"At the end of the day, we all have to treat the nutrition strategies to treat both types of diabetes to manage blood sugars are relatively similar." - Mary-Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LD
Mary-Ellen Phipps talks to Shireen about her personal experience living with Type 1 Diabetes, the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes and The Easy Diabetes Cookbook. Mary-Ellen also explains how individuals with diabetes can utilize fat fiber and protein to balance their blood sugar.
Mary-Ellen is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who owns Milk & Honey Nutrition, a website and blog dedicated to diabetes education, recipes, general wellness and healthy eating. She received her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Shireen: Mary Ellen was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes at five years old, and ever since has known just how much food affects how we think, feel, act and move. Mary-Ellen wanted to help people realize with that a diagnosis of diabetes, celiac disease, heart disease, does not mean an end to delicious food. And thus milk and honey nutrition was born in 2016. Welcome, Mary-Ellen.
Mary-Ellen: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.
Shireen: Glad to have you on, I want to dive in. And I want to ask you about what your experience and if you can build upon that experience with living with type one diabetes, and then really how that led you to become a registered dietician.
Mary-Ellen: Yeah, definitely. So like you said, I was diagnosed at five years old, and I had a unique experience and that my mom also has type one diabetes. So I, growing up, I don’t think our family experience was like this typical family that would have a child diagnosed with type one because she knew kind of what I was going through. But the other part of it is, that was back in 1991. So we did not have all of the different types of insulins and pumps and cgms. And everything we do now. So because of the way that she and I both had to eat was very restrictive, just as a nature of having to stay alive to treat our disease. And I’m very thankful we don’t have to do that anymore. But because of that, I noticed that I had to eat differently than other people. And so that pushed me as a young child to get really active in the kitchen to figure out like, well, how can I make good food for me too, and I had a grandma who was like a rock star Baker and loved figuring out how to make low sugar desserts. For me, that tasted really good. And so kind of all that came together. And I had a love kind of a nerd in high school and college and loved science. And I got to college and you know, the guidance counselor’s like listening to my interest, and she’s like, Well, you know, you can major in nutrition sciences, and I was like, hold up, you mean, I can actually make a career out of that. And so it was this perfect blend of food and culinary skills and science about how it happens in your body. And so I don’t think I had been to registered dieticians as a child, but I didn’t know that’s what they were. They’re learning. I learned about this in college, I switched my major. And then the rest is kind of history when it comes to education. And then let’s talk a little bit more about type one, because we normally hear about type two diabetes, I believe it’s 90 95% of those diagnosed with diabetes, or type two.
Shireen: So can you help us understand the difference between type one diabetes and type two diabetes? And then from there, I’d like to learn a little bit more about why does diabetes communities, are sort of divided, you know, with the type ones in one corner and type twos in the other?
Mary-Ellen: Right, right. So I mean, type one and type two are both forms of diabetes, which basically means at the end of the day, there’s a problem with the pancreas and the way it secretes insulin, there’s either an insulin deficiency or an insulin inefficiency. And so when you have type one, it’s an insulin deficiency, the pancreas just cannot secrete insulin anymore, because of an autoimmune reaction that happens, you know, the immune system kills off those beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin. So it is an immediate need for insulin, it often develops very, very rapidly, there’s other forms of type one that will take longer to develop. But most cases of type one develop over a matter of typically, we see it four to six weeks, and you’ll go from being a perfectly normal human being to having full on type one diabetes, whereas with type two, we could be dealing with either we could be dealing with insulin deficiency or insulin inefficiency. So the pancreas still produces insulin, just not for whatever reason. And type two is the area where we acknowledge we know a lot of the risk factors, but we also don’t know a lot of the risk factors. So it could be that the pancreas still produces insulin, it just doesn’t work as well. So the end result of both of those conditions is we have to pay attention to the food we eat, specifically the carbohydrates, and you know, within carbohydrates, sugars, and fiber and all of that. But the problem with the community of type one, type two, and I grew up in this environment, and I used to think this way is that there’s this very much the sentiment among type ones of Well, well, mine is not my fault. It’s an autoimmune disease. So I’m somehow better than you who have type two because you did something to cause this and that it’s just a flat out lie. It’s flat out false. And, but that culture exists in the diabetes world. And you see it in social media and online where people you’ll get on these arguments online, of like somebody assuming the same thing or something and a type one or, you know, have this horrible offense to it, like no, you need to educate yourself. And it’s like, well, at the end of the day, we all have to treat the nutrition strategies to treat both types of diabetes to manage blood sugars are relatively similar. Type two is not anyone’s fault. We don’t understand a lot of the things that happened. Sure there are lifestyle modifications that can be done to manage the diabetes but a diabetes diagnosis is never anybody’s fault. And so for me when I, when I got to college and kind of saw, and my internship, especially like how our treatments nutritionally are really similar, like guys, we’re doing the same thing here. Like we’re all experiencing these struggles and the divide in the community makes me really sad. So what I wanted to do with milk and honey nutrition is have a reason source for people with all types of diabetes. And so you know, I’m not a doctor or anything like that. So we’re not talking about medical strategies, but really just looking at the food and the nutrition, wanted a platform that can help all people experiencing this disease, regardless of the type.
Shireen: I love that and thank you for elaborating that, and you know, talking to us about sort of this divide in the diabetes community. And in while there is this divide that nutritionally all trying to do the same thing. So it’s interesting that that exists. Can you tell us more about how individuals with diabetes can utilize fat fiber protein to really balance their blood sugar?
Mary-Ellen: Yeah, definitely. So kind of the old school way of thinking about diabetes, nutrition is like very restrictive, very limited on what you can eat. And there’s a you know, there’s very much black and white thinking, these are good, and these are bad. And I’ve seen like stoplight scenarios of like, these are your red foods, and these are your green foods. But what I like to teach people to do and a lot of other providers are looking at what are we going to add to our diet, rather than what are we going to take away. And so that’s where fat fiber and protein come in. So instead of thinking about, like, I can’t have this, I can’t have that let’s build your plate, just making sure that every time we eat, we have fat fiber or protein on our plate. And the reason we do this is because our body can digest carbohydrates really, really quickly. He’s really good at that. And so you know, whether you have diabetes or not, so when we consume carbohydrates, it can raise our blood sugar really quickly, either the insulin from your pancreas that maybe isn’t quite as effective because you have type two diabetes, or the insulin you’re injecting because you have type one or type two just can’t keep up with that rise in blood sugar. So what we do is we add fat fiber and protein which take longer to digest. So when you mix those in with carbs, it creates a much more slower digestion process, which means a slower rise in blood sugar, which gives our insulin whether from your own body or injected time to keep up.
Shireen: Okay, sounds good. And then so what are some simple nutrition tips that listeners can utilize to help them do this?
Mary-Ellen: Yeah, so just focusing on whether it’s breakfast or snack or whatever it may be, you know, paying attention to what’s on your plate. So if you want to have let’s talk about fruit, fruit is the thing that like, probably we, you and I both hear most often, oh, well, I can’t have food, I have diabetes. No, someone lied to you. But you know, let’s take an apple or a banana or something like that, instead of having that by itself, which is basically what I call carbs in isolation, we want to avoid carbs and isolation, let’s add some peanut butter to that banana, let’s add some cheese with that Apple, you know, that’s a very simplistic example. Another one would be like breakfast time, this whole trend of like avocado toast is, could not be more perfect for people then for people with diabetes. So instead of having just like a basic piece of toast, you know, get yourself one of those like really delicious, like, you know, yummy, like breads filled with like nuts and seeds, or whatever it may be that’s adding some fat and protein and we slap some avocado on top, you’ve got some additional fat and fiber and you’ve got a really well-balanced meal, that’s gonna be so much more blood sugar friendly than just a standard piece of toast.
Shireen: And I love that approach, because it makes it you know, it makes it delicious. It makes it something that you can then accomplish rather than something that’s taking all the flavors and all the tastes that you love away.
Mary-Ellen: So when we’re thinking about like our overall nutrition, that’s kind of the concept I want people to think of is not, not what do you have to take away? What’s on the food list of foods you can’t have? But what can I add each time I eat Pequot, we’re just like anybody else, we have cravings, we have things we want to eat, we have cultural traditions, family dishes that are just so good. It’s not that those are off-limits. It’s that okay, maybe we need to add a little something else to it to make it more blood sugar friendly. And that’s how I want you to approach your food rather than thinking about what you have to take away.
Shireen: So you have a book, Mary Ellen, the Easy Diabetes Cookbook, and by the way, for the listeners on the people who are listening to this episode, today, we are going to be doing a giveaway. So stay tuned till the end to learn more about that. But can you tell us a little bit more about how our listeners can really utilize this cookbook, especially for those that are strained for time?
Mary-Ellen: Yes, definitely. So the Easy Diabetes Cookbook is really meant, like the title says to make life easier for people with diabetes. And so how do we do that we do it a number of different ways. We want to reduce the amount of time you’re spending in the kitchen, we want to add to your confidence as a person living with diabetes that you are confident in the food choices you’re making. And we want to add to your kitchen confidence and how to cook and how to pair food. All three of those areas helped to reduce the level of stress on you around food because I think we can all agree when you’re diagnosed with diabetes, there’s an added layer of stress when it comes to food, not knowing how something’s going to affect your blood sugar not knowing if you should or shouldn’t be eating something. And so the whole goal is that or let me backup. And then we know stress can impact blood sugars, and it’s just this vicious cycle. So the whole goal is to reduce the amount of stress to increase your confidence and to save you time. And so one of the things we did is there’s eight different chapters across the whole book that are really geared at saving you time in the kitchen with a specific focus. There’s a whole chapter on 15 minute lunch and dinner options and then a typical entire chapter and those are all like 30 ish minutes or less. And then we also have your typical like veggie side dishes, soups and salads, breakfast, snack, dessert, all of that and then the frontmatter of the book kind of takes What we were talking about before about the fat fiber and protein and really expands on that, again to help grow that knowledge base of the consumer, because well, I think I have great recipes in there. And I really encourage people to check out the book purchases, give them a whirl, what I really wanted people to be able to do is use my recipes, yes, but also come up with your own, like, learn these concepts to be able to mate to make it your own. Don’t feel like you’re just limited to whatever some person on the internet tells you is a good recipe, but really know how to have those skills to come up with food that you enjoy eating.
Shireen: I love it. And so can you walk us through a couple of just simple recipes? So if we’re talking about a lunch idea, for instance, or a quick dinner idea, any simple recipes you can share with us?
Mary-Ellen: Yeah, so I almost didn’t call these recipes. But my publisher was like, No, no, those count, like we need to put them in there. Because I was like, there’s no it’s too easy. So my I’ve started this and I start we I started talking about it over on Instagram originally. But this idea of a snack meal, which we do all the time in our house, because I’m a busy working mom, I have two young kids and what kid doesn’t love snacks, I mean, come on. So picking like a bunch of different foods that you might typically eat at snack time, but combining it all together to make a meal. And so we have a few different meanings, air quotes here recipes in the book that are combinations of that, again, this idea of pairing these fats, these fibers, proteins together, things like that, we’ve got a lot of I’m a big fan of seafood prepared all sorts of different ways. So you know, introducing new ways to do seafood for listeners. And then the big thing that I think surprises a lot of people is looking at grain free flowers, not because grains are bad by any means. But because things like almond flour, coconut flour, things like that have such a rich depth of flavor profile, they also are so much more blood sugar friendly than like a typical wheat flour or rice flour or something like that. So just a new approach to things. So another example would be like our parmesan chicken recipe that instead of using bread crumbs, uses almond flour. And so then a lot of the dessert and baked with recipes are made with those types of flowers, again, you get just as delicious of an end product, but it’s higher fat, higher protein a little bit less carbohydrate,
Shireen: I liked it. So the, so the idea is to make sort of those easy modifications to carry you through. So you get the same crunch. You know, like you wouldn’t like a breaded recipe like you would normally, it’s just that it’s a healthier crunch, read the you know, then they compared to sort of the, the standard recipe.
Mary-Ellen: Yeah, or I wouldn’t even I would even say healthier, I would just say more blood sugar friendly. And if you have diabetes, like sure for you that might mean healthier. So not necessarily that like these are better than the other overall, it’s just these are, these are swaps you can make that are going to set your plate up to be more kind to blood sugars, if you will.
Shireen: So with that Mary-Ellen, we’re toward the end of the episode. And again, just mentioning it back to the listeners here is that we’re going to be doing the giveaway for the Easy Diabetes Cookbook, head over to our social media, go to at Yumlish underscore on Instagram at embelish on Facebook, head over to our social media like her page and reach out to us let us know that you’re interested in this book. There’s a whole giveaway post on there. So go find that we’re going to be doing a giveaway for this but with that, Mary-Ellen, I really want to thank you for coming on the episode. Before I let you go, I would like for the listeners to learn more about how they can connect with you and learn more about your work.
Mary-Ellen: Yeah, so you can visit me over at milk and honey nutrition dot com: everything from blog posts to recipes to ebooks and then find me on Instagram. That’s kind of my preferred platform to hang out on at milk N the letter N, honey nutrition and then milk N honey nutrition over on Facebook as well.
Shireen: Sounds great. Thank you again for your time and for talking with us today.
Mary-Ellen: Yes, thanks for having me.