4 Smart Ways a Dietitian Can Help You Manage Your Diabetes

If you have diabetes, recruiting a nutrition expert can help you create meal plans that improve your glucose control.

Dietitian taking notes while holding a red pepper

Medically reviewed in June 2021

Eating plans for people with diabetes are like fingerprints: Each one is personal.

If you need to manage your blood glucose levels, it’s generally a good move to follow dietary guidelines from the federal government. You should also be watching carbohydrates, prioritizing non-starchy veggies, minimizing processed items and opting for whole foods whenever possible. Meanwhile, more specialized eating plans such as the Mediterranean, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or plant-based diets all work for some people with diabetes—but none of them work for all.

To make sure your specific needs are met, your healthcare provider will likely give you a referral to a dietitian or nutritionist. Ideally, you’ll see a registered dietitian who’s skilled in diabetes-specific meal planning. In many cases, a diabetes health educator can also offer valuable insights into diet.

If you follow the plan you design, you could see your A1C levels decrease significantly. Plus, working together, you will learn how to modify your diet if you have other conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, and how to choose wisely when eating out.

Here’s how to make the most of your time with your nutrition specialist.

Write it down
You’ll find it easier to stick to a meal plan that takes into account the way you eat now.

Starting a few days or a week before your first appointment with a dietitian, keep a simple food diary. Record what you’re eating, what time you’re eating it and approximately how much. Bring this with you and your dietitian will have a good jumping-off point for creating a plan that fits your lifestyle.

Talk to your family
The dietary changes you’ll be making will also affect your loved ones. While the goal will be to create a meal plan that feels familiar and is easy to follow, your dietitian will be working with you to increase the amount of nutrient-dense foods you consume each day.

Depending on how you eat now, some adjustments might feel substantial, but serving the same food to everyone in your household will increase your odds of success. You won’t feel singled out or deprived—and removing less-healthy foods from your home should make you less likely to eat them. Plus, if you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, research has shown that your family members may also be at risk. They might benefit from the change in the family’s diet, too.

Think about your cultural traditions
Because food plays such an integral part in holidays and celebrations, you’ll want to make sure your meal plan acknowledges these traditions.

Does your culture call for a vegetarian diet? Your dietitian will know how to set up a vegetarian meal plan for diabetes. Does your religion observe regular fasts and feasts? Talk to your dietitian or health educator ahead of time about incorporating these types of events into your eating and medication plans.

Making your eating plan stick
After you try out a meal plan, speak up if you find it’s not working for you. Your dietitian should expect a period of adjustment until you find the combination of food and timing that helps you maintain blood glucose control.

Once you do settle on a meal plan that works, here’s how to make it part of your routine:

  • Plan ahead. Before you go grocery shopping, read over your meal plan. Use it to create a shopping list of items you’ll need to get through the week. Sticking to your list will also help you avoid impulse purchases.
  • Shop carefully. At the supermarket, consult the nutrition facts statements on food labels before deciding what to buy. In general, you’ll want to keep an eye on serving size, calories, carbs, fats and protein. Because there are no one-size-fits-all nutrition guidelines for people with diabetes, your dietitian should spend time teaching you what’s important for your meal plan and how to read food labels.
  • Remember the plate method. If you struggle to follow the specifics of your meal plan, picture a simple dinner plate. Aim to fill one-half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables, one quarter with lean protein and the other quarter with whole grains or starchy vegetables.
Article sources open article sources

USDA. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and Online Materials.” December 2020. Accessed March 31, 2021.
American Diabetes Association. “Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2021.” Diabetes Care 2021 Jan; 44(Supplement 1): S53-S72.
American Diabetes Association. “You can live well with diabetes.” 2021. Accessed March 31, 2021.
Joslin Diabetes. “Education Programs and Classes.” 2021. Accessed March 31, 2021.

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