The Basic 5 of Eating Healthy for Diabetes


We are constantly learning and evolving our way to better health. But for the average person with diabetes, managing the disease can seem daunting, especially because of the many different opinions on how to eat to care for their diabetes. Here, Rachel Albaum, a Certified Diabetes Educator and registered dietitian with Barnabas Health Medical Group, breaks down the basics to help eliminate confusion about managing diabetes.

  1. Put carbohydrate counting on the back burner unless you have type 1 diabetes or are solely insulin dependent… in that case, please continue to monitor your carbohydrates. For the majority of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, carb counting is not necessary and can often be confusing for the patient – especially for someone who has been recently diagnosed with diabetes. While moderation is important (remember, carbs turn into sugar!), below are more useful tips for better blood glucose management.

  2. Quality vs. Quantity: All carbs are not created equal – eating 500 calories worth of cookies versus 500 calories of broccoli (or even brown rice) results in very different breakdowns in your body. Carbs that are high on the glycemic index, or simple carbohydrates, break down very quickly in the body and cause sugar to spike in the bloodstream. This quick sugar spike causes insulin (for those who can make insulin) to surge and can increase cholesterol levels, cause weight gain (especially in the stomach area), and can cause fatigue, irritability, hunger, food cravings and more. By choosing carbs low in the glycemic index, also known as complex carbs, the body has to work harder to break it down, causing a slower release in blood sugars… therefore helping to control the huge high and low blood glucose levels many see as well as controlling hunger and aiding in weight loss.

  3. Timing: The most common mistake I find among diabetics is they tend to skip breakfast or another meal during the day. Going too long without eating can actually raise blood sugar because the liver stores glucagon (glucose) and may release it into the blood if it finds we are running too low. Then, when you do reach for food, your body will convert whatever you choose into sugar quicker because it is so happy it’s finally being fed. This spikes insulin levels up and cause more weight gain. Skipping meals can also lead to increased food cravings, especially for carbohydrate-based foods because your body is looking for that “instant energy” quick fix. You should eat within an hour or two of rising, then every three to five hours.

  4. Food Combination: Eating carbohydrates alone (that includes fruit) can also cause a surge of blood glucose and actually cause increased hunger. Combining carbs with protein and healthy fats as well as a lot of veggies (at least with lunch and dinner) will help delay the digestion of carbs – so instead of wanting to eat every one or two hours, you will be satisfied for three to five hours. The best way to get the correct portions on your plate is to follow the “plate rule” – fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and divide the other half, filling 25 percent with protein and the other 25 percent with your carb/starch for the meal.

  5. Step away from the diet/sugar-free foods. Just because it’s sugar-free does not mean it’s carb free. Many sugar-free foods – cookies, puddings, cakes, etc. – are carbohydrates that break down into sugar in our blood. Sugar-free products often contain sugar alcohol, which has been shown to impact blood sugar and can cause some uncomfortable gastrointestinal distress such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. Sugar is sugar, no matter its form – white, brown, honey, agave, splenda, Sweet’N Low. We know now that sugar substitutes are linked to increased weight gain, food cravings, and increased blood sugars despite them being sugar-free. Sweets can fit into your diet once in a while, so my recommendation is that if you are going have a sweet, eat the real thing in moderation and enjoy it!

Whether diabetic or not, these healthy eating tips can be implemented by everyone in your family. Please keep in mind that these are some basic tips for blood sugar management, but remember we are all individuals, and so what may work for one person can be completely different for another. That is why it’s best to see a Registered Dietitian/Certified Diabetes Educator to find out what will work best for you.

Rachel has office hours at all 3 United Medical locations in Bayonne, Clifton and Lyndhurst. To make an appointment with Rachel Albaum, call 201-460-0063.

Rachel Albaum is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with more than 10 years of experience providing nutritional education and counseling. She earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Connecticut and completed a one-year internship at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Additional certifications she has accrued over the years include: adult and pediatric weight management certifications, mindful-based eating training, and training as a yoga instructor. Her specialties include weight management, diabetes, heart disease, allergies and digestion issues, pediatric nutrition, pregnancy, hypertension, lipid management, kidney disease, sports nutrition, and overall general healthy eating. She strongly believes that healthy nutrition and lifestyle can impact all areas of one’s life, improving energy levels, preventing diseases and progressions of diseases, boosting immune systems, and preventing malnutrition and deficiencies.

Categories: Healthy Living Blog