By Carolyn Hedrington, APNP

A person with diabetes is unable to make insulin or use it properly. Some patients need insulin injections and/or oral medications, but all diabetics need to focus on healthy eating and activity levels that keep blood sugar in a normal range.

The healthy diet that everyone is advised to follow is not really an option when you have diabetes. Eating too much or too little at the wrong time can cause spikes or dips in blood sugar, and these in turn can cause immediate problems and long-term health complications.

For those times when you’re too busy to make sure that you are making the correct food choice, it’s necessary to have a plan to protect yourself.

SNACKING: For a person with diabetes, snacks are usually recommended to help keep blood sugar stable. But it’s important that the snack items be well chosen and carefully measured for calories and carbohydrate content.

The carbohydrates you eat are nearly all turned into glucose that remains in your blood until insulin allows it to enter cells for energy. Talk to your nutritionist to find out how many carbs you should aim for in an afternoon or evening snack. Snacks with less than 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrates, according to the American Diabetes Association, include: a quarter of a cup of dried fruits and nuts; 1 medium apple or orange; 6 ounces of light yogurt and 3/4 cup of berries or 5 whole wheat crackers with 1 piece of string cheese.

If your schedule for the day is likely to be packed, think about putting together one or more snack packages for your desk or lunch bucket. Peel the orange and separate it into pieces so it’s ready to eat.

On those days, when you must go to the vending machine, nuts are probably your best choice since they are low in carbohydrates and high in nutrition.

When you are exercising, and working hard physically, extra snacks or larger snacks may be needed so that your blood sugar does not fall too low.

FAST FOOD: is best to avoid, if you can. When you know that you’re going to be out in your car–for short trips or long ones–pack a cooler with water and a variety of snack items–fruit, nuts, trail mix or 100-calorie packaged snacks. For longer trips, pack a sandwich on whole grain bread and a bag of bite-sized vegetable pieces.

When you do have to stop for fast food, have a strategy. Don’t choose “super-size” or “mega meal” options. The money you save is not worth the health costs. Don’t assume chicken and fish are the healthiest choices. A fried chicken sandwich has more calories and fat than a hamburger. Grilled sandwiches are better. If you have a choice, go for the side salad or apple rather than the fries or chips.

BUFFET TABLES: All you can eat takes on a new meaning when you have diabetes. Before starting, survey the offerings carefully to see what you can and should eat. And then use the “plate strategy”: fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables; one quarter with lean meat, fish or chicken; and one quarter with a starchy food such as rice, noodles, tortillas or potatoes. Add some fruit, and you have a well-rounded meal.

CARRY OUT MEALS: When you are too busy or tired to cook, remember there are other ways of obtaining a fast, easy meal.

Many supermarkets have salad bars and delis offering prepared foods that need only a quick re-heating. Read the labels to find health-oriented items that have the proper mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat for your needs. Be sure to note added sugars and sodium.

You can usually count on healthy take-out choices from Greek, Middle Eastern or sea food restaurants. Pizza is fine if you order a thin crust and go easy on the meat and cheese.

Keeping your diabetes on track is never easy, particularly when you have a busy schedule. A little time spent anticipating problems can do a great deal to save you time–and health problems–later.

Carolyn Hedrington, APNP, is a Nurse Practitioner with Ascension Medical Group at Mosinee. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 715.346.5243 or visit