Confusion in the Produce Aisle? Promoting the Best Foods for Diabetes Awareness Month
By Marina Chaparro, RDN,CDE, MPH
Can I eat fruit if I have diabetes? Should I go low carb? Will I ever be able to eat and enjoy dessert? I asked myself these same questions while shopping at the supermarket for the first time after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It took me around three hours to shop, and I left confused and overwhelmed.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Over 37.3 million Americans live with diabetes; about one in ten. One in five people with diabetes don't know they have it. Diabetes is often seen as a condition where individuals need to restrict certain foods or, as I would say, adopt a "don't eat this mentality." As you know, the supermarket can often be a pain point for people with diabetes. What foods should I buy for my blood sugars? Am I reading this label right? Should I buy sugar-free? How many carbs are in that?
Retail dietitians have a unique opportunity to change this perception and take an approach that teaches people with diabetes strategies to incorporate foods they love from a cultural, emotional, and holistic perspective. November can be an excellent opportunity to educate consumers, especially those living with diabetes, on ways to improve their health with a food first, non-fearing, and balanced approach.
Here are ideas, based on my experience as a diabetes care and education specialist, on how retail dietitians can promote and incorporate produce including California strawberries during Diabetes Awareness Month.
- Provide diabetes insights - think in their world. People with diabetes learn about portions and the importance of carbs. Some are taught how to read labels and others learn which food has carbs. But when it comes to fruit, it usually does not have a label, so it might cause some hesitation for shoppers who don't know the carbs. That said, strawberries are one of the fruits with the lowest glycemic index and tend to be THE fruit most providers recommend for diabetes. Give consumers insights, show how many carbs are in 1 cup, and give specific examples. One medium strawberry only has 1.4 gram of carbohydrate, and 1-1/3 cup of whole strawberries provides 15 grams carbs and almost 4 grams of dietary fiber. Don't forget the fiber, either. Through social media and consults on diabetes management and prevention, remind shoppers that dietary fiber is significant for people with diabetes because it helps digestion and decreases blood sugar spikes.
- Focus on lower sugar desserts. Desserts might seem off limits but giving people with diabetes options can be highly impactful. In e-commerce, provide shoppable recipes with lower-sugar desserts like strawberry parfaits with Greek plain yogurt and some toppings. Another one of my favorites is strawberries covered with dark chocolate and pistachios. They are low in sugar and satisfying, providing lots of fiber and a little extra protein and fat from the chocolate and pistachios. Check out more delicious desserts here and promote those that have lower carbohydrate content or make substitutions if appropriate.
- Include a Did you know? section in the fresh produce section. One of the most popular questions I get as a diabetes care and education specialist is "Can I have fruit if I have diabetes?" For many people, fruit can be scary to consume or they have been told to avoid it! Consider having several Did You Know? blurbs that include quick educational insights or facts about diabetes on produce signage or linked in e-commerce. Example: Did you know one serving of strawberries has less sugar than an apple and only half the calories of a banana? (1) Did you know that several studies have shown that daily consumption of strawberries significantly reduced total cholesterol & low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels?(2)
- Show the consumer "how-to" tasty and versatile recipes with carbohydrate amounts. Strawberries are highly versatile. Still, consumers often need to be shown creative ideas on how to include them from frozen strawberries made into a protein strawberry smoothie or a low glycemic snack with freeze-dried and fresh strawberries paired with nuts or cheese. In cooking classes, virtual or in-store demos, or short videos, help shoppers see that there are many ways to enjoy California strawberries and take advantage of the nutritional benefits during breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner.
As a registered dietitian, diabetes care and education specialist, and person living with diabetes for 21 years, strawberries are part of my daily eating habits. I believe more people with diabetes need to let go of a restricting “diabetes-diet mentality” and instead take on one that gives balance and includes foods they love!
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. (2019). Banana, raw, medium.https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173944/nutrients
- Basu A, Betts NM, Nguyen A, Newman ED, Fu D, Lyons TJ. Freeze-dried strawberries lower serum cholesterol and lipid peroxidation in adults with abdominal adiposity and elevated serum lipids. J Nutr.2014;144:830837 https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/144/6/830/4589926