March is National Nutrition Month and Diabetes Alert Day is Tuesday, March 22. If you already know you have diabetes, or know you are at risk, then incorporating a diabetes diet into your life is a great way to control your blood sugar.
I have a friend who keeps track of all those “national days.” Did you know there is a National Tap Dance Day, a National Chocolate-Covered Cashew Day and a Roller Coaster Day? She used to send me an (almost) daily e-mail announcing what "day" it was.
Well, this is a health column, so I will also tell you that March is National Nutrition Month and Diabetes Alert Day is Tuesday, March 22.
Since I am all about multi-tasking, I thought I'd combine these two and find a bit more about how diet and nutrition can help manage and even prevent diabetes.
It's no secret that the occurrence of diabetes continues to dramatically increase. This year, the American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 8 percent of the population has the disease. With serious complications, such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, neuropathy and even amputation, the direct medical cost of diabetes is $116 billion a year. Add another $58 billion for indirect costs, such as disability, work loss and premature death, and we're up to $174 billion a year!
The American Diabetes Association’s Alert Day is a wake-up call to people, challenging them to find out their risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The test is free and you can find it at www.stopdiabetes.com or by calling 1-800-DIABETES.
If you already know you have diabetes, or know you are at risk, then incorporating a diabetes diet into your life is a great way to control your blood sugar. It might sound scary, but it's simply a "healthy-eating plan that's naturally rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains," according to the Mayo Clinic.
"When you eat excess calories and fat, your body responds by creating an undesirable rise in blood glucose... which can lead to serious problems."
The plan emphasizes quality foods over the quantity of food you eat. For example:
Healthy carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and low-fat dairy products pack more bang for your carbohydrate buck.
Your body cannot digest or absorb dietary fiber, so foods like vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, whole-wheat flour and wheat bran can decrease your risk of heart disease and help control blood sugar levels.
Heart-healthy fish like cod, tuna and halibut have less fat and cholesterol than other meats. Salmon, mackerel and herring promote heart health by lowering blood fats called triglycerides. Avoid fried fish and those high in mercury such as tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel.
The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in avocados, almonds, pecans, walnuts, olives and canola, olive and peanut oils can help lower your cholesterol levels, but use them sparingly, as all fats are high in calories.
Be sure to avoid saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium.
Robyn Smith, registered nurse and diabetic specialist at the Natick, Mass., Visiting Nurse Association, recommends her patients enlist some help.
"Let your friends and family know that you are eating a certain way to manage your disease. How can they not support you in that?" said Smith.
She suggests people with active diabetes be vigilant about tracking their food intake.
"Keep a journal and track what you're putting in your body. If you are on insulin treatment, you may need to adjust your medications based on what you eat. Calorie King is a great resource. You can download it to your computer or smartphone and calculate the carbs, fat and protein in almost any food. Then you have the information you need to adjust your insulin dose,” said Smith.
In addition to managing diabetes, a diabetes diet can also reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain types of cancer and low bone mass in the future.
Eating a variety of foods in moderate amounts is good advice for just about anyone. So along with National Nutrition Month and Diabetes Alert Day, celebrate National Optimistic Month and National Clams on the Half Shell Day (I kid you not) this March.
Betsy Wadland is director of development for the Natick, Mass., VNA, a nonprofit health care organization providing home care to thousands of people throughout MetroWest each year. For more information, call the VNA at 508-653-3081.