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How Nutrition Professionals Can Help With Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Robert Hurd, M.D.
Updated on August 30, 2022

Finding the right meal plan to manage diabetes can be challenging. According to the American Diabetes Association, research shows that there is no one-size-fits-all diet for people living with diabetes. Medical nutrition therapy can give you personalized help and support for making this important lifestyle change.

This article answers commonly asked questions about working with nutrition professionals. These professionals can help you better manage your type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or prediabetes with diet changes and education.

What Is a Nutrition Professional?

Maintaining a nutritious diet is crucial to managing your blood glucose (sugar) levels and keeping your diabetes under control. Many people with diabetes work with a certified nutrition professional to learn how to create healthy recipes, read and understand nutrition labels, and use their blood test results to make healthier diet decisions.

Two major types of nutrition professionals are nutritionists and registered dietitians (RDs). Although these professionals often work in similar settings, their training and responsibilities vary greatly.

Nutritionists do not have a specific degree or certification. They focus on teaching people about food and making healthy food choices. You may find a nutritionist leading a community cooking class, creating nutrition education programs through the state health department, or working in clinical settings. However, due to their lack of certification, nutritionists are often not covered by insurance.

RDs are nutrition counselors who are certified to participate in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. They can work in similar settings as nutritionists, but they are more commonly seen in hospitals and other medical settings. They work with people who are living with eating disorders, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions. RDs often collaborate with doctors and mental health care providers to help provide comprehensive, holistic care. They are more likely to be covered by your medical insurance.

In general, nutrition professionals can help people manage:

  • Allergies and food intolerances
  • Nutrition needs during and after pregnancy
  • Weight management
  • Eating disorders
  • Cardiovascular problems

If you are living with diabetes, an RD or nutritionist may join your doctors and nurses as part of your health care team. Nutrition professionals can help you learn how your blood sugar levels are influenced by the meals you eat. They can consider your personal food preferences, allergies, budget, and appetite to create a realistic, healthy diet for you.

How Can You Get Connected to a Nutrition Professional?

Nutrition professionals can clearly help people living with diabetes. Unfortunately, they are often hard to find. To find a nutrition professional near you, try:

  • Hiring a nutrition professional with their own private practice — This is the most expensive option. Your visits won’t be covered by insurance, but you can get nutritional counseling quickly.
  • Asking your doctor — They may be able to refer you to a dietitian within the same hospital or clinic. It may be easier to get these visits covered either partially or fully by insurance. You may also want to talk with your doctor about bringing the nutrition professional into your health care team.
  • Asking your insurance provider — Many RDs are covered by insurance. Note that Medicare covers medical nutrition therapy for people with diabetes when conducted by RDs.

You may want to look for RDs who have extra certifications in diabetes. One such certification is the Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) credential. A CDCES-certified RD will have had 1,000 extra hours of training on diabetes self-management education compared to RDs without this certification.

If you’re having trouble finding a nutrition professional, DiabetesTeam members often share alternatives. “If you don’t have access to a diabetes educator or a registered dietitian, your local community center, the YMCA, or workplace may have programs,” one member said. Another member added, “Local health departments often offer nutritional classes that can help on your journey.”

How Can a Nutrition Professional Help Someone With Diabetes?

If you are living with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes, you have likely been told to go on a diabetes-friendly eating plan. This usually means avoiding foods that will raise your cholesterol and blood glucose levels. RDs, especially those who specialize in diabetes management, can work with you to control your diabetes. An RD will take into account your lab results, lifestyle, culture, preferences, allergies, and intolerances to craft an individualized diet plan. RDs can also change your medications based on your diet and physical activity.

Whether you need help finding healthy foods you like, planning a weekly menu for you and your family, finding affordable fruits and vegetables, reading and understanding food labels, working around dietary restrictions, or reducing high blood pressure and hyperglycemia, a nutrition counselor can help you reach your lifestyle goals.

What Should You Expect From a Registered Dietitian?

Every RD has their own approach. Some prefer to lead group counseling sessions, while others prefer one-on-one sessions. Some practice in a hospital setting, while others are independent. When choosing the best RD for you, consider which type of setting would work best for you.

During your first appointment, your RD will likely cover a few major points, such as:

  • Basic education on nutrition and food groups, specifically for those living with diabetes
  • Strategies for diabetes management — including carb counting and behavior changes — to reduce your blood sugar levels
  • An eating plan with meal options and grocery lists for you to take home after your appointment

How often you will see your RD depends on their availability and practice. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends having three to five visits within the first six months. After that, you should go for yearly check-ins to make any necessary changes.

Make sure to be honest with your RD about the factors that are important to you. These could include dietary preferences, cultural preferences, how much time you have for cooking, how accessible grocery stores are to you, and the foods you cannot live without. Your RD is there to help you. They can do that best by having an accurate picture of your lifestyle before making any recommendations.

Your diet, alongside your treatment, is the greatest tool you have to keep your diabetes in check. An RD can help you personalize a diabetes-friendly diet that you can stick with. Talk with your physician before beginning any new diet plan or for help connecting with an affordable, specialized nutrition professional.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On DiabetesTeam, the social network for people with type 2 diabetes and their loved ones, more than 123,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with diabetes. Here, finding ways to manage your lifestyle while living with diabetes is a commonly discussed topic.

Is a nutrition professional part of your diabetes team? What have been your experiences managing your diabetes diet? Share your experience and advice in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on August 30, 2022
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Robert Hurd, M.D. is a professor of endocrinology and health care ethics at Xavier University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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