Kenny Tomek, RD, LN

Kenny Tomek, RD, LN, dietitian at Yankton Hy-Vee, often gets asked about diabetes and diet. There’s sure a lot I don’t know when it comes to this topic. He helped me in my efforts to better understand how to adjust your diet to help prevent or help control diabetes.

What’s weight got to do with it?

Excess fat around the waist is associated with Type 2 diabetes. This extra fat creates insulin resistance, those extra fat cells hindering insulin-producing hormones from working at their best level. Insulin’s role is to take sugar out of the bloodstream and carry it to cells where it can be stored or used for energy. Without enough insulin in the blood, sugar can’t get to these cells, and blood sugar levels remain high.

There are two different measures of how much body fat you have.

• Body Mass Index – Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a calculation using your height and weight, a normal range is considered less than 25. Your health care provider can help you determine your BMI score.

• Measure your waist – With a tape measure, measure your bare abdomen just above your hip bone, as you relax and breathe out. If you are woman with a waist measurement over 35 inches or man with a measurement over 40 inches, talk with your health care provider about reaching a healthier weight.

What’s diet got to do with it?

Carb counting is a topic often thrown around but you may not understand the logic behind it. “Carb counting,” short for carbohydrate counting, is important to those managing or preventing diabetes because it can help in getting the right balance in what they eat and managing their blood sugar levels. If this is something you wish to consider, your health care provider can help determine the proper daily carbohydrate intake for you.

Tomek states, “As far as what types of foods to eat, there are quite a few people who think that they need to avoid sugar and carbohydrate foods completely. However, this is not the case. Some carbohydrate foods that are good (in moderation of course) are 100% whole wheat breads, crackers, cereals, fruits, and beans, just to name a few. Another thing to remember is that sugar free does not always mean carbohydrate free; Ritz crackers have very little sugar in them, but still are high in carbohydrates.”

How do foods differ in carbohydrate count?

•Protein – Meat and products such as soy products and cheese are great sources of protein.

•Meats do not contain carbohydrates therefore they do not affect blood sugar levels, though breaded meats and plant-based protein foods such as soy do contain carbohydrates.

•Dairy – Though dairy products differ in their carbohydrate count you should include dairy in your diet. Some great options are fat-free or low-fat milk, plain non-fat yogurt and nonfat light yogurt without added sugar.

•Vegetables – Not all vegetables are the same, some are considered starchy and others are non-starchy. Starchy vegetables contain more carbohydrates and can increase blood sugar levels. There are numerous non-starchy vegetables to pick from, Tomek listing over 20 options including:

asparagus, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, mushrooms, onions, salad greens, squash and tomato to name a few.

Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables without added salt or sugar are better options. If you want to cut your sodium level back even more, drain canned vegetables and rinse with water then heat them in fresh water.

•Fruit - Tomek listed a variety of fruits to choose from: apples, bananas, blueberries, grapes, mango, peaches, plums, strawberries and watermelon. How could you not want to eat more of these yummy fruits? Like vegetables, it is best to choose fresh, frozen or canned fruit without additives such as sugar. Dried fruit and juices can be nutritious, but portion sizes are small so they may not be as filling.

How much can I eat of each?

A diabetes meal plan can be helpful for those with diabetes or helping to balance their diet. For most, the plan consists of 40% to 60% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein and 30% or less from fat. Incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and poultry while aiming to eat fish twice per week.

Create your plate

Tomek provided me with information about a strategy for better nutrition during mealtimes, called “Choose your Plate.” The website shows an image, as shown below, of how to fill your plate at mealtimes so you get the most nutritional variety. The site is also filled with information about making better nutritional choices, balancing food and activity, recipes, popular topics and even an “ask the expert” section.

Need some help?

Tomek is available at the Yankton Hy-Vee store to give personalized store tours free of charge and can also provide a one-on-one counseling session for an hour with the store for a fee.

“I really like working with people who have diabetes and even prediabetes,” Tomek states. “Diabetes is something that is highly controlled through diet and exercise, two components of my job that I am passionate about. Being able to work at Hy-Vee means that I have all of the food items at my disposal which makes educating customers much more practical.”


Hy-Vee flyer “Diabetes & Your Weight”

Hy-Vee flyer “Count those Carbs”

Hy-Vee flyer “Nutrition Know-How – Dairy & Protein”

Hy-Vee flyer “Nutrition Know-How – Nonstarchy Vegetables & Fruit”

Hy-Vee flyer “What is a Diabetes Meal Plan?”

Hy-Vee “Nutrition Know-How – Create Your Plate”