November is National Diabetes Month!
Nutrition, physical activity, stress management, and other lifestyle factors play a crucial role in diabetes prevention and management. This week, we’d like to draw attention to the importance of healthy eating.
Diabetes is characterized by high levels of sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. There are many factors that affect blood glucose levels, and nutrition plays a key role. Healthy eating can be viewed as three distinct elements: 1) What to eat; 2) How much to eat; and 3) When to eat. Let’s look at each of these individually.
What to eat
All foods are comprised of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, or a combination of these. Our bodies need all three of these nutrients. Carbohydrates include starches (breads, rice, pasta, cereals, etc.) and starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, corn, beans, etc.), fruits, milk and yogurt, and sweets/desserts. There are also many sources of hidden carbs, such as some sauces and salad dressings. Proteins include meats, fish, dairy products, beans/lentils, and nuts/seeds. Fat sources include butter, oils, dressings, avocados, nuts/seeds, and others.
Carbohydrates (carbs) break down into sugars, and have a direct impact on blood glucose. Carbs are necessary to provide energy to our brains and muscles. But not all carbs are created equal. Consider the following tips for healthier carb choices.
- Go slow carb, not low carb. Slow carbs are foods with high amounts of fiber, including whole grains, beans and lentils, and veggies. High fiber foods take longer to digest, which prevents spikes in blood glucose levels. Lunch tip: enjoy a salad with added kidney beans, black beans, chick peas, or other legumes.
- Limit sweets and desserts (the fast carbs). Fast carbs are digested quickly and cause blood glucose to rise quickly. They include items such as candies, cookies, cakes, other dessert foods, and sweet beverages (sodas, juices, fruit punch, etc.) Beverage tip: choose water or unsweetened tea instead of sodas, juices, or other sweet beverages.
- Eat carbs alongside healthy proteins or fats. Doing so helps slow carb digestion, and will help you feel fuller longer. Breakfast tip: add healthy fats to your morning by mixing a spoonful of ground flax seeds, chia seeds, or a handful of nuts into a cup of oatmeal.
How much to eat
Even when making healthy food choices, it’s possible to have an unhealthy diet by eating too much. For example, whole fruit is an excellent food choice, but eating more than one or two fruit servings at one time can lead to high blood glucose levels.
- Eat meals that are roughly the same size throughout the day. If you’re used to having a small breakfast and a large dinner, set goals to break that pattern! Consistent meal sizes help prevent blood glucose levels that are too high or too low. Portion control tip: include a consistent amount of carbohydrates at every meal. Avoid meals that have too few or too many carbs.
- Follow the “plate method” at lunch and dinner. The plate method helps control portions and achieve a balance of nutrients. The plate method consists of filling half of the plate with non-starchy veggies (broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.); a quarter of the plate with starches, and a quarter of the plate with healthy proteins. Plate method tip: aim for starch portions (rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.) that are about the size of your fist, or roughly one cup.
When to eat
We’ve all heard it’s important to eat three meals a day, but many people still skip meals or wait too long between meals. Many of us find ourselves too busy during the day to enjoy a healthy breakfast or lunch, or we skip meals because we are simply not hungry. However, our bodies love routine, and following a consistent meal pattern may improve blood glucose levels and increase metabolism.
- Eat three meals every day. And try to eat around the same time each day. Action step: plan meals and snacks ahead of time, and schedule time for eating. Make healthy nutrition a priority!
- Don’t hesitate to add healthy snacks between meals and after dinner. Some people need snacks, while others do not. If you find yourself hungry before lunch or dinner, it’s a good idea to add a snack between meals. When you’re hungry at mealtimes, you’re more likely to eat more at that meal than you would otherwise. Snack tip: make healthy snacks readily available, and keep unhealthy snacks out of sight. One quick and easy snack option? Whole fruit with a slice of cheese or a small handful of nuts.
For information about outpatient nutrition counseling and diabetes education services available at Washington Adventist Hospital, please call 301-891-6105.
Join us on Diabetes Day: Thursday, November 14th 11:00 am – 2:00 pm in the Washington Adventist Hospital cafeteria and conference rooms for a FREE diabetes education event including FREE health screenings, an array or diabetes-related information, activities, presentations, and prizes for all! Call 301-891-6105 for more information.