November is National Diabetes Month and as a registered dietitian specializing in diabetes health, I hear a lot of misinformation about what foods are “allowed” for people living with diabetes and which ones are not. So whether you have diabetes or would simply like to be a better ally for a loved one with diabetes, I’m putting some myths to rest and giving you the tools to enjoy food while maintaining healthy blood sugar.
Some say that fruits like Medjool dates have too much sugar for someone with diabetes to enjoy, but this is actually a myth. The reality is that dates are low on the glycemic index and won’t cause crazy spikes when paired with protein or fat. Not to mention all of the important nutrients they contain!
You may get busy and not remember to eat, so you want something like dates that will be able to maintain your blood sugar level. Any food works in moderation as long as it’s paired well. For example, if you want to enjoy something high in carbs, pair it with fat and protein. That’s why Medjool dates pair well with cheese, nut butter, or even bacon. The pairing will increase fullness and give you the nutrients your body needs.
Another common misconception is the thought that only older generations have type 2 diabetes. In today’s world, 90-95% of individuals with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Children as young as six years old are developing type 2 diabetes now, so movement is very important. Movement doesn't just mean exercise but includes playing games with your kids, going for a walk with the dog, a pajama dance party, and pillow fights. These aspects of movement are important for kids as they build long-lasting memories and help to lower blood sugar levels.
Many of us may have good intentions when trying to support a loved one who lives with diabetes, but the approach is everything. Rather than coming to a conversation with lots of “should” and “shouldn't,” it’s helpful to ask “how would you like me to support you?” Diabetes comes with many different areas of management such as food, medicine, going to the doctor, getting more joyful movement, going to bed on time, or managing stress. These are all areas where blood sugar could be elevated, so asking what area they want support in is the best method to prevent diabetes distress. Diabetes distress can lead to burnout, and when your loved one is burnt out they don't care about diabetes anymore. So ask where they need your support most!
Life is busy, especially in these next few months when the holidays can feel overwhelming. When you have a busy schedule but need to manage blood sugar, ask yourself what your emergency meal is in case you can't cook.
According to recent dietary guidelines, the average American is not meeting the recommended intake for veggies in their diet, so sandwich shops like Subway and Panera may be good options, as well as “build your own” restaurants like Chipotle and Cava if you’re on the go and need a meal. Be sure to load up with veggies and protein to make your meal more balanced.
Another tip is to carry sugar in your bag for moments when blood sugar drops, like juice boxes or hard candy. And to help avoid blood sugar drops, bring pitted Medjool dates or Mini Medjools with you to snack on between meals. Have those emergency meal plans and snacks ready so that you can always have a backup plan that tastes good! Managing blood sugar on the go doesn't have to taste like cardboard and sadness. It just takes planning ahead.
Something to also keep in mind is carrying your medical information in your wallet that lists your name, date of birth, and doctor. It’s valuable to have this medical information with you just in case; you can never be over-prepared!
Alcoholic beverages are also popular during the holidays, so remember that the CDC says to watch the portion size of alcohol. Alcohol can make one’s blood sugar drop dangerously low, so a good rule to stick to is 1 drink a day or less for women and 2 drinks a day or less for men. This translates as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. As a general rule, stick to these beverages instead of mixed drinks to avoid a higher sugar content.
Here we’ve discussed several aspects of managing blood sugar, and to help you take the next steps we have gathered a few snack ideas to help spark some inspiration for better blood sugar management and help cultivate culinary creativity. Head over to my diabetes resource page here to read more and download a free guide to diabetic health!
Kim Rose-Francis, RDN, CDCES, CNSC, LD is a Registered Dietitian who aims to help others gain control of their blood sugar levels by learning how to build a better plate (while still including the foods they like) and identify lifestyle changes that are needed. With over 10+ years of experience, her sweet spot is to empower and equip you to learn how to manage your blood sugar levels. Visit her website to learn more.
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