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Navigating Nutrition & Diabetes

Nutrition and diabetes go hand-in-hand. That’s why today, we asked Medtronic Senior Diabetes Clinical Manager, Jennifer Morrison, MPH, RD, CDCES, who has been with us for 10 years, to talk more about this important topic.

Keto or paleo?  Gluten-free or whole grain? Sugar-free or natural sugars? With so many messages, it’s no wonder nutrition can be confusing. There are a lot of different options for dietary management, and managing healthy eating while living with diabetes is an added layer of complexity. When in doubt, remember: eating quality, nutritious foods in portions that do not exceed calorie needs helps promote overall health.


How to fuel your fire:

As we have gained understanding about the digestion of foods, diabetes nutrition counseling has transitioned into education on the nutrients of the foods—carbohydrates (carbs), protein, fat, and fiber— and how they impact glucose levels after intake. Carbs are the starch or sugar in the food that break down into glucose molecules and raise blood sugar after being consumed. Yes, proteins are important, but they are not carbs—so how should they be considered in glucose management?

Think of your blood sugar like a fire. You are going to fuel the fire several times a day. Do you want to build a couple big fires (that could result in higher blood sugars) or spread several small fires throughout the day (to help with fullness and controlling blood sugar levels)? Makes more sense to spread the calories (fuel) throughout the day, right? In building this fire, there are a few different fuel sources to consider:

Fires can run on any one of these sources, but the combination/volume will greatly impact how the fire burns. Likewise, blood sugar is impacted by all these sources and the combination of the food quality and portion quantity. How do you want to build your fire?  A sustainable fire includes carbs (the more complex, the better!) balanced with a portion of protein and/or fat.

Choosing complex carbs that are higher in fiber will be friendlier to blood sugar levels, but calories should come from a variety of nutrient-dense foods and be spread throughout the day between meals and snacks that include a balanced amount of carbohydrate + protein/fat.


Your relationship with food and lifestyle goals:

When deciding on your nutrition approach, keep in mind a few other factors:

Tip: Individually packaged foods or portion your own snacks into single-serving containers to help prevent overeating. You can use a permanent marker to note the carbs in each portion for easy grab-n-go options.

Tip: Consider having different sized containers on hand to store or freeze for meal prep and snacks.



Tools for Success

Ensuring you have the right resources might make all the difference in potential success for new year’s nutrition goals. Here are some tools that may help:

A digital nutrition label food scale could be a great investment in 2021. This is a scale that allows you to enter the code of the food and view the exact calories and carbs by weight! This is really helpful for cooked foods such as pasta and rice and also for foods without labels like fruit. It’s a great tool for building portion accuracy and reducing the guesswork around carb counting [1]. Key features to look for are:

There are also apps right on your smartphone that can be a big help. The Nutrition Tracker app integrates a food diary, calorie and carb counter, nutrition database, and restaurant nutrition look-up tool. As you log foods into a nutrition app, it can store your entries, essentially building a personalized database of your regularly eaten foods and beverages. Most apps will also allow you to customize the facts or even feature a built-in camera and bar code scanner.

Finally, since portion accuracy determines carb count accuracy, tools for portioning foods are also helpful. Using things like a nutrition scale, nutrition apps, measuring cups and spoons allow you to have confidence of the carbs and calories in each portion!

Tip: Thermal food storage containers can keep cold foods cold for 24 hours or hot food hot for up to 12 hours. Investing in thermal containers for work, school or travel is great if you’re looking to minimize eating out.


Pulling it all together

Stay focused on striving for a healthy relationship with food rather than achieving a ‘perfect diet.’ Set small,  attainable goals and lean into small daily practices that are manageable and help you achieve better intersection of your overall health, nutrition, and diabetes goals—these will become more refined over time and can work for you in 2021!


The opinions expressed in this blog do not take the place of medical advice or guidance. Please reach out to your healthcare team if you have for questions or concerns about your diabetes management.