If you're confused about the best way to eat for diabetes, Jackie Mills, MS, RD, is the person to ask. She has made a career of demystifying the nuances of diet and diabetes, having created thousands of diabetes recipes and written several cookbooks, including 1,001 Diabetes Recipes (Wiley) and The Big Book of Diabetes Desserts (American Diabetes Association). Here, she shares her 5 favorite secrets about healthy eating and managing blood sugar:
You can have dessert. Having diabetes doesn't mean you'll never enjoy Aunt Bea's apple pie again. "You don't have to miss anybody's birthday or holiday celebration," Mills says. "You just have to keep track of your carbs and plan ahead. If you want a slice of pie for dessert, you know you can't have two slices of bread and mashed potatoes in the same meal."
You'll lose weight. Watching your carbs automatically trims portions to healthier size. For example, you'll go from a too-large (though standard) 4-ounce serving of pasta down to 2 ounces. "That alone will help you lose weight," Mills says. If you switch to whole grains and add extra fruits and veggies to your diet, you'll fill up with more fiber and fewer calories -- all while keeping your blood sugar in check.
Eating to manage diabetes is simple. If you're choosing whole foods (e.g., beans, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables), eating to manage your blood sugar level shouldn't be too complicated, Mills says. "The simplest way to do it is to use the plate method: Fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with starch, such as brown rice."
A diabetes-friendly diet is good for your heart. "People who have type 2 diabetes have a greater than normal risk of heart disease and stroke," Mills says. Turns out, the same diet that helps you manage your blood sugar can help lower your risk for heart disease, too. "If you don't already have heart disease, eating this way will help prevent it," Mills says.
There's no such thing as a "diabetes diet." "It's just an amazing, healthy diet that your whole family can be on," Mills says. "Everyone can eat the same meal." The main difference is a person with diabetes has to account for all the carbohydrates in the meal. In fact, the same healthy fare you eat can help other family members prevent diabetes. "If everyone ate like a person with diabetes should eat, there would be no -- or very little -- type 2 diabetes," Mills says.