News & Events

Diabetic diet is healthy for all

Colleen Burke, R.D.

As those of us who have ever been “on a diet” well know, there are many, MANY of them out there, all claiming to shed pounds. The catch? You have to eat only cabbage or only protein or only grapefruit. If you have ever tried something of this sort, how long were you actually able to stick with it?

A true “healthy diet” includes a wide variety of foods, making it a little bit easier to stay on the wagon. So what exactly does this entail? The answer lies within the diabetic diet.

A fasting blood sugar of less than 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered to be non-diabetic. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and is made by the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin can be thought of as the key that opens cells all over the body so that sugar can come in and be used for energy. (American Diabetes Association, 2009)

When there is not enough insulin being produced by the pancreas or the body’s cells are resistant to the insulin being produced, the cells cannot be unlocked to allow the sugar in to be used for energy. Thus, the sugar stays in the blood making blood sugar high, and the blood becomes thick like honey instead of thin like water. Diabetes is diagnosed and a “special diet” (coupled with medication and exercise) should be followed to prevent blindness, painfully tingling (and eventually numb) hands and feet, and dialysis. The diabetic diet is how non-diabetics also should be eating in order to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

On a diabetic diet, it is important to eat three meals per day in order to keep your blood sugar on a more even keel. Have you ever noticed that you are hungrier by mid-morning or lunch after you have eaten breakfast? That’s because your metabolism revs up by eating breakfast and you are burning more calories simply by eating. Breakfast can be as simple as an 8-ounce glass of 1-percent or nonfat milk. Don’t be afraid to eat a small mid-morning snack if you are hungry; this will keep you from being ravenous by lunchtime and help you to choose a healthier lunch. For your “9-inch” dinner plate, try filling half with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with carbohydrates and a quarter with lean protein (and no cheating by using a huge plate). If after eating dinner you find you are still hungry, have another serving of lean protein or vegetables.

Starchy vegetables (which count as carbohydrates) include peas, corn, beans and potatoes. There are many non-starchy vegetables to choose from including spinach, carrots, broccoli, red/green/yellow/orange bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, green beans, asparagus, lettuce, eggplant and squash.

Carbohydrates (carbs) are contained in many foods and drinks, but the best kinds to eat contain nutrients in addition to carbs. The best carbs to choose include beans, fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit, plain oatmeal or cream of wheat, skim or 1-percent milk, plain or light yogurt, pasta, rice, barley, quinoa, bread, bran cereals, soy crisps, 94-percent fat-free popcorn, pita bread and small tortillas. Read food labels to find out what the serving size is and how many grams of “total carbohydrate” are in a serving of that food or drink.

A general guideline for how many grams of carbohydrate per meal a woman should eat is 30-45, and men 45-60. Remember, fruit juice, flavored espresso drinks, milkshakes, soft drinks and mixed alcoholic drinks contain vast amounts of carbohydrates with little to no nutritional value. A mere 4 ounces of a milkshake, margarita or daiquiri mix contains about 30 grams of carbohydrate and 8 ounces of any juice, soda or energy drink contains about the same. Water is your best bet and it’s free.

Lean sources of protein include chicken and turkey breast, beef round roast and flank steak, tofu, edamame, low- or nonfat cottage cheese, egg whites, pork loin or chops and seafood (when grilled, baked or boiled) such as fish, shrimp, crab, oysters and lobster. Nuts and seeds are high in fat, but also contain some protein and other nutrients.

The main thing to keep in mind is that eating the “good” foods listed above leaves little room left for the “bad” ones.

Colleen Burke, R.D., is a registered dietitian with Flagstaff Medical Center’s Nutrition Services Department. For more information about this topic or other nutrition topics, contact your physician or FMC’s Nutrition Services Department at 928 773-2554.