Moms: The MVPs of Our LivesDont’a Hightower, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and brothers Reid and Blake Ferguson share something in common beyond football—amazing mothers on the sidelines. As part of the American Diabetes Association’s Team Tackle, these players raise awareness of diabetes and offer support to the many families affected by this condition in the United States.
This Mother’s Day, Hightower, Ayanbedejo, and the Ferguson brothers tell us how diabetes impacts their families. They also divulge their favorite recipes, teaming up with a dietitian at Diabetes Food Hub to make the ingredients even more nutritious.
Dont’a HightowerLinebacker Dont’a Hightower, who has two Super Bowl rings with New England, grew up celebrating food in Tennessee. “We loved to have family cookouts, big holiday meals, grilling, barbeque—all of it.” He adds that his mother taught him pretty much everything he knows about cooking.
Four years ago, his mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, changing the foods they eat together and at family gatherings. “We all had to take a step back and think about what we’re putting into our bodies and how it could affect us. Knowing that our family has a higher likelihood of developing diabetes has definitely changed the way we eat.”
Dont’a on Breakfast and Healthy Eating"I usually like to start my day off with some fruit, protein of some type, or some eggs. I try to let the first thing I eat be really nutritious and full of fuel. Our days at the facility can be long during the season, so I try to eat healthy snacks throughout the day to keep my energy level up instead of waiting for each meal. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring, there are many options for healthy recipes that can still be flavorful and taste good, and many ingredients you can sub out for something healthy—you won’t even be able to taste a difference."
…And on His Mom"My mom is my everything, so yes, I like to celebrate her all year round! Just having her with me in New England whenever I can, cooking or grilling healthy foods for her, spending quality time…the time especially is important. We live in a hectic world, so making as much time as possible for our loved ones means a lot to me."
Check out Dont’a’s favorite childhood dish, Cold Pasta Salad, made diabetes-friendly with some help from registered dietitian Shamera Robinson.
"Knowing that our family has a higher likelihood of developing diabetes has definitely changed the way we eat.” – Dont'a Hightower
Reid and Blake FergusonOh, snap! The Ferguson brothers share more than a love of grilling. Reid and Blake are both long snappers, a special teams position that requires long, accurate snaps for punts and field goal attempts. Reid plays professionally in Buffalo, and Blake for Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a teenager, Blake credits his parents with being incredibly supportive of his needs. Older brother Reid says he tries to support Blake by encouraging healthy eating habits and keeping him in a positive mindset.
On the football field for LSU, Blake uses a continuous glucose monitor, which his trainers can access during games and Blake can use to correct his insulin. He agrees that the precision and timing needed by a long snapper apply to managing diabetes, too. “Whether it's checking your blood sugar periodically throughout the day or counting carbs properly, diabetes is about being precise and timing everything you do around it.”
"Consistency is key. Once you get in the habit of eating healthy foods it makes it easier to continue doing so!" – Reid Ferguson
The Ferguson Brothers on Spice, Brotherly Competition, and Healthy EatingBlake: "I love spicy foods! Louisiana foods are known for their Cajun spices, so I've gotten to embrace that a little bit."
Reid: "I believe we both like a lot of the same food. I would say I am better at cooking than he is, but he will probably say the opposite! Got to love the brotherly competition."
Blake: "They say it takes 12 days to create a habit, so my encouragement to readers would be to take it one day at a time and make every effort to put food in your body that will help you get the most out of it."
Reid: "Consistency is key. Once you get in the habit of eating healthy foods it makes it easier to continue doing so!"
…And on Their MomReid: "My mom has been there at Blake’s side ever since he was diagnosed. She has always been the one to know every detail about his medicine and what his numbers should be at for taking insulin or counting carbs at dinner."
Blake: "My mom has helped me stay motivated to eat the right things and treat my body the right way to perform at my best as an athlete who has type 1 diabetes. As a growing teenager, she was always trying out new healthy recipes that allowed me to maintain good blood sugars and keep me in the best shape to perform on the field. My favorite meal she makes is her sausage casserole. I also like her banana bread, which, as a diabetic, I have to be really careful how much of it I eat, but it is some special stuff!"
Check out one of Blake and Reid's favorites, Citrus-Tarragon Chicken Kabobs, a perfect summer grilling selection.
"It’s important to find the foods that work for your body and figure out what’s healthy for you." –Brendon Ayanbadejo
Brendon AyanbadejoFormer linebacker and special teams player Brendon Ayanbadejo won a Super Bowl with Baltimore and played in three Pro Bowls. Before he ever set foot on a professional football field, Ayanbadejo spent some of his childhood in Nigeria and then the projects of Chicago, before settling in Santa Cruz, CA, with his family.
“In Nigerian culture, rice and stews are popular and they eat certain starches, too, like yams. In my family, there’s also been a lot of Spanish influence. I love rice and beans. My mom makes her Mexican soup that’s amazing. The biggest crossover is plantains, and I really enjoy those,” says Ayanbadejo.
His mother’s type 2 diabetes makes his family more conscious about eating nutritious and purposeful foods. In his own words, Ayanbadejo talks about whole foods and making soup with his mom.
Brendon on Healthy Eating"We eliminated high-fructose corn syrup, processed foods, and added sugar and started eating more organic goods. Every once in a while, we splurge, we go off the path for a meal, but for the most part, we try and keep healthy and whole foods in our daily diet. It’s important to find the foods that work for your body and figure out what’s healthy for you."
…And on His Mom"Growing up and being around the house with my brother, sister, and mom and my mom making the soup [recipe follows] and us enjoying a bowl together—very simple, but very special. Cold, rainy days are the days I really want to make my mom’s recipe. It’s not an expensive meal to prepare but it does take a lot of TLC. It’s something that you know is created at home, and the hands that put the food together come from a place of love."
Check out Brendon's favorite comfort food dish, Chicken Soup, with some recommendations for a quick and healthy version from ADA dietitian, Shamera Robinson.
How to Start a Healthy Day
Eating breakfast has shown to help boost metabolism, which means your body does a better job managing your weight. This can be a key factor for some people in managing their diabetes too. But whether you’re a student, parent, or working professional, your busy schedule might keep you from eating a balanced breakfast in the mornings.
Make Breakfast While You Sleep
That sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Not quite! There are many unique “overnight oatmeal” recipes out there, but all you need to remember is the most basic recipe. Try this: simply mix ¼ cup oats and ½ cup low-fat milk (or milk substitute like soy milk) in a container or jar that can be sealed tightly, and leave it in the fridge overnight. That’s it! When you wake up your oatmeal is ready for breakfast. You can “dress” up your oatmeal by mixing in a tablespoon of peanut butter for some added protein, or add a bit of vanilla extract and cinnamon for additional flavor.
Double Your Cooking
Choose about one or two recipes that you would eat for breakfast and set aside one day of the week to cook these recipes. To make it easy, select a recipe that yields enough servings so that you can divide and spread it throughout the week. You can also choose a recipe that might yield only one serving and simply double or triple the ingredients. Some great recipes to try out include making smoothies that you can just pour in a glass or in a to-go cup the next morning. You can also try out a savory twist on oatmeal with this Savory Mediterranean Oats or another grab and go recipe like these Mini Veggie Frittatas.
Having one large breakfast meal that can be easily warmed up the next morning, or packed in a container that you can just grab and go on your way out will save you time and ensure you get a healthy start to your day.
Fast Food Options for a Fast Morning
Request substitutes. Many small restaurants and fast food restaurants are able to swap out ingredients for their customers. For example, ask if you can have a whole wheat bread or English muffin option. This could add about three or more grams of fiber, an important nutrient to help you stay full longer. Instead of a croissant or other pastries, ask for fresh fruit as your side instead.
Whether it’s a drive-through, or a restaurant that’s on your way to work or school, sometimes these places are really your only options in the mornings, and that’s okay! Here are some tips on how to make these places like your own kitchen and grab a healthy breakfast:
Take out the extra calories. If you’re ordering a breakfast sandwich, ask that it’s not prepared with butter. This could lower the sodium by 20 milligrams and the total fat by at least two grams. Look out for other swaps you could make such as choosing Canadian bacon or turkey bacon in place of sausage or regular bacon. This will remove some calories and saturated fat. Skip the cheese and you’ll save another 100 calories.
“Build Your Own” options. Some restaurants may have a “build your own” option where you can take control of what goes into your breakfast. If you choose oatmeal, go for the nutrient dense toppings like unsalted nuts which are great for some protein and healthy fats. You can skip the brown sugar, honey, and dried fruit toppings too. Instead, ask for the fresh fruit toppings (especially berries rich in antioxidants and fiber, but low in calories and carbohydrates) if you’re looking for a sweeter flavor.
Look for the low calorie drinks. It’s not just water! Many cafes or other restaurants with coffee drinks add a lot of extra calories. You can keep your coffee simple, or use skim or low-fat milk instead of creamer. There is also a choice in dairy with lattes and cappuccino’s. Switching from whole to low-fat milk takes off about 20 calories. Watch out for added flavorings and see if there is a sugar-free option. You might even want to try out the many different herbal tea flavors that most places have, all of which are zero calories.
You don’t need to be in a five star restaurant to request a customized meal. So remember, ask for what you want!
3 Tips for Stress Free Meals
Every March is National Nutrition Month®. It’s about taking the time to appreciate the social experiences that food and nutrition can add to our lives. For many people, that means a simple dinner shared with a partner or spouse, family or friends. Is time one of your biggest challenges? Set yourself up for success with strategies and stress-free meal ideas to get dinner on the table quickly with these three tips.
- Put quick-meal staples on your grocery list. Stock items in the kitchen that make it easy to put together dinner when time is tight. When you shop, think about the basic foods you need to Create a Healthy Plate. That means filling half of a dinner plate with nonstarchy vegetables, 1/4 with lean protein, 1/4 with whole grains or starchy foods, and adding some fruit and/or dairy on the side. So start with fresh or frozen vegetables, and toss some no-salt-added or reduced-sodium tomatoes for pastas and casseroles in your grocery cart. Canned vegetables such as artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers are another way to add flavor. Starchy and whole-grain staples include no-salt-added or reduced-sodium canned beans, pre-cooked or quick-cooking brown rice, and whole-wheat or corn tortillas. For protein, rotisserie chicken, frozen fish fillets, frozen chicken breasts and eggs are all options to keep on hand.
- Use a slow cooker. If you have a slow cooker, don’t let it sit in the cabinet! Use it to do the work of preparing dinner for you. In the morning, toss some canned beans, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and frozen corn in a crockpot with cumin, chili powder and garlic. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours to make a chili that will be ready when you get home. You can also add other vegetables that you have on hand, such as diced onions, bell pepper or carrots. For more ideas, browse all of our slow-cooker recipes.
- Scan recipes for do-ahead steps. In the ADA cookbook, The Six O’Clock Scramble Meal Planner, cookbook author and family dinner advocate Aviva Goldfarb shares her streamlined system for fast and easy diabetes-friendly dinners. Many recipes include slow-cooker instructions and “do ahead or delegate” steps you can complete in advance to save time. In many cases, you can prepare spice blends and toppings such as pesto, sauces or salad dressing. Wash, peel and chop vegetables, and thaw or marinate meat or poultry, if needed. Cook whole grains and then refrigerate them—toss precooked pasta with a little oil to prevent sticking. Save another step by cooking and refrigerating proteins such as chicken for cold salads. Don’t forget finishing touches, like cheese you can shred or nuts and seeds you can toast. The best approach may vary with your recipe and cooking methods, so always use your judgment!