Ask the Expert
Living with diabetes can sometimes be overwhelming. This section focuses on practical information about diabetes. Experts in various fields related to diabetes will give advice about day-to-day living. These topics will change regularly, so check back often to meet our new experts!
Diabetes and Nutrition
Christine McKinney, Registered Dietitian
1. What strategies should people with diabetes follow when eating out?
People with diabetes can following the same strategies when eating out that other people follow to eat healthy. When possible, it is good to know the menu in advance. Many restaurants publish their menu and nutrition facts online. By looking this up, you can make a healthy choice even before you go. When you are there, ask questions about how the food is prepared and if sauces, gravies or dressings can be served on the side.
At restaurants, portion control is important. Consider some of these ideas to keep portions smaller:
- Have soup and salad as a meal
- Share your meal with others
- Use a smaller plate for buffets or salad bars
- Divide your meal and place a portion in a to-go container before eating
- Stop eating when you are satisfied and ask for the food to be removed from the table
If the menu is too overwhelming, a safe bet is lean protein and vegetables. For example, most restaurants have grilled fish, broccoli and salad. Many restaurants accommodate special requests so speak up for your health.
2. Is there a "diabetes diet"? What can I eat?
Many years ago the term “diabetic diet” was popular. Now a diet for diabetes is simply healthy eating. Food for people with diabetes doesn’t need to be something special or sugar-free. Healthy eating is including all food groups daily in controlled portions. A great way to do this is to look at your plate. Think of filling ½ of your plate with vegetables and maybe a small portion of fruit, ¼ with protein and ¼ with starch. Check out MyPlate for more information on portion sizes and recipes.
People with diabetes should have an awareness of carbohydrates. Learning amounts of carbohydrates in food and serving sizes is important. When eating carbohydrates, try to include protein and/or a healthy fat to blunt the glycemic effect of the carbs. For example, instead of eating a plain banana eat a banana and almond butter. Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that our body doesn’t digest. Fiber slows down the rise in glucose and has the added benefit of the feeling of fullness without as many calories. To increase fiber intake, eat more vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes and fruit. All of these foods are part of healthy eating which means they are should be in your “diabetes diet”.
3. Are artificial sweeteners recommended for people with diabetes?
Non-nutritive artificial sweeteners do not have to be used when you have diabetes, but keep in mind that using sugar can cause quick increases in blood glucose. It is true that artificial sweeteners have no calories and shouldn’t increase glucose. They are already in many foods that are labeled as “diet” or “sugar-free”. Artificial sweeteners still taste sweet. So by drinking or eating artificial sweeteners your taste buds still get that sweet taste. That may sound good to you, but it makes other naturally sweet foods taste not as sweet. If you choose to use artificial sweeteners, do so in moderation. Drink more water than diet drinks and eat real whole foods.
4. Can a person with diabetes still eat sweet foods or desserts?
5. What is the best strategy to lose weight with diabetes?
There are so many strategies for weight loss. A good starting place is a food log. This can be done on paper or using an app on your phone. A good food log includes not just the food itself but the amount consumed and how is was prepared. Having to write down all that you eat and drink creates awareness. Awareness of the foods you eat, portions, timing of meals and snacks and possibly even feelings related to food.
One of the best strategies for overall health and weight loss is to eat real whole foods. Real foods are foods that came from the ground or an animal. Vegetables, fruits, grains, meat and milk should make up our diet. Simply increasing vegetable intake and decreasing processed starches can help with weight loss. This should also help with glycemic control by reducing carbohydrate intake. Think about what you ate today and where it came from.
6. What leads to high blood glucose levels?
We often blame food first for high blood glucose levels, but there could be some other culprits. When you have a high blood glucose value, it’s important to think about why it’s elevated and document the reason. This is essential for you to understand and also to share this with your diabetes health care provider. Many foods and drinks do increase glucose. Carbohydrates break down into glucose so it’s good to know which foods and drinks contain carbohydrates. Besides food, consider some of these situations next time:
- Lack of sleep
- Less activity than usual
- Forgetting to take diabetes medications
- Hormone changes
Excess body weight can predispose to insulin resistance and increased blood glucose. Treating high blood glucose includes staying hydrated, checking glucose more often to make sure it is trending down and knowing when to contact your doctor.
7. Are there supplements that can help my diabetes control?
Supplements can be used by people who have diabetes but it is important to understand that there are not enough scientific studies for supplements to be routinely recommended. The government doesn’t regulate supplements in the way that it regulates medications. Some supplements may not have been well tested and could interact with other medications that you take. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider before you start taking supplements.
Some supplements that have been associated with improved glycemic control include:
- Bitter melon
- Gymnema sylvestre
For more information on supplements check out the National Institutes of Health Medline Plus or the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
8. What does alcohol do to my glucose levels?
Adults with diabetes can drink alcohol in moderation when diabetes is controlled and you have talked with your healthcare provider. Moderation is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is 12 ounces of beer (around 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces hard liquor (40% alcohol or 80 proof). Alcohol should be avoided when taking certain medications, and if you have high triglycerides, nerve damage or are pregnant.
Alcohol can actually increase or decrease glucose depending on the type and how much is consumed. When alcohol is consumed in moderation and without added carbohydrates from other sweetened drinks, glucose can decrease. This happens because the liver isn’t able to release glucose while it is processing alcohol. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be similar to drinking too much so tell those around you that you have diabetes and wear medical ID. Glucose can increase from alcohol when there are added carbohydrates from drinks (always think about the carbs in “mixers”), drinking more than moderation or eating more food.
Remember that alcohol is added sugar and calories. Talk with your health care provider about alcohol and see if it is safe for you.
9. Are eggs good or bad for people with diabetes?
10. Is coffee good to drink for people with diabetes?
Meet Christine McKinney, our registered dietitian and expert of the month!
Christine McKinney is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in clinical nutrition from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Christine has been providing nutrition counseling at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for almost 15 years. She is a specialist in weight loss, diabetes and prenatal nutrition. Christine a Certified Diabetes Educator. She has given many presentations and has been quoted in local and national publications on various nutrition topics. When not at work, Christine enjoys hiking in the woods with her kids, trying new recipes, cycle class and taking care of her chickens.
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