American Diabetes Month is ongoing now through the end of November, folding into the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) primary objective to raise awareness and understanding of diabetes, its consequences, management, and prevention. Earlier this year, a Journal of the American Medical Association study found diabetes rates were actually leveling off. But in spite of this, diabetes remains a major public health concern.

This month’s theme is “America Gets Cooking to Stop Diabetes.” The ADA is aiming to engage and inspire people to live a more active and healthier lifestyle. More often than not, the healthier lifestyle aspect of it all includes foods and recipes labeled as “diabetes-friendly.” Yet, some diabetes-friendly recipes out there boast more than 11 grams of sugar (almost 3 teaspoons). Isn’t that a lot for someone who is (or trying to avoid being) diabetic?

“When it comes to looking at a [nutrition] label, I always recommend that the sugar to protein ratio be as close to 1:1,” nutritionist Rania Batayneh, author of best-selling book The One One One Diet, told Medical Daily. “The lower the carbohydrate count, the more minimal impact on blood sugar the food will have.”

However, Batayneh added, protein is really the stabilizer. High protein foods help a person curb their cravings and properly fill up in-between meals, which is especially helpful for those with pre- and type 2 diabetes. Fiber, on the other hand, slows the digestion of carbs, helping keep blood sugar steady.

The ADA has a great primer on target blood glucose here. Glucose, the main sugar found in blood, is produced when a person's body breaks food down into energy. Stable levels maintain the disease, and keeping track of levels is what indicates the success or failure of a treatment plan.

Modern Diabetes Management

Level Life categorize themselves as a modern diabetes management company focused on empowering people with the right tools to help manage their diabetes effectively. Last month, the company announced a new line of indulgent snacks, including Peanut Butter Cups, Peanut Turtle Bars, as well as a variety of protein bars, shakes, and performance gels. “We use real, high-quality ingredients that don’t give your stomach or blood sugar issues, and which are formulated to quickly deliver the results you need," a press release read.

The quick results are in the form of fast-acting glucose, which Batayneh explained raises blood sugar two times faster than juice — the most common resource for a person experiencing a low blood sugar event. Also, the fast-acting gels have no fat, a differentiator from other foods made with standard sugar. Each gel has 15 grams of pure glucose and the perfect amount of carbs to avoid over-treatment.

Pure glucose might be off-putting considering we know sugar to be dangerous, but in this case it's essential. It also points to the need to consider a product or recipe’s complete nutrition. Solely writing something off for high sugar content could be a mistake if it’s also high in stabilizing protein and healthy fats (for heart-health and satiety).

What’s Really Diabetes-Friendly

The formula Batayneh prescribes to her diabetic clients is one serving of protein, one serving of carbs, and one serving of fat at each meal and snack. Similar to the ADA, Batayneh says being “diabetes-friendly” is really about being educated.

In my opinion, the key thing is for consumers to know what to look for. Being educated is the key to making changes,” she said. “Yes, defining a certain [food] as ‘diabetes-friendly’ is a helpful indicator that this can fit into your lifestyle. There really is no harm here. However, my recommendation is to eat clean, minimally processed foods balanced with protein, carbs, and fat. Relying too much on packaged goods is just not always or highly recommended.”

Level Life is capitalizing on healthy convenience for diabetics with a stubborn sweet tooth, but so are other companies like KIND Snacks. Batayneh personally loves their Nuts & Spices and Caramel Almond & Sea Salt bars as they only have 5 grams of sugar or less. Bonus: KIND only uses ingredients people can actually pronounce; nothing sketchy or artificial. A variety of their bars are also high in protein and fiber.

“Everybody has a sweet tooth, and there is nothing wrong with the occasional treat!” Batayneh said. “Sugar and fiber are the key things that people are drawn to, but protein is also really important [to consider] as it keeps the blood sugar stable.”

A diabetic’s blood sugar is their number one priority. It’s the greatest indicator of their health, and it prevents any further complications. We're simply saying balanced food choices, meaning a healthy variety of nutrient-dense foods, vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats, high fiber and protein, make it so even diabetes patients can have their cake and eat it, too.