When I was officially diagnosed with diabetes, visions of plain white bagels topped with fluffy cream cheese immediately appeared in my mind’s eye, followed by homemade grilled cheese sandwiches and lasagna and… you get the point. I had spent the previous nine months avoiding sodium, which meant foregoing the bun and cheese on hamburgers and resisting many of my other favorite foods, so I was crushed to learn that I would have new – and permanent – dietary restrictions.

As I digested the diagnosis in those first few days, I imagined a lifetime of insatiable cravings. I envisioned a clear “naughty and nice” list of foods that would strictly govern my every meal. Ultimately – for me – life with diabetes has become more an art of balanced decisions than the strict avoidance of my favorite things. As my endocrinologist would attest, I am far from a model diabetic so please understand this is not medical advice. However, my A1C is pretty darn good and my diet is not lacking in variety or indulgence.

For anyone recently diagnosed with diabetes or struggling to get your A1C under control, I present some tips that have worked for me over the years. As always, discuss any medical questions and dietary changes with your physician, as I am not qualified to offer medical advice and everyone’s situation is different.

Simple Choices

  • Eat protein and vegetables with your carbs – when I have a craving for pasta, I’ll prepare a meal with maybe 75% vegetables and 25% pasta so I get the carbs I crave but fill myself up mostly with veggies
  • Drink a big glass of water or cup of hot tea before eating snacks and meals
  • Try some peanut butter (check the sugar content) to balance your apple or banana
  • If you prefer yogurt for breakfast, read the labels and look for the options with lower sugar and more protein (many Greek yogurts fit the bill)
  • Try these satisfying low-carb snacks to keep you going between meals: a handful of almonds, a hard-boiled egg, raw broccoli or carrots dipped in ranch dressing, string cheese
  • When you can’t resist your grains, choose darker options like whole wheat bread and pastas – our bodies digest these more slowly than simple carbs like white bread, which helps limit the blood sugar spike
  • Choose beverages wisely – when I get tired of water, I reach for Crystal Light, Diet Coke, Sprite Zero or Gatorade Zero Sugar
  • Consider making your sandwich open-faced to cut the carbs of a full sandwich in half
  • Try sweet potatoes instead of regular white potatoes