Contributor: Jennifer Smith, RD, LD, CDCES
Springtime is here! It is lovely to see the growth of trees, as well as things like rhubarb popping out of the ground and strawberries sending shoots after a long winter’s nap. Some people may have started early plantings in the house for things like greens or other vegetables. This time of the season, hearty greens like spinach are already popping up to use. So long to the hearty and heavy winter meals and hello to the fresh and nutrient-packed vegetables and fruits of the Spring and Summer.
Another way to see the season is changing at this time of the year is spring cleaning. This could include moving cold weather clothes to the back of the closet and bringing the lighter wear out. Many people try things on and find that the spring/summer wear is a bit tighter after a winter with potentially less activity. What to do, what to do!?
This is the perfect season to set things right all around. Healthy eating goes hand in hand with what is available for many people, and it takes some adjustment, of course. Working on nutrition intake as well as diabetes management is a lot to consider at times. We have to look at so many things beyond just eating well: content of a meal, glycemic index, fat, protein, activity, etc. There are so many variables in life with diabetes, and food is a big one. But Spring and Summer bring a lot more time to be outside and a wealth of good things to eat that are also good for our diabetes management and all-around health. It is a good time of the year to commit to a change that could help you keep good habits all year round.
Consider committing to all around healthy lifestyle eating. No diet or fancy name for what you are doing, but instead using the resources of Spring and Summer to your advantage.
Where do you start? Examine your current meal plan. Eating is a basic necessity of life, but the reason we eat is to fuel the body with nutrients, so we have energy to move and for all of our systems to function optimally. Spring kicks off several months with a plethora of different foods just waiting to provide wonderful nutrients to your body. A great place to get started with quality food is your local farmer’s market. Most cities and many rural communities now have weekly markets to choose a wealth of different foods. The great thing is that as you move through the months, from Spring through Fall, different items are in season, and this keeps variety in the picture and helps you avoid boredom!
How does this translate into diabetes management? When I choose simple, unprocessed food more often, I find it leads to more optimal glucose management. Eating a big mixed green salad with veggies, fresh fruit, and some vinaigrette is a great way to fill up at a meal while focusing intake on food that is a powerhouse of antioxidants. In-target glucose levels after balanced, nutrient-dense meals also help maintain the benefit of those nutrients you just ate.
Start by doing an overall food intake evaluation for yourself and/or your family. This step like Spring cleaning for your health. Look at your most common meals or food choices and see what could be swapped out. A great place to start is by aiming to have half of your plate covered in vegetables. As a favorite author of mine, Michael Pollan, says, “Eat food, not too much, MOSTLY PLANTS.” Thankfully we are at the time of year when eating plants starts to get a lot easier in terms of quality and may also allow you to support your local farmers.
To get an idea of what you could add as the months get warmer and new things are in season, take a look at this website: www.seasonalfoodguide.org. It allows you to look up foods in season based on which state you live in and what type of produce you are looking for at the moment.
When I take a look at my area in the Mid-West for May, I can see that there are lots of greens as well as asparagus, broccoli rabe, radishes, mushrooms, chives, sprouts, strawberries, and rhubarb (a favorite since I was little as it can be cooked with little sweetener and is very low in carbs!). There are also many great herbs available to add depth and flavor to your dishes. I like to make a list for each month and then aim to go to the Farmer’s Market weekly to stock up on all my produce (thankfully, Madison has one of the best markets in the nation!). These weekly trips keep my produce fresh and adds variety to ensure my family doesn’t get bored. It also ensures that the quantity of nutrients will be valuable and help keep me full and optimize my glucose management.
If Spring Cleaning is in the weeks ahead for you, consider adding a clean sweep of food too. Add as many vegetables to your day as possible, consider swapping sweet treats for a seasonal fruit every day, and pay attention to healthy portions. These seem like very simple rules, but when paired with the wealth of healthy and unprocessed food we have access to starting in Spring, they can be a huge benefit to our health and diabetes management. Recipes are easy to find online, and many food bloggers and recipe sites include nutrition facts. I find it much easier to add foods to my meal plan when I don't have to do the nutrition breakdown to dose my insulin correctly. Have fun using this season as an opportunity to uncomplicate your nutrition and diabetes goals!
Jennifer Smith, RD, LD, CDCES, holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition and Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She is a Registered (and Licensed) Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She is an active member of the American Diabetes Association, American Association of Diabetes Educators. She co-authored and published a book on management of type 1 diabetes through pregnancy – Pregnancy with type 1 Diabetes: Your Month-to-Month Guide to Blood sugar management. She is a contributing author for Diabetes Sisters, Insulin Nation, Byram Medical supply and has presented at national and international conferences on various topics.
Jennifer has lived with type 1 diabetes since she was a child, is a long-distance runner, 70.3 triathlete, and mother of 2 boys. She works as the Director of Lifestyle and Nutrition for Gary Scheiner at Integrated Diabetes Services, which serves to provide in-depth, real-life education to people with diabetes around the globe. All of this has brought a deeper understanding and first-hand knowledge of the day-to-day events that affect diabetes management and allows her to work seamlessly with clients to achieve their management goals.