I knew the word ‘super’ would get your attention! Information on ’superfoods’ is clogging our news and social media feeds, however most of the time these foods carry an expensive price tag without the benefit. When you’re managing diabetes there is no need to purchase exotic fruits, juices that hail from the tropics or green powders; but focus on your everyday foods that have actual proven benefits when it comes to your entire health.
Everyone with diabetes will eat different amounts of carbohydrate with some opting for the lower range to manage their blood glucose levels. Im not going to talk about carb quantity today, but instead highlight some nourishing foods that will really enhance the quality of your diet. At the end of the day, whether you going lower or higher, carb quality and the overall nutrient density of your eating pattern are key aspects to staying well.
Let's take a look at some of these quality foods.
Salmon and other oily fish
Salmon plus other types of oily fish like sardines, mackerel and (the dark part of) tuna contain lots of omega-3 fats. These fats improve blood flow and reduce inflammation, triglyceride levels and blood pressure – all factors associated with diabetes. They also pack quality protein to help you feel satisfied between meals and assist with muscle maintenance. Aim for 2-3 serves (150g being a serve) of oily fish a week.
Green leaves and vegetables with red and orange hues will provide beta-carotenes to improve your eye health. However, filling up on all non-starchy vegetables (despite the colour or type) will also give your diet a nutrient boost and make sure the protein and carbohydrate parts of your dish don’t take the full limelight.
Nuts are packed with healthy fats, potassium, vitamin E (an antioxidant), zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, plant sterols and fibre. Together, these nutrients make nuts the perfect diabetes defender by improving insulin sensitivity and heart health. When included as a part of a meal, nuts will lower the overall glycemic index (GI) and make you feel full for longer. Enjoy a small handful of any nut each day – just hold the salt.
Whether canned or dried, legumes such as lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas really are natures own ‘super food.’ These little delights boast a variety of vitamins and minerals and are a great source of protein, healthy fats and low GI carbohydrates (like really low...the carb takes a while to break down to glucose). It is recommended to enjoy these little gems at least 2-3 times a week. Some people managing their diabetes with meal time insulin may find it challenging to match their dose with the carb content of legumes - chat to your CDE or dietitian about managing this.
Pearl barley is a highly nutritious, nutty textured grain that can be used in soups and stews and as an alternative for rice. Not only is it packed with the goodness of minerals such as selenium, magnesium and phosphorus, it has a low GI. Barley also contains beta glucans that can help to lower blood cholesterol levels. Include small portions of barley in your main meals when searching for the perfect low GI carbohydrate component. Remember, count the carbs.
Traditional rolled oats (not the instant quick oats) also have a low GI and contain beta-glucans. Oats also contain magnesium, which helps the body use glucose and secrete insulin properly.
This ancient little pseudo-grain (it’s technically a seed) has become a staple in many households. Its popularity soared just a couple of years ago because it contains all 9 essential amino acids making it a “complete” protein. It is also gluten free and has a low GI making it an ideal choice, especially for people who have both coeliac disease and diabetes.
It doesn’t have to be the expensive, exotic type (think gogi and acai); enjoy every day berries like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the flavonoids (plant compounds) found in berries and other red and blue coloured fruits and vegetables may lower levels of insulin resistance and inflammation (remember, people with type 1 diabetes can still get insulin resistance). Although it is not known exactly how many berries are needed to have these effects, berries make the perfect addition to meals and snacks without overdoing the carbohydrate load.
Milk and yoghurt
Milk and yoghurt offers health benefits beyond bone health. A regular consumption can improve heart health, reduce fat mass and increase lean muscle mass. These benefits may be due to the type of fatty acids present, how the calcium binds to this fat, and the presence of additional nutrients. Milk and yoghurt also have a satiating (feeling of fullness) quality due to its low GI and protein content, meaning you are less likely to reach for energy dense, nutrient poor snack foods when you include milk and yoghurt in your diet. Again, count the carbohydrate (lactose) when consuming milk and yoghurt.
Of course your shopping list and pantry will include more foods that are healthy for you. But hopefully this article has highlighted some diabetes defenders that you can put back in your diet to enhance the overall quality.
Going against the grain...
A recent scientific review looking at dietary patterns and chronic disease risk showed that plant-based foods were more protective against chronic disease risk compared to animal-based foods. Amongst plant foods, grain-based foods such as oats and barley seemed to have a small edge, even over our fruits and vegetables. So much for the recent trend to go ‘against the grain.’ People with diabetes just always need to consider the amount on their plate, and the impact that the entire meal has on blood glucose levels. You can still follow a lower carb diet (if that's the way you like it) and include some quality grains such as oats, barley and quinoa.