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Getting to the Heart of Type 2 Diabetes and Eating Well

Simple steps to make heart health part of managing diabetes
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Simple food swaps can often make your favourite dishes diabetes-friendly, and in turn help protect your heart, says registered dietitian, Diana Steele.

As we continue to think about our intentions for the new year, it’s important to recommit ourselves to healthy eating and lifestyle habits, but it’s especially important for those living with diabetes.

Why? For Canadians living with type 2 diabetes, death from heart disease at an earlier age is a serious risk. The great news is that by incorporating healthy food choices into your diet, you can help balance blood sugar levels and manage health-related risks.

Healthy living is a lifelong process so it’s never too late to get on track and make choices that feel positive for you.

“With so much information out there about what foods to eat, it’s natural to have questions. You likely don’t need a complete diet overhaul – simple food swaps can make your favourite dishes diabetes-friendly,” says registered dietitian, Diana Steele.

“To avoid blood sugar spikes and help protect your heart, you can choose low-glycemic index foods and drinks – those that raise your blood sugar more slowly – or pair higher glycemic index foods with healthy proteins,” Steele explains.

Here’s a quick primer:

  • Nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables often boast antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, plus fibre to keep you feeling full longer. Popular diabetes-friendly and heart-healthy options include leafy greens, like spinach, kale and collard greens, and fruits and veggies like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, avocados and tomatoes.
  • Choose whole grains over refined grains for B vitamins, fibre and protein that will help keep hunger at bay. Examples include whole grain bread or crackers, brown or wild rice, quinoa, barley and oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut, not instant).
  • Protein is essential for muscle, bone and skin health, but not all proteins are created equal. Some of the healthiest protein sources include fish, like salmon, mackerel, and shellfish and plant-based protein sources like chickpeas, beans and tofu.

Of course, healthy eating goals are easiest to keep when you plan for success! “When it comes to meal planning, it’s important to think ahead,” Steele says.

“Start by listing your top 10 favourite diabetes-friendly meals to prepare at home and build on it. Draw on that list as you make your weekly meal plan and shopping list.

“Consider easy swaps, like zucchini noodles instead of pasta in your spaghetti bolognese, lettuce wraps instead of burger buns, or grated cauliflower as an easy rice replacement. Add chickpeas to salad to instantly up your protein and add extra veggies, lentils and legumes to your pasta sauces, soups and stews.

“To make grocery shopping easy, group like items together on your grocery list – produce, dairy, bakery, meats and frozen items.”

For Canadians living with type 2 diabetes, death from heart disease at an earlier age is a serious risk. By incorporating healthy food choices into your diet, you can help balance blood sugar levels and manage health-related risks.
For Canadians living with type 2 diabetes, death from heart disease at an earlier age is a serious risk. By incorporating healthy food choices into your diet, you can help balance blood sugar levels and manage health-related risks.

Additional tips:

  1. Keep it simple: “When you look at your plate, try to cover half with vegetables, a quarter with a healthy protein and a quarter with a whole grain,” Steele says. “If you keep it in mind when meal planning, it’s very simple.”
  2. Remember portion sizes: A portion of nuts is very different from a portion of fresh spinach or chicken– find a super-simple visual guide here to ensure you’re not getting too much, or too little, of a good thing.
  3. Check your nutrition labels: All packaged food is labelled with a Nutrition Facts table. Nutrition Facts can be a big help for choosing diabetes-friendly foods, such as choosing those that are rich in fibre and low in sodium.
    • Take note of portion sizes when reviewing nutrition labels, because they are often smaller than you expect.
    • When reviewing the percentage of daily value for a specific nutrient, note that less than five per cent of a nutrient is considered “a little”, while more than 15 per cent of a nutrient is considered “a lot”.

Learn more and rediscover the joy of food at cart2table.ca.

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