During the summer months, many of our favorite activities are combinations of three essential elements: being outside, being active, and eating.
When we’re out enjoying ourselves, it can be very easy to overlook some of our basic nutritional needs. Many of us have experienced a sudden sense of extreme thirst or hunger after a busy day in the sun.
For those with diabetes, however, mowing the lawn or participating in one more tennis match and forgetting to have a snack can be more consequential.
“Good blood sugar control is vital to diabetes care to prevent or delay the onset of complications of disease. Nourishing meal plans, physical activity, and appropriate medication are all key to healthful living with diabetes. Make the effort to plan ahead this summer,” advises Joni Rampolla, registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition and Wellness for Medifast.
“There is a lot of excitement and fun this time of year, and a lot of us are outdoors, on vacation, exerting ourselves, and visiting new places. These factors make it all too easy to forget meds, lose track of mealtimes, or not pay attention to what your body is telling you. Eat enough healthy food to cover activity and keep hydrated in the heat. Test blood sugar levels more frequently to ensure you stay in your target range. Have a plan in place in case you experience a low blood sugar level,” she says.
Rampolla shares the following recommendations regarding how people living with diabetes (and their loved ones) can be proactive about health and wellness while enjoying the summer months:
Certain popular summer food items diabetics may want to avoid or enjoy in moderation…
Like any other time, people with diabetes should pay attention to the fat content and glycemic quality of food (how likely it is to cause a sudden upsurge in blood sugar). So, high-glycemic foods such as sugary sodas, frozen pops, juice blends, white bread and rolls, and candy should be limited.
High fat foods cause a prolonged rise in your blood sugar, which you may still see the effects of 3-4 hours after you have eaten. As far as protein sources, it’s important to go easy on fatty hotdogs, sausages, fried chicken, burgers and salads made with mayo.
Instead, opt for a grilled chicken breast, fish that isn’t fried such as a shrimp kabob, or a veggie burger with a whole-grain bun. Finally, limit drinks with caffeine and alcohol when out in the heat, since both can dehydrate your body.
Related: How to Become a Happy Eater
Summer foods recommended for diabetics…
Luckily for people with diabetes—and everyone else, summertime is high time for fresh, local produce. A diet rich in fresh, non-starchy vegetables and fruit provides great taste and plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals without playing havoc with blood sugar.
Protein sources that are low in saturated fat are the best choice, these include: low fat cuts of grilled, baked, stir-fried or broiled meats or skinless chicken breast, salmon or other fish, low fat cheeses, soy, beans, and legumes or a low fat, sugar free Greek yogurt.
Foods that may help control blood sugar levels include steel cut oats due to the soluble fiber it contains, flax seeds, cinnamon (American Diabetes Association: "Diabetes Care," Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes, Alam Khan, December 2003) or vinegar.
Where portion control comes into play…
Summer is a great time to break the habit of three big meals and instead, fuel your body with smaller servings of healthy food every two to three hours, especially when you’re on the go.
Eating small, frequent meals helps regulate blood sugar levels. Excessive carbohydrate intake can happen if you are not mindful about your food intake. Be mindful of your portions to allow you more flexibility to taste a variety of foods without over- consuming.
Related: 4 Top Tips to Stop Overeating
A great tool is the plate method where half of your plate is filled with non-starchy vegetables (like grilled zucchini, green beans, broccoli, or spinach summer squash). Keep the carbohydrate or starch to a quarter of your plate (corn, brown rice, or wheat roll), and the protein (chicken, fish, lean meat) to the remaining quarter.
This provides a nice healthy balance of nutrients.
General advice for attending a barbecue this summer…
Again, it’s about planning ahead. Wear good shoes to protect your feet. Participate in physical activity. Make sure there are healthy food choices, and if not, bring your own. Emphasize lean protein, fresh, non-starchy vegetables, fruit and whole-grain carbohydrates.
Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration and don’t overdo exercising in hot weather. If you start to feel dizzy, stop whatever you’re doing and check your blood sugar levels immediately.
Rest in a cool, shady place. Remember that taking care of your health allows you the time to spend with your family and friends. Use the time to enjoy the company. Be mindful of your food intake, knowing what is in the foods you chose ahead of time so you can relax and enjoy your time with loved ones during the party.
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Danielle Miller is a freelance writer and editor from the Boston area. She is a publishing project manager and has written articles on health and relationship-related topics for various outlets for several years. She is also a book editor, working mainly on books relating to science, technology, and user experience.