By: Gena Van Kirk, Registered Dietitian/Diabetes Educator
When it comes to healthy eating, nourishing the body is the main concern. Our bodies require a certain quantity of nutrients to work at their best. This is largely about getting a well-balanced diet. We need to make sure we are bringing in enough energy, vitamins and minerals to meet our needs, but not so much that we exceed our needs. If we can accomplish this, we can also improve our diabetes outcomes. By eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight, it is possible to slow down or reverse the progression of pre-diabetes to diabetes and to decrease complications related to diabetes.
What does eating healthy look like?
We can start by looking at our plates to see which foods we are choosing and what portion sizes we are consuming. The most recent guidelines suggest that we envision our plate as being divided up into four sections or quarters. One quarter of the plate should include a lean meat or protein food, and usually this food portion should be the size of a deck of playing cards. The second section of the plate should contain a starchy food or whole grain product such as a potato, noodles, rice or other bread product and take up the space equal to a computer mouse. The other half of the plate should consist of one cup of vegetables as well as a piece of fruit about the size of a tennis ball. In addition to this, you should incorporate 1 cup of low fat milk or yogurt. Remember, if you are adding any fats such as oil, butter or margarine to your plate, limit it to 1-2 teaspoons per meal. Eating in this fashion can assist in weight management and help to stabilize blood glucose (sugar) levels. It can also assist in heart disease prevention, which is of significance as people with diabetes have two times the risk of heart disease. Elevated blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease, so it is helpful to monitor your sugar, sodium and fat intake in the diet.
Making Healthier Choices
When choosing your meat or protein for the meal, be mindful of fats. If you can remove any visible fat from the meat before cooking it, do so. Also, if you are able to use a cooking method such as baking, broiling or boiling, you can decrease the amount of added fat to the product. Watch out for processed meats such as bologna or sausage and pickled meats such as herring because these meat choices tend to be higher in salt. Healthier meat choices include white meat chicken or turkey without the skin, round or loin cuts of beef or pork and fish.
When choosing your starch or grain for the meal, try to include dried beans (such as pinto, navy, garbanzo and kidney) and “whole” grains at least half of the time in order to incorporate fiber into the diet. Some whole grain choices would include low sugar whole grain cereals, whole wheat bread, brown rice, instant oatmeal, popcorn (be mindful of the added butter and salt), whole grain crackers and whole grain chips.
With your fruits and vegetables, the most important things to remember are to include a good variety of colors in the diet (in order to incorporate a larger number of vitamins and minerals in the diet) and to eat the whole fruit more often than choosing fruit juice. This will help to improve your fiber intake in the diet. Also, if you can choose fresh or frozen vegetables rather than canned vegetables, you will be decreasing the sodium content in your diet. Foods from the milk and yogurt group should be fat free (skim) or low fat (1%) for heart health. When you need to add a small amount of fat to your meal, lean towards heart healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil, choose tub margarines rather than stick margarine, and limit butter and cream.
How do we make sure healthy food choices get to our plate?
I would contend that a good plan and regular shopping trips are the most important parts of the process. Set aside some time to plan your meals each week. You might want to start with just a few days. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but having a plan and writing a grocery list can save you time, stress and a lot of extra trips to the store. A good tip is to shop on the edge or perimeter of the grocery store. This area typically contains your breads, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats. Stick to your grocery list when venturing down the aisles of the grocery store as many of these foods tend to be low in nutrition. Try to avoid shopping when you are hungry as you might be tempted by a less healthy food.
There may be other times when it is difficult to make healthy food choices. A few examples would be snacking and dining out. Why not make it easy to find healthy snack foods in your kitchen? For example, when you get home from work or school, put some fresh carrots, grapes or pretzels out on the counter instead of a bag of chips. It can be helpful to prepare these items ahead of time, maybe on the weekend or on a day off. When dining out, ask if meats can be grilled rather than fried and request sauces and dressings on the side. Remember to choose fruit, salad or other vegetables as side items, rather than French fries. Order a salad or soup to start and then share an entrée. Save money, and lots of calories, by skipping or sharing a dessert.