Facing the challenge of grocery shopping with diabetes

By Teresa Myers RN/CDE, with Jill Fleming MS/RD/LD

Grocery shopping is typically not at the top of most people’s list of fun activities. For people with diabetes it can seem overwhelming and challenging - making healthy choices, reading labels, knowing what carbohydrates, sugars and fats to watch out for, etc. With a little planning, grocery shopping can be an effective tool in meeting goals, such as managing blood sugar or losing weight.
Successful grocery shopping is about focusing on what’s healthy, nutritious and tasty, so that you actually enjoy eating. Diabetes Educators can help people with diabetes make informed choices. Here are some recommended tips.

Before you go, make a list - Create a list of items you need at the grocery store before you go. Think of what meals you are planning to make. What staples do you have on hand, what you may be running low on and perhaps, a new recipe or food item you would like to try? Organize your list by food categories. If you find you have not written anything under the vegetable category, that is a red flag; think about what vegetables you want to eat. Consider searching for a new vegetable recipe that you can get excited about.

Never shop when you are hungry - You'll be more likely to make poor food choices shopping while hungry. High carbohydrate, high salt, and “junk food” will quickly jump into your shopping cart. Eat a healthy meal or snack that contains carbohydrates and protein or fat before you shop.

Think Fresh First, Frozen Second, and Canned Third - fresh fruits and vegetables are always great, and when available should be your first choice, but aren’t your only option. Frozen or canned offer nutrients too, and can be healthy, easy, and affordable additions to your diet. Choose frozen over canned. Choose frozen fruits and vegetables that have no added sugar or salt. When buying canned fruits, look for fruits that are packed in water or natural juice, rather than heavy syrups. For vegetables, look for “low-sodium” or “no salt added” canned vegetables. If not able to buy fruit that is not packed in heavy syrup or vegetables that are low salt, thoroughly rinse the food under cold running water in a food strainer. Be aware that starchy vegetables such as peas, corn, and potatoes contain more carbohydrate than other vegetables.

Read Labels - Look past the “sugar free” or “low fat” claims. Sugar free foods are often just as high in carbohydrates as their regular counterpart. Low fat contains more carbohydrates. Avoid items that have corn syrup, corn sugar, or fructose listed as the first three ingredients. Read the nutrition label for specific information (from fats to carbohydrate to vitamins) noting the amounts that one serving of that food provides.

Consider the Carbohydrates - Looking at the sugar content is good, but it is more important to consider the amount of “total carbohydrates”, which affect your blood sugar. Work with a diabetes educator to learn how many grams of carbohydrates are appropriate for you to eat per snack, meal or day.

Focus on Fiber - Choose whole grain bread, rice, pasta, and cereal. Look for those brands that are a good source of fiber (2.5 grams or more per serving) or high in fiber (5 grams or more per serving). A healthy diet includes 25 to 30 grams of fiber from food per day. Other good sources of fiber are beans, vegetables, and fruits (especially those fruits with edible skins/peels).

Look for Healthy Fats - Fats are an important part of every diet, but it is important to lean towards those that are heart-healthy. Fats that come from plants are the best choice. Lean toward olive and canola oil, avocado and nuts. Avoid using olive oil to fry foods as it easily oxidizes and loses the benefit of using the olive oil . If you must fry, use canola, peanut, sesame, or coconut oils.
A Diabetes Educator can help you to learn what choices to make, to help you enjoy your food while maintaining blood sugar and weight loss goals. Contact the Diabetes Education Department at Veterans Memorial Hospital at (563) 568-3411 for assistance with diabetes.