Put Down That Protein Bar and Opt for Nuts and Fruit Instead

Holly J. Willis, PhD, RDN, CDCES; Mark Harmel, MPH, CDCES


July 19, 2022

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

People with diabetes know the importance of nutrition. Today I want to talk about an eating strategy that can help people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes to achieve their glucose or glycemic goals.

Many people are familiar with using low-carbohydrate or high-protein eating patterns to manage their glucose. I want to talk about an approach that can be applied to every eating pattern, whether it's low carbohydrate, low fat, ketogenic, fasting, vegan — you name it. This strategy can be applied to any of those eating patterns to help improve glycemic goals.

Research suggests that people with the highest-quality eating pattern tend to have the lowest A1c. In a paper that looked at people from the T1D Exchange, people with the highest Healthy Eating Index had the lowest A1c.

Researchers use the Healthy Eating Index to evaluate the quality of an individual's diet. They look at the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and then at things that we don't want to see too many of, such as added sugars and salts.

I like to think about the Healthy Eating Index and how that plays out for people eating foods under the umbrella of the pillars that can be applied to any eating strategy. For example, it means eating more whole foods or foods that are not packaged or are very minimally processed. Instead of grabbing a granola bar or a protein bar as a snack, grab a handful of dry roasted nuts and a piece of fruit, like an apple or an orange.

Next, aim to fill at least half the plate with nonstarchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, and leafy greens — there are many options out there. People might say, "Well, I don't really want to go with half a plate of vegetables." Then it's best to say, "How about adding these vegetables to what you're already eating? Maybe fill an omelet with a whole bunch of veggies, or add vegetables to a super stew recipe in two to three times the quantity that would be called for in the regular recipe."

The next one would be to reduce the quantity of refined grains and added sugars. For refined grains, you can think of things like white pastas and white rice, heavily processed breads, or packaged meals that can be purchased in the freezer section at a grocery store. Instead of that, opt for whole options. Is there a whole brown rice or whole oat that could be substituted instead?

For sugar reduction, it could be as simple as choosing a plain yogurt with frozen berries over a fruited yogurt.

Another pillar is removing any sugar-sweetened beverages. In place of the energy drink, soda, or sweet tea, choose water whenever possible. That could be a bubbly water; any sort of sparkling water; even a no-calorie, flavored water — but really removing those sugar-sweetened beverages.

For me, this eating pattern is more about aiming for nutrient-dense whole foods and less about looking at specific grams of carbohydrates, proteins, or fats.

The American Diabetes Association website has some great resources to help people eat better and to bring some of these pillars to life. On the ADA website, there is the Healthy Living page and the Diabetes Food Hub, with great resources like recipes and tips and tricks that will work in your kitchen.

The ADA website also has tips on how to eat healthy on a budget because I know that's a worry for many people: "How am I going to do this with a limited budget?" There really are ways and the ADA has some great resources for you.

All in all, this isn't about following a particular diet. This is about thinking of ways to improve the quality of the foods that you're eating to improve not only your diabetes but also your overall health.

For more diabetes and endocrinology news, follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.