Football, Food, and Mom by Kate Ruder

For Mother’s Day, four NCAA and NFL football players huddled up to talk about diabetes, healthy eating, and their moms.

Football, Food, and Mom Dont’a Hightower, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and brothers Reid and Blake Ferguson share something in common beyond football—amazing mothers on the sidelines.

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 Hightower

Linebacker 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 Ferguson

Oh, 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 Eating

Blake: "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 Mom

Reid: "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 Ayanbadejo

Former 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​.

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