By Lynn Polmanteer, MS, RD, CDN, CDE
Lynn Polmanteer, MS, RD, CDN, CDE is a nutritionist at the Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Hospital in NYC. Prior to joining the institute staff she spent three years at New York-Presbyterian Hospital as a clinical dietitian. Lynn contributes to CBS, The Daily News, and Sirius XM Radio as a nutrition expert, hosts fresh and healthy-themed cooking classes at FDI, and is an avid runner and biker.
I’ve been a registered dietitian for several years now. I’ve always enjoyed going to dinner parties, summer barbecues, weddings, and restaurants. I love catching up with old friends and making new ones over great food! I’ve noticed that whether I’m meeting someone for the first time, or if I’ve known the group forever, the subject of jobs always tends to come up. As luck would have it, this conversation is typically held towards the end of the meal, right before dessert. If I’m in the mood for something sweet (especially if it’s chocolate) I have some. Immediately I hear, “You’re a dietitian! You can’t be eating that!” My innate response is, “but the key is moderation!” While I don’t have diabetes, I can imagine that people with diabetes hear “You can’t eat that” on a regular basis. Which reminds me of the first time I met my boyfriend’s uncle. I’ll refer to him as Uncle Awesome. F
or several years now, he has successfully managed and controlled type 2 diabetes. He lives an active lifestyle, diligently takes his medications, and checks his blood sugar on a daily basis.
I met Uncle Awesome for the first time at a family gathering. Lunch consisted of fruit, chips, a few different salads, bagel sandwiches, and, of course, dessert. After the meal, Uncle Awesome reached for the sweets. His daughter yelled, “Dad what are you doing?!? You have diabetes and Lynn’s a dietitian who specializes in diabetes! Don’t eat that!” While I appreciated the concern she had for her father’s health, I thought to myself, “if Uncle Awesome avoids chips, the fruit, or the whole bagel, he can have some dessert.” But how does one explain carbohydrate counting over a casual lunch? I had just met Uncle Awesome and I didn’t think Carbohydrate Counting 101 was appropriate given the circumstances. Uncle Awesome ended up having a taste of the sweets and asked me afterwards some questions about nutrition and diabetes.
I outlined the keys to successfully incorporating carbohydrates into your diet; everyone needs them for energy, even those with diabetes. It’s just important to know what they all are and how they differ from each other as it’s a huge group of food! I classify carbohydrates into four categories:
- Starches (for example, pasta, rice, potatoes, corn, cereal, bread)
- Milk and yogurt
It’s okay for people with diabetes to have sweets given proper portion control. I usually tell my patients to limit them to no more than once or twice per week. I told Uncle Awesome that next time he goes to a party and wants to have a small piece of cake, a small cookie, or a ½ cup of ice cream, to have less of the “other” carbohydrates during the meal. I call it swapping. I don’t expect my patients who like sweets to avoid them 365 days per year. I encourage them to practice portion control and to remember that moderation is the key.