Myths and facts about diabetes and diet

19MYTH: You must avoid sugar at all costs.
Fact: You can enjoy your favorite treats as long as you plan properly and limit hidden sugars. Dessert doesn’t have to be off limits, as long as it’s a part of a healthy meal plan.

MYTH: You have to cut way down on carbs.
Fact: The type of carbohydrates you eat as well as serving size is key. Focus on whole grain carbs instead of starchy carbs since they’re high in fiber and digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more even.

MYTH: You’ll need special diabetic meals.
Fact: The principles of healthy eating are the same—whether or not you’re diabetic. Expensive diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit.
Diabetic diet tip 1: Choose high-fiber, slow-release carbs

Carbohydrates have a big impact on your blood sugar levels—more so than fats and proteins—so you need to be smart about what types of carbs you eat.

Limit refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as soda, candy, packaged meals, and snack foods.
Focus on high-fiber complex carbohydrates—also known as slow-release carbs. They are digested more slowly, thus preventing your body from producing too much insulin.

Diabetic Diet

15Diabetes is on the rise, yet most cases are preventable and some can even be reversed. Taking steps to prevent and control diabetes doesn’t mean living in deprivation; it means eating a tasty, balanced diet that will also boost your energy and improve your mood. You don’t have to give up sweets entirely or resign yourself to a lifetime of bland food. With these tips, you can still take pleasure from your meals without feeling hungry or deprived.

Taking control of diabetes

Whether you’re trying to prevent or control diabetes, the most important thing you can do is to lose a little weight. Losing just 5% to 10% of your total weight can help you lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Losing weight and eating healthier can also have a profound effect on your mood, energy, and sense of wellbeing.

It’s not too late to make a positive change, even if you’ve already developed diabetes. The bottom line is that you have more control over your health than you think.

The importance of losing weight in the “right” places

Not all body fat is created equal. Your risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen as opposed to your hips and thighs. That’s a lot of belly fat surrounds the abdominal organs and liver and is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. You are at an increased risk of developing diabetes if you are:

A woman with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more
A man with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more
The dangers of “sugar belly”
Calories obtained from fructose (found in sugary beverages such as soda, energy and sports drinks, coffee drinks, and processed foods like doughnuts, muffins, cereal, candy and granola bars) are more likely to add weight around your abdomen. Cutting back on sugary foods can mean a slimmer waistline as well as a lower risk of diabetes.

What you need to know about a diabetic diet

While exercise is important, what you eat has the biggest impact on weight loss and controlling diabetes. But a diabetic diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Your nutritional needs are virtually the same everyone else, so no special foods are necessary. You just need to pay attention to some of your food choices—most notably the carbohydrates you eat.

Healthy eating tip 6: Eat healthy carbs and whole grains

9Choose healthy carbohydrates and fiber sources, especially whole grains, for long-lasting energy. Whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.

What are healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs?

Healthy carbs (or good carbs) include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable.

Unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs) are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. They digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy.

Tips for eating more healthy carbs

Whole Grain Stamp
Include a variety of whole grains in your healthy diet, including whole wheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and barley.
Make sure you’re really getting whole grains. Check for the Whole Grain Stamps that distinguish between partial whole grain and 100% whole grain.
Try mixing grains as a first step to switching to whole grains. If whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta don’t sound good at first, start by mixing what you normally use with the whole grains. You can gradually increase the whole grain to 100%.
Avoid: Refined foods such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.

Healthy eating tip 10: Watch your salt intake

14Sodium is another ingredient that is frequently added to food to improve taste, even though your body needs less than one gram of sodium a day (about half a teaspoon of table salt). Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, memory loss, and erectile dysfunction. It may also worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Use herbs and spices such as garlic, curry powder, cayenne or black pepper to improve the flavor of meals instead of salt.
Be careful when eating out. Most restaurant and fast food meals are loaded with sodium. Some offer lower-sodium choices or you can ask for your meal to be made without salt.
Buy unsalted nuts and add a little of your own salt until your taste buds are accustomed to eating them salt-free.

Healthy eating tip 5: Bulk up on fiber

8Eating foods high in dietary fiber can help you stay regular, lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and help you lose weight. Depending on your age and gender, nutrition experts recommend you eat at least 21 to 38 grams of fiber per day for optimal health. Many of us aren’t eating half that amount.

In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber.
Good sources of fiber include whole grains, wheat cereals, barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
There is no fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar. Refined or “white” foods, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries, have had all or most of their fiber removed.
An easy way to add more fiber to your diet is to start your day with a whole grain cereal or add unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
How fiber can help you lose weight
Since fiber stays in the stomach longer than other foods, the feeling of fullness will stay with you much longer, helping you eat less. Fiber also moves fat through your digestive system quicker so less of it is absorbed. And when you fill up on fiber, you’ll also have more energy for exercising.

Healthy eating tip 9: Enjoy healthy fats

12Despite what you may have been told, not all fats are unhealthy. While “bad” fats can increase your risk of certain diseases, “good” fats are essential to physical and emotional health. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats, for example, can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, improve your mood, and help prevent dementia.

Good fats

Monounsaturated fats from avocados, nuts (like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans), and seeds (such as pumpkin and sesame).
Polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3s, found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold water fish oil supplements. Good vegetarian sources of polyunsaturated fats include flaxseed and walnuts.
Bad fats

Trans fats, found in processed foods, vegetable shortenings, margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, or anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil in the ingredients, even if it claims to be trans-fat free.
The debate about saturated fats

Saturated fats are mainly found in tropical oils, dairy, and animal products such as red meat, while poultry and fish also contain some saturated fat. The latest news in the nutritional world studies—with old and new studies to back them up—suggest that not all saturated fat is a dietary demon, either. While many prominent health organizations maintain that eating saturated fat from any source increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, other nutrition experts take a different view. The new argument is that saturated fat contributes to weight control and overall health.

Of course, not all saturated fat is the same. The saturated fat in whole milk, coconut oil, or salmon is different to the unhealthy saturated fat found in pizza, French fries, and processed meat products (such as ham, sausage, hot dogs, salami, and other cold cuts) which have been linked to coronary disease and cancer.

Healthy eating tip 8: Put protein in perspective

11Protein gives us the energy to get up and go—and keep going. While too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, the latest research suggests that most of us need more high-quality protein, especially as we age.

How much protein do you need?
Protein needs are based on weight rather than calorie intake. Adults should eat at least 0.8g of high-quality protein per kilogram (2.2lb) of body weight per day.

Older adults should aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of lean protein for each kilogram of weight. This translates to 68 to 102g of protein per day for a person weighing 150 lbs.
Divide your protein intake equally among meals.
Nursing women need about 20 grams more high-quality protein a day than they did before pregnancy to support milk production.
How to add high-quality protein to your diet

Eat plenty of fish, chicken, or plant-based protein such as beans, nuts, and soy.
Replace processed carbohydrates from pastries, cakes, pizza, cookies and chips with fish, beans, nuts, seeds, peas, tofu, chicken, dairy, and soy products.
Snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips, replace baked dessert with Greek yogurt, or swap out slices of pizza for a grilled chicken breast and a side of beans.

Spotting hidden sugar

21Being smart about sweets is only part of the battle. Sugar is also hidden in many packaged foods, fast food meals, and grocery store staples such as bread, cereals, canned goods, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, and ketchup. The first step is to spot hidden sugar on food labels, which can take some sleuthing:

Do some detective work

Manufacturers are required to provide the total amount of sugar in a serving but do not have to spell out how much of this sugar has been added and how much is naturally in the food. The trick is deciphering which ingredients are added sugars. Aside from the obvious ones—sugar, honey, molasses—added sugar can appear as agave nectar, cane crystals, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, and more.

A wise approach is to avoid products that have any of these added sugars at or near the top of the list of ingredients—or ones that have several different types of sugar scattered throughout the list. If a product is chock-full of sugar, you would expect to see “sugar” listed first, or maybe second. But food makers can fudge the list by adding sweeteners that aren’t technically called sugar. The trick is that each sweetener is listed separately. The contribution of each added sugar may be small enough that it shows up fourth, fifth, or even further down the list. But add them up and you can get a surprising dose of added sugar.

Let’s take as an example a popular oat-based cereal with almonds whose package boasts that it is “great tasting,” “heart healthy” and “whole grain guaranteed.” Here’s the list of ingredients:

Whole-grain oats, whole-grain wheat, brown sugar, almond pieces, sugar, crisp oats,* corn syrup, barley malt extract, potassium citrate, toasted oats,* salt, malt syrup, wheat bits,* honey, and cinnamon.

*contain sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and/or brown sugar molasses.

Combine brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, barley malt extract, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar molasses, and malt syrup, and they add up to a hefty dose of empty calories—more than one-quarter (27%) of this cereal is added sugar, which you might not guess from scanning the ingredient list.

Diabetic diet tip 2: Be smart about sweets

20Eating a diabetic diet doesn’t mean eliminating sugar altogether, but like most of us, chances are you consume more sugar than is healthy. If you have diabetes, you can still enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert now and then. The key is moderation.

Reduce your cravings for sweets by slowly reduce the sugar in your diet a little at a time to give your taste buds time to adjust.
Hold the bread (or rice or pasta) if you want dessert. Eating sweets at a meal adds extra carbohydrates so cut back on the other carb-heavy foods at the same meal.
Add some healthy fat to your dessert. Fat slows down the digestive process, meaning blood sugar levels don’t spike as quickly. That doesn’t mean you should reach for the donuts, though. Think healthy fats, such as peanut butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt, or nuts.
Eat sweets with a meal, rather than as a stand-alone snack. When eaten on their own, sweets cause your blood sugar to spike. But if you eat them along with other healthy foods as part of your meal, your blood sugar won’t rise as rapidly.
When you eat dessert, truly savor each bite. How many times have you mindlessly eaten your way through a bag of cookies or a huge piece of cake? Can you really say that you enjoyed each bite? Make your indulgence count by eating slowly and paying attention to the flavors and textures. You’ll enjoy it more, plus you’re less likely to overeat.
Tricks for cutting down on sugar

Be careful about alcohol
It’s easy to underestimate the calories and carbs in alcoholic drinks, including beer and wine. And cocktails mixed with soda and juice can be loaded with sugar. Choose calorie-free mixers, drink only with food, and monitor your blood glucose as alcohol can interfere with diabetes medication and insulin.

Reduce soft drinks, soda and juice. For each 12 oz. serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage you drink a day, your risk for diabetes increases by about 15 percent. Try sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime instead. Cut down on creamers and sweeteners you add to tea and coffee.
Don’t replace saturated fat with sugar. Many of us replace healthy sources of saturated fat, such as whole milk dairy, with refined carbs, thinking we’re making a healthier choice. Low-fat doesn’t mean healthy when the fat has been replaced by added sugar.
Sweeten foods yourself. Buy unsweetened iced tea, plain yogurt, or unflavored oatmeal, for example, and add sweetener (or fruit) yourself. You’ll likely add far less sugar than the manufacturer.
Check labels and opt for low sugar products and use fresh or frozen ingredients instead of canned goods. Be especially aware of the sugar content of cereals and sugary drinks.
Avoid processed or packaged foods like canned soups, frozen dinners, or low-fat meals that often contain hidden sugar. Prepare more meals at home.
Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by ¼ to ⅓. You can boost sweetness with mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla extract instead of sugar.
Find healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Instead of ice cream, blend up frozen bananas for a creamy, frozen treat. Or enjoy a small chunk of dark chocolate, rather than a milk chocolate bar.
Start with half of the dessert you normally eat, and replace the other half with fruit.

Healthy eating tip 7: Add calcium for bone health

10Your body uses calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, send messages through the nervous system, and regulate the heart’s rhythm. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to osteoporosis.

Recommended calcium levels are 1000 mg per day, 1200 mg if you are over 50 years old. Try to get as much from food as possible and use only low-dose calcium supplements to make up any shortfall. Limit foods that deplete your body’s calcium stores (caffeine, alcohol, sugary drinks), do weight-bearing exercise, and get a daily dose of magnesium and vitamins D and K—nutrients that help calcium do its job.

Good sources of calcium include:

Dairy: Dairy products are rich in calcium in a form that is easily digested and absorbed by the body. Sources include milk, unsweetened yogurt, and cheese.
Vegetables and greens: Many vegetables, especially leafy green ones, are rich sources of calcium. Try collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, summer squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and crimini mushrooms.
Beans: such as black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, black-eyed peas, or baked beans.