All kinds of obstacles may get in the way of healthy eating – from food cravings to busy schedules to picky eaters, but one of the biggest issues I’ve seen is what I call “nutrition confusion.” That can mean seeing foods with questionable nutrition get a nod of approval, but it can also mean that some foods with a bad reputation may actually deserve a place on your diabetes-friendly shopping list. Here are my five favorite surprisingly healthy foods.
The concern: This high glycemic index (GI) fruit will spike your blood glucose.
The real deal: Watermelon may actually be a great snack or part of a healthy diabetes meal plan; it’s a good source of Vitamins C and A, and contains Vitamins B6 and B1, potassium, and magnesium as well. Yes, any carb-rich food (all fruits, starches, desserts, sugar, milk, and yogurt) may cause a rise in blood glucose, especially if you eat a large portion of it, which can happen with delicious watermelon. In addition, each person responds to various foods differently, and that depends on a number of factors, including what else you’re eating and what your blood glucose is at the start of the meal. The key is to eat the amount of carbohydrate that fits into your meal plan. A good portion for watermelon is 1¼ cups cubed melon, which contains about fifteen grams of carbohydrate.
The concern: Avocados are too high in fat for good health.
The real deal: It’s true, nearly three-quarters of the calories in an avocado comes from fat, but that fat is almost entirely the monounsaturated kind. Replacing unhealthy saturated and trans fats with better-for-you monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids gets a green light from me. (Extra tip: Nuts also boast healthy fats, so you may want to see how they might fit into your meal plan.)
The concern: Potatoes are fattening and filled with empty calories.
The real deal: I’m here to defend white potatoes! Actually, this vegetable is essentially fat- and cholesterol-free with about 160 calories per medium spud. Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium and Vitamin C, and a good source of fiber and magnesium, a mineral that may aid blood glucose management. Just be sure to include the carbs (thirty-seven grams in a medium potato) in your overall count and avoid fat-laden toppings like butter and sour cream. Consider opting for fresh salsa instead.
The concern: Coffee is bad for you.
The real deal: This might be the biggest surprise, but that tasty cup of joe contains antioxidants and is linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, coffee can actually help keep people hydrated. Even drinks with caffeine count toward our daily water requirements. One caveat: Drink in moderation and watch out for all those add-ins – such as syrups, cream, and sugar – that may go in many coffee drinks. Those additions can turn a calorie-free, carb-free beverage into a drink with lots of calories and carbs.
The concern: This leaf is a big zero on the nutrient scale.
The real deal: It’s accurate to say that iceberg lettuce is not as full of nutrients as spinach, romaine, or other dark leafy greens, but if you like its taste and crunch, go ahead and enjoy it. A small head has only forty-five calories and ten grams of carbohydrate, and it may help you sneak in some veggie servings with something you enjoy eating. And, since iceberg is more than ninety percent water, it may help you feel full, as well. As a bonus, one cup of shredded iceberg lettuce gives you nineteen percent of the recommended intake for Vitamin K.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, 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.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience