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Diabetes and Heart-Friendlier Foods

Tips for heart-healthier cooking and eating

If you’re living with diabetes, you likely have blood sugar on the mind. And that’s a good thing because monitoring your blood sugar may help you understand how food, exercise, illness and medications affect your numbers. But blood sugar is not the whole story.

Unfortunately, along with the diagnosis of diabetes comes a higher than average risk of other serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke. But there is good news in this story, too. Healthful lifestyle habits, including eating wholesome meals and regular exercise, may help you better manage your health.

Here’s a short list of some diabetes- and heart-friendlier foods that I share with my clients. (Be sure to check with your diabetes care team before making any changes to your meal plan.)

Fish. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice weekly. Choose fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna and trout for their omega-3 fatty acids.

Tip: Stock up on canned tuna, salmon and sardines for quick, healthful meals that are easy on the budget. Think tuna and salmon patties as well as a variety of salads.

Nuts. Many nuts contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which may be more healthful than saturated and trans fats found in meats and some baked goods. Walnuts, for instance, provide an omega-3 fatty acid that is different than the ones in fish but also important to include.

Tip: Watch your portions. A mere ¼-cup serving of most nuts has 160 or more calories. (Read about 6 healthful nuts and ways to use them.)

Beans. Loaded with fiber, resistant starch, vitamins and minerals, beans and other legumes appear to help with blood sugar management and reduce risk factors for heart disease.

Tips: Sneak more beans into your meals. After draining and rinsing canned beans, toss a spoonful onto your green salad. Store the rest in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Make sure you don’t ignore the carbs. They’ll run you about 10 grams per ¼-cup serving. (Get more tips for including legumes in your diabetes meal plan.)

Oats and barley. Both of these grains contain a double-duty fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol and aid in blood sugar management.

Tips: Make your favorite pasta salad with barley instead, and sprinkle uncooked oats with nuts and raisins over yogurt or cottage cheese. Wholesome or not, you still need to watch your carb intake. Two tablespoons of raisins contain 15 grams of carbohydrates, so be careful with your portion size. Barley has about 22 grams per ½-cup serving. Oats contain about 15 grams in the same serving size. (Get more grain tips.)

Apples and pears. Could apples – and now pears – really keep the doctor away? Researchers found that eating these tasty, common fruits is associated with reduced risk of stroke.

Tip: Pay attention to the size of your fruits. A small apple or pear may provide only about 15 to 22 grams of carbohydrate, but jumbo fruits have much more. (Read about lower-carb fruit choices.)

Coffee. Go ahead. Have that cup of joe. Researchers suggest that drinking moderate amounts of coffee – defined as 3 to 5 small cups per day – may be linked to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Tip: Saturated fats in cream and added sugars aren’t given the same green light. Go easy on both. Better yet, drink your coffee straight or with a splash of low-fat milk. (Concerned about caffeine? Read more here.)

Tea. Not a coffee drinker? No problem. Tea may also have health benefits and is associated with a healthier heart.

Tips: The same cautions about what you stir into your coffee apply to tea. A squeeze of fresh lemon is a better choice than a spoonful of sugar or honey. Don’t get caught up on which tea may be the most healthful. Black, green, white and oolong teas come from the same plant. (Get more tips for selecting, storing and brewing tea.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE*, FAND, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition and 21 Things You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Heart. She is contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Diabetes Forecast and Kids Eat Right. She has a private practice in Newport News, VA. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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