Welcome to Grocery Diaries, a new series that illustrates just how varied and personalized “healthy eating” really is. So many factors impact the choices we make at the grocery store, including access and affordability, health conditions, our individual cultural backgrounds, even what simply makes us (and our taste buds) happy. So we asked people across the country to share their grocery lists with us, and then called up a few of them to ask for more details. Why do they buy what they buy? How much do they spend? Who are they shopping for? What health conditions or nutritional concerns are they thinking about when they choose, for instance, almond milk over cow’s milk, or particular flavors or spices or treats? In this Grocery Diaries installment, we hear from an avid baker who has prediabetes and eats dessert every night.
Name: Lissette Gomez
Occupation: Project manager
Location: Monterey Park, California
Race/Gender: Latina woman
Health conditions/dietary restrictions to consider: Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), prediabetes, and a family history of diabetes
Grocery shopping frequency: Shops for two people four times a month
Lissette Gomez always saves room for a glass of milk, a home-baked dessert, and two squares of dark chocolate after dinner. “I like to end my night with that stronger chocolate flavor, and the milk is very soothing. I feel like it relaxes me so I can go to bed peacefully,” she tells SELF.
Lissette bakes a new dessert every Sunday. Oftentimes, she makes a fruit-based loaf because it reminds her of eating sweet bread in El Salvador, where she was born. “I bake so much because El Salvador grows coffee, so the local tradition is to drink coffee with sweet bread. I kept the sweet bread but added the milk component,” she says. Lissette has prediabetes, a family history of type 2 diabetes, and experiences low blood sugar (a condition called hypoglycemia) when she doesn’t eat for several hours. She does her best to include protein and fiber in every meal—including dessert—to stabilize her blood sugar, based on her doctor’s recommendation. To help accomplish this, she limits carbohydrates and uses nutrient-dense ingredients in many of her recipes. For example, Lissette substitutes bananas for some of the sugar in her muffin and bread recipes to increase the fiber content.
Prediabetes happens when your blood sugar is higher than the typical range, but not high enough to be considered diabetes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. And while anyone can experience a blood sugar dip after not eating for some time, people with prediabetes can be especially predisposed to that kind of fluctuation, which is why Lissette eats a daily snack to ensure that doesn’t happen. In addition to managing her prediabetes, Lissette also makes an effort to eat in a way that will help her avoid developing diabetes. There are two types of diabetes, but they can both lead to consistently high blood sugar above that prediabetes threshold, according to the Mayo Clinic. With type 2 diabetes (the kind that runs in Lissette’s family), your body doesn’t efficiently use insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. When that happens, your body can’t produce enough insulin to make up for this inefficiency, leading to extra sugar in your blood. Along with lifestyle changes like being physically active, eating a nutrient-rich diet and being mindful of carbohydrate intake can help prevent prediabetes from progressing into diabetes. (It’s even possible for some people to reverse prediabetes with these kinds of changes.)
With all of this in mind, Lissette shops for a variety of foods that suits her tastes and dietary needs. Here are 10 items she picks up in a typical grocery trip.
“I’ve tried other brands, but Lindt is so silky and good,” Lissette says. “It melts in your mouth. I haven’t been able to find anything else that’s comparable,” she explains. Lissette never liked milk chocolate and previously ate unsweetened baking chocolate before finding this bar.
2. Plantains: $.50
One of Lissette’s favorite breakfasts is a plate of plantains, beans, and Greek yogurt because she loves the combination of flavors. “The beans are salty and the plantains are really sweet. I love that salty-sweet combination,” she says. Sometimes, she makes a modified version of Canoas de Platanos Maduros, or ground beef-stuffed plantains, a popular dish in El Salvador. “I cook the ground beef and eat plantains on the side like you would a potato,” she says.
“We cannot have a meal without tortillas. You’re going to laugh, but we even eat tortillas with spaghetti in my family,” Lissette says. Lissette eats two tortillas a day to still enjoy a food she loves while reducing her carbohydrate intake. She typically uses them for tacos, quesadillas, or a quick breakfast wrap. “Cheese and avocado in a tortilla is a lifesaver. You cook it for 30 seconds in the microwave, and you’re ready to go,” she says.
Nearly 15 years ago after she was diagnosed with high cholesterol, Lissette started drinking one tablespoon of ground flax mixed with water every morning. “I remember my mom telling me that if you drink flax it helps with high cholesterol, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she says. Turns out, Lissette’s mother was right. Flax is a great source of soluble fiber and may help lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar stable, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although she no longer has high cholesterol, Lissette continues the habit and even adds flax in her baked goods.
“I really love milk—I love anything dairy,” Lissette says. After dinner, Lissette drinks plain whole milk or makes it into hot chocolate to accompany dessert. She likes whole milk best because it’s more satisfying than reduced-fat versions. As Lissette explains, “It’s so creamy and rich. I’ll have milk with my coffee, and I don’t really want the coffee. I just want the milk!”
6. Bananas: $.27
“I use bananas a lot in my baking and to make smoothies,” Lissette says. “I don’t particularly like super sweet foods, and I also get nutrients from the banana.” Usually, Lissette substitutes bananas for a portion of white cane sugar in her recipes. (Depending on the size, one banana has nearly three grams of fiber and one gram of protein, plus calcium and potassium, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In comparison, cane sugar doesn’t contain any fiber, protein, or minerals.) Bananas are the star ingredient in her nutrient-dense take on Cocoa Pebbles. “I love Cocoa Pebbles. My version is made with oatmeal, milk, banana, and some cocoa powder. I cook it all together until the mixture is really creamy,” she says.
“I put this on everything. You name it, and I’ll put Greek yogurt on it. I add a tablespoon on something, and it gives me the creaminess that I crave,” Lissette explains. She stirs Greek yogurt into her oatmeal and pasta, adds a dollop on top of quesadillas, or mixes it in her smoothies. One of her favorite snacks is a mango, coconut water, and Greek yogurt smoothie.
8. Dinosaur Kale: $1.99
Lissette uses kale for just one purpose: making omelets. “I used to make a spinach omelet, but spinach doesn’t taste like anything. The kale is crunchier. It’s meatier. I like it a lot,” she says. She starts her day with a substantial breakfast like kale omelets because the protein and fiber are satisfying and keep her blood sugar stable.
Although Lissette eats omelets in the morning because they’re a great source of protein, she believes eggs are best served at night. “I actually prefer eggs for dinner than for breakfast. They are a quick protein and so good,” Lissette explains. She uses eggs to make salads, fried rice, and Huevos Rancheros, a dish made with tortilla, eggs, and tomato sauce. According to Lissette, Vital Farms sells the most stunning eggs she’s ever seen. “The yolks are almost orange, It’s just so beautiful,” she says.
10. Avocado: $1.25
It seems like almost everyone loves avocado these days—but not Lissette. “It’s not that I dislike avocado, but if avocados went out of season forever, then I would be ok,” she says. So why does she eat them? Because they’re a good source of monounsaturated fat, which can help keep her cholesterol low. She generally eats avocado in salads and says the fruit is a good substitute for mayonnaise. “The avocado makes tuna salad really creamy. It really works—I was surprised by how good it is,” she says.