Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

I never liked the word “diet” because of the images it creates in a person’s head. The truth is that food is a necessary part of our lives. It keeps our bodies functioning properly. 

But there are so many different messages directed at us related to food that eating can get confusing and at times, even overwhelming. Let me try to put things in perspective.

1. The "simple" solution and the very real downfall

When I had my first child, one of the first things I asked my pediatrician was, “How often should I feed my baby?” His answer was very succinct: “Feed him on demand; he’ll let you know when he’s hungry.” 

Sound simple? In reality, that is the way we all need to eat: when we are hungry. You know how you feel when your energy is running low and you need food. And I don’t mean take it to the level of being famished because then you may be tempted to eat everything in sight.

Unconscious eating when you are bored, depressed, or just plain stressed can undermine any healthy eating plan. A great example of “mindless eating” happens when we go to a movie. The smell of the buttery popcorn calls to me, and I have to remind myself that I just ate dinner. This is an example of eating by suggestion, or "impulse eating."

It is important to know that for the most part, your body knows when it needs to be fed. Be aware of the cues, and before you consume unnecessary calories, stop and ask yourself, “Am I hungry?”

2. You need to eat! But check the labels first.

With diabetes, there are times that you need to eat. If your insulin is peaking, you need to eat! Even if you take oral medications, you need to keep your fuel tank full to avoid hypoglycemia. It’s not an easy balancing act, but you can do this not only by choosing when to eat, but by choosing what to eat as well.

If you load up on the foods with labels that say “sugar free” but aren't losing weight, you’re not alone. Always check your nutrition labels before a purchase. Items such as fructose, dextrose, maltose, and molasses are types of sugar.  

Check fiber and total carbohydrates on your label for some main points about the foods you want to eat. Also keep in mind that "low fat" on a label may not be as good as you think. I recently compared an advertised low-fat chocolate chip cookie with a regular cookie and found only a four-calorie difference between the two!

3. Ignore these two myths

Fat makes you fat. The reality is that your body needs fat to function. Fat provides energy and is necessary for the absorption of certain vitamins such as those that are fat soluble (A,D,E, and K). The trick here is to consume the right kind of fat in the right amounts.  

Omegas are all the same. You need to keep omega-6 and omega-3 fats balanced. If you’re like most Americans, you consume way too much omega-6 which is found in corn oil (Yes, your popcorn!), safflower oil, and sunflower oil. Meat, milk, and eggs also contain a lot of omega-6 in general.

Omega-3 fatty acids may be a bit harder to find. Many manufacturers actually remove them to keep products fresh. Try eating more soybeans, alfalfa, walnuts, flaxseed, and cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel to get more omega-3 in your diet. Try to keep total fat consumption to between 25 and 30 percent of your calories.

Staying balanced

Beware of fad diets and try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Having a forbidden sweet once in a while is not so bad, and it may help you to not feel deprived. But reserve the sweet treats for times when you are going to engage in heavy exercise or when blood sugars are lower. For example, don’t eat that cookie if you have a blood sugar over 200. Utilize good judgment!

Remember that losing weight slowly is the best way. It has been shown in studies that people prone to “yo-yo” dieting have weaker immune systems.

My top 5 tips:
1. Avoid fad diets.
2. Check your labels. Low fat and low sugar may not be the best choice.
3. Eat more fiber. Fiber will help you feel full and eat less, it’s also good for your digestive system.
4. Eat those omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Eat breakfast every day.

Remember, these are just guidelines. Everyone has their own individual dietary needs/restrictions. The best advice comes from your healthcare team. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!