Summer! It’s that wonderful, light-filled time of year again. Long days seem to beckon traditional get-togethers that center around food, from Memorial Day barbecues to Labor Day picnics. Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. But some of those traditional summertime foods – fatty meats, sugar-doused barbecue sauce, buckets of mayonnaise-based salads, starchy sides, and big desserts – could use some updating, especially for people with diabetes. If you’re planning the event yourself, it’s much easier to control the menu, of course, but don’t turn down that invitation just yet! The great news is that you don’t have to skip the party to stick to healthy eating goals; just a little planning and personal reflection may have you breezing through summer parties.
To begin, I like to remind people to remember the most important thing about summer entertaining, which is to have fun and participate in a social activity. Really, the food is secondary! With that in mind, keep yourself occupied with fun away from the buffet – enjoying adult conversation, tossing a Frisbee, or playing with the little kids. Any of these activities will keep you active and potentially a little less focused on eating.
Once you accept an invitation, put your plan into action. Ask your host politely if he or she can give you an idea of what’s on the menu. If you’re comfortable, let your host know that you have diabetes. Whether you’re comfortable disclosing or not, ask if you can bring a dish or two to share. That way, you know you’ll have something to eat that works within your eating plan. Some particularly good choices: a large green salad with unusual vegetables like jicama; a bowl of mixed berries; fresh peaches or figs to toss on the grill, or a trimmed-down version of a favorite pasta or potato salad. These are the kind of favorites nearly any guest will enjoy.
When it’s time to fill your plate, load up on non-starchy veggies such as tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots, and sugar snap peas, to temper your appetite. If they are dressing- and butter-free, eat all you want, as they should really fill you up. If the vegetables have added fats, drain as much of the fat as you can.
Next, consider what a balanced meal looks like. In an ideal world, at least half of your plate will be those non-starchy vegetables, and the other half will be split between a protein-rich food like chicken or beans and a carbohydrate-rich food like pasta or fruit. Some of your best protein choices include skinless chicken, grilled salmon, lean steak or hamburger, and a veggie burger. As sides, consider grilled vegetables, three-bean or lentil salads, and fresh fruit. You can work in any favorite food if the portion is small enough, but try to keep the protein-rich foods and the carb-rich foods each to just one-quarter of your plate unless your meal plan dictates otherwise. One special note for summer eaters – enjoy that delicious fresh corn, by all means, but count it as your starch and hold the butter!
If the meal uses up your full carbohydrate allowance, either skip dessert or have it later. Fresh fruit is a wonderful summer dessert for nearly everyone, even those with diabetes. Fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Even though the taste of fruit is sweet, you shouldn’t expect it to raise your blood glucose more than other types of carb-rich foods if your portion is appropriate. Some fruits, like pineapple and watermelon, do have high glycemic index values, but are an acceptable part of a healthy diet if you keep your serving to about 15 grams of carbohydrate. The key is to account for the carbohydrates and avoid eating more than your meal plan dictates. If you’re wondering what fifteen grams of carbohydrate means in the real world, try my guide of desserts that weigh in at 15 grams carbohydrate:
- 1 cup whole strawberries
- ¾ cup blueberries
- 1 ¼ cup cubed watermelon
- ¾ cup cubed pineapple
- 1 medium peach (4 oz.)
- 2 medium figs
- 2-inch square brownie
- 2 small chocolate chip cookies
- ½ cup ice cream
As you attend summer events, try to remember that many people are watching what they eat, not just you. If you can, sit with those who have enviably healthy eating habits. And get comfortable saying “no, thank you.” Preface “no” with a compliment such as, “It couldn’t be more delicious, but I’ve had enough.” Finally, stay active. Take a walk, pick up that Frisbee again, chase the kids, simply have fun!
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE* is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for the The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience