November is National Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a disease that is well known, but not often well understood. Many people assume that the nutritional management of diabetes involves just limiting sugar, but this is not the case.
A variety of nutrients impact the health of a person with diabetes. Though an individual with diabetes must monitor multiple nutrients, nutritional management of diabetes does not have to be hard.
The first nutrient that a person diagnosed with diabetes should understand is carbohydrates. All carbohydrates, whether complex (chains of sugars connected to each other) or simple (individual sugars), will impact blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, and thus have a blunted impact on blood sugar levels when compared to simple sugars.
Fiber-containing carbohydrates are the slowest to digest, and choosing high-fiber sources of carbohydrate is crucial to keep blood sugar under control. It is not necessary for individuals with diabetes to eliminate carbohydrates; rather, they should focus on consuming high-fiber carbohydrates and avoid consuming large amounts at any one time.
Monitoring fat intake is another important component of diabetes management. Individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk of heart disease, and following a heart-healthy diet is essential. Increasing intake of unsaturated fats — such as those found in nuts, seeds and seafood — while simultaneously limiting saturated fats — such as those found in processed foods and animal products — will help promote heart health.
High-fiber foods, in addition to helping control blood sugar, also help control cholesterol levels, simultaneously promoting both heart and diabetes health. Finally, decreasing sodium intake is also important to help control blood pressure and support heart health.
Despite all of these guidelines, meal planning for individuals with diabetes does not have to be complicated. Half of the meal or plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables (any vegetable besides corn, peas, potatoes and winter squash). Vegetables provide fiber with minimal carbohydrates or calories, helping to stay full with little to no impact on blood sugar.
A quarter of the plate should be a high-fiber carbohydrate. Included in the carbohydrate section are potatoes, corn, peas or winter squash, grains such as pastas, rice or breads, and fruits. The remaining quarter of the plate should be a lean protein. Chicken, fish, turkey or lean cuts of beef or pork would go here, as well as non-meat protein sources such as cheese, tofu, nuts or seeds.
Following this basic guideline of half vegetables, quarter carbohydrate, and quarter lean protein, helps make meal planning straightforward for anyone, diabetes or not.
Making dietary changes to help control diabetes does not have to mean giving up favorite foods. Most all foods can be consumed in appropriate amounts. Many recipes can also be modified to decrease carbohydrate intake or improve the fat or sodium content. Try out our low-carb Crustless Slab Quiche recipe to go alongside your favorite pastry at your next Sunday brunch!
The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.
Megan Callahan is one of your Hy-Vee Corporate Dietitians. She is dedicated to helping people live healthier and happier lives. Megan received a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from Missouri State University. She completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where she also received her Master of Science degree in dietetics and nutrition. Megan has been working with Hy-Vee full-time for 10 years. With a passion for nutrition and wellness, Megan is dedicated to educating customers and promoting healthy lifestyles to our Hy-Vee community. Megan lives in Lee’s Summit with her husband Matt, and their 2 children Kennedy (4) & Carsyn (2).