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Diabetes Management Begins with Healthy Eating

Author: Lorie Roffelsen, RD, CDE

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Over the last 20 years, the number of American adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than tripled. Alarmingly, more than 84 million are considered prediabetic. With that many people living with diabetes, or at risk for diabetes, knowing how to manage this condition over a lifetime is more important than ever – and it all starts with eating healthy.

Diabetes is a group of diseases that cause high blood glucose. Glucose, a sugar, enters the body through the foods you eat and is absorbed into your bloodstream during digestion. With the help of insulin, glucose enters your body’s cells where it becomes the energy needed for them to function properly. When you have diabetes, your body either stops producing insulin or doesn’t use insulin properly (known as insulin resistance). Since glucose comes from food, nutrition is a big part of managing diabetes.

Additionally, the disease is a risk factor for a number of other serious medical conditions, including kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. This is why it’s helpful for people with diabetes to work with registered dietitian, like myself, to develop healthy-eating plans that control blood sugars, as well as help them meet their larger health goals.

So, what does a diabetic-friendly healthy eating plan include?

Healthy Carbohydrates

One of the first things I teach my diabetic patients is to identify which foods contain carbohydrates, or carbs. Since carbohydrates contain starch, fiber, and most importantly for a diabetic, sugar, it’s important to learn the difference between quality sources and less-ideal sources of carbs. This doesn’t mean that some carbs must be cut completely from your diet. It just means they should be moderated or limited.

Good Choices Include:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Vegetables eaten raw, steamed, roasted or grilled
  • Nutrient-rich greens, like kale, spinach and bok choy
  • Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal
  • Sweet potatoes

Lean Proteins

Because diabetes increases one’s risk for heart disease, it’s important to eat proteins with lower fat content. Regardless of whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or eat meat, there are plenty of heart-healthy, diabetic-friendly protein options.

Good Choices Include:

  • Plant-based proteins, like tofu and nuts
  • Fish and seafood
  • Chicken and poultry
  • Eggs

Low-Fat Dairy

Although the lactose in dairy products can affect your blood sugar, it’s also a good source of calcium and high-quality protein. By choosing items with lower fat content and consuming dairy in moderation, people with diabetes can enjoy a variety of milk and milk products.

Good Choices Include:

  • Skim or 1% milk
  • Regular or Greek yogurt
  • Reduced fat cheeses

Limited Fats and Oils

Your body needs fat to function correctly. However, eating too much fat can cause weight gain, increasing your risk for other conditions and complications. In general, diabetic-friendly diets should avoid trans fats, limit saturated fats, and consume “good fats” in moderation.

Good Choices Include:

  • Vegetable fats, like avocados, nuts and seeds
  • Omega-3 fatty, acid-rich fish
  • Plant-based oils, like olive and canola oil

Food is Not Your Enemy

As a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital, I help patients understand the relationship between diet and disease without feeling like they’re missing out on the fun part of food. The goal with any diabetic-friendly diet – and, really, any successful diet, in general – is to adjust what and how much you eat in a way that can be sustained over a long period of time.

In addition to eating the right kinds of foods, it’s important for people with diabetes to eat at regular meal times and never skip meals in order for your medications to function correctly. Achieving a healthy weight through diet and exercise, and managing your stress levels will improve your overall health and make controlling your blood sugar easier.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, you know it can be overwhelming. However, with the guidance and support available through Washington Hospital’s Nutrition Counseling and Outpatient Diabetes Center, you can learn the skills needed to manage your condition for a lifetime without sacrificing quality of life.

Posted March, 2019