1. What foods are both type 2 diabetes-friendly and good for cardiovascular health?
The idea of a diet that’s healthy for both diabetes and cardiovascular health can be overwhelming. The truth is, if your diabetes is under control and you’re following a healthful diet, you’re already lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
I recommend a simple, balanced plate-method approach to diabetes. Create a colorful meal with half of the plate full of seasonal non-starchy vegetables that are crisp and tender. Serve this with robust herbs and healthy fats such as olive oil, or my current favorite, avocado oil.
Divide the other half of the plate evenly with a lean protein like baked salmon and a high-fiber, complex carbohydrate with lots of texture. Have a favorite fruit and keep your low-fat dairy as a small side dish or combine the two for an exciting dessert.
2. Are there any diets I should go on or any I should avoid?
If you have type 2 diabetes and are at risk for heart disease, you should avoid the mindset that you need to go on a diet. This type of thinking has a negative connotation, and most diets eventually fail or naturally come to an end.
Avoid any diet that isn’t sustainable for a lifetime. Instead of thinking about foods you can’t have anymore, focus on your end goals, which include stable blood sugar, a good cardiovascular report from your doctor, and taking charge of your health with a new vitality for life.
I suggest that you regularly consume three balanced meals a day with one or two nutritious snacks to help maintain blood sugar control and to avoid complications of diabetes. If necessary, you should also make lifestyle changes, including stopping smoking and exercising regularly.
3. It’s difficult for me to lose weight. What should I do?
Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, and what is an attainable goal for one person may not be for another.
Speak to your doctor, and if they recommend weight loss, start small and work your way up. Keeping a food journal is a great way to be mindful of what, how much, and why you’re eating. There are some great printable food logs to keep on your fridge or apps you can download if you’re more tech-savvy.
One to two pounds of weight loss per week is realistic, if done correctly. Even a 5 to 10 percent reduction of initial body weight can produce significant measurable improvements in CVD risk factors in people who are overweight and obese with type 2 diabetes.
If you have been unsuccessful with your weight loss goals, don’t do it alone. Your doctor and dietitian are there to help. Food for thought: You don’t have to be society’s idea of “thin” to be healthy.
4. Why is it so important to eat less carbs and sugar?
Carbohydrates aren’t the enemy but are a healthy and important part of a nutritious diet. However, if you have type 2 diabetes and consume many refined grains and sugary desserts and beverages, you should seriously consider changing your relationship with carbs.
Choose complex carbohydrates that contain more fiber and a variety of vitamins and other nutrients. Fiber is beneficial to diabetes because it slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This ultimately helps with blood glucose control.
Break away from the cycle of consuming the same carbohydrates. Try something different like red beans over quinoa instead of white rice, or try a baked sweet potato loaded with chicken, veggies, and salsa.
5. What can I expect when I meet with a nutritionist?
First and foremost, a nutritionist is there to help and support you. They aren’t there to judge you on your appearance, diagnosis, or eating habits.
I usually begin by thoroughly reviewing your medical history and listening to your needs and readiness for change. I’ll work with you to educate you on the importance of controlling blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. We’ll work together to create an individualized plan, setting goals we both feel are attainable.
Incorporating your favorite foods and restaurants is important for long-term success, and I’ll schedule a follow-up appointment that corresponds with our plan. In many cases, I’ll refer clients to a nutrition class for further education. My ultimate goal is to empower you to make better food choices and help you reach your personal health goals.
6. How does a healthier diet affect not just my diabetes, but my overall health too?
Diabetes increases your risk of dying from heart disease, so managing your blood glucose is crucial. Unmanaged diabetes can also lead to blindness, neuropathy, kidney failure, amputation, hearing impairment, skin conditions, and sleep apnea. That may be difficult to process, but the exciting news is that diabetes can be manageable.
You can prevent these complications through healthy lifestyle choices, weight loss, and long-term blood glucose control. As a registered dietitian, even I follow the balanced plate method because I know it’s a simple way to reduce my risk of developing diabetes and other diseases.
You may even lower your risk for some cancers and reduce the risk of future bone loss through a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
7. What are some key ingredients or phrases to look for on nutrition labels?
Carefully reading food labels can help you on your quest to healthier living with type 2 diabetes.
I recommend looking at the list of ingredients first. Choose foods with whole grains listed near the top. Avoid sugar and the word “hydrogenated,” which is an unhealthy trans fat.
Then, look at the nutrition facts list. Read the total carbohydrates per serving and the serving size to determine if the food is a good choice for you. Assess the fiber content and aim for around 30 grams per day.
Keep the calories, fat (especially saturated and trans fats), cholesterol, and sodium on the lower end. Be mindful that many prepackaged items will likely be high in sodium, which negatively affects heart health.
Katherine Marengo is a clinical registered dietitian. Katherine earned her undergraduate degree at Louisiana State University and completed her dietetic internship at Southern University in Baton Rouge. She specialized as a Certified Nutrition Support Dietitian (CNSD) in New Orleans at the No. 2 Level 1 trauma center in the nation. Since then, she’s been raising her three children while running a successful private business. She enjoys volunteering at her children’s school, travel, tennis, cooking, and quality time with family and friends.