA suggests meeting with a dietitian one-on-one. Nutrition counseling may also be offered in a group setting. Dietitians work in hospitals or have their own private practices.
The cost of nutrition counseling may be covered by your health insurance. Check with your insurance provider to find out.