Patients often come to me with varying levels of abnormal blood sugar—a “touch of diabetes” they’ve been told by their primary care physician. They’re not concerned about their elevated blood sugar because their doctor has not expressed concern. They have yet to be educated about the importance of making lifestyle changes now to avoid problems in the years to come.
Elevated blood sugar is nothing to ignore, especially if any of the other components of metabolic syndrome are also present—high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or nonalcoholic fatty liver. As a hepatologist, my job is to combat the diseases of the liver, but I see the impact that the combination of diseases resulting in metabolic syndrome have on my patients. That’s why I want patients to understand that diabetes is nothing to be taken lightly.
With diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or it doesn’t properly use the insulin it makes. The body uses insulin to convert sugars and starches to glucose, which fuel the body. But every year, more than three million people die from complications associated with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and more than 84 million have prediabetes, which means they have elevated blood sugar levels. Prediabetes puts you at risk for Type 2 diabetes, also known as insulin resistance, which causes elevated blood sugar or hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia puts a lot of stress on the pancreas because it cranks out insulin in an effort to stabilize blood sugar.
The good news? Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with healthier living, including a better diet.
But what does it mean to eat a diabetes-friendly diet? Such a diet includes a healthy dose of low-carb vegetables, adequate amounts of lean meats and other proteins, and smaller amounts of whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, and fruits. Portion sizes along with calorie, fats, and carbohydrate limits are very important to controlling diabetes.
One way to better understand a diabetes-friendly diet is to use the “plate method.” The plate method is a way of determining how much of different types of food to eat with a meal. An excellent interactive tool for using the plate method is available on the American Diabetes Association website.
With the plate method, your meal is divided into three portions—one half and two quarters.
- The half of the plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans. Ideally, eat fresh, but frozen or canned veggies are okay as long there are no added sugars, salt, or fatty ingredients (such as processed cheese or sauces).
- One of the quarter sections should contain low-fat protein such as chicken or turkey, fish, lean beef, low-fat dairy, egg whites, nuts, or beans.
- The other quarter sections can contain whole-grain foods such as bread; starches such as potatoes, pasta, or brown rice; or higher carbohydrate veggies such as peas and corn.
Foods to avoid include saturated and trans fats, which can be swapped for olive oil or oils made from some nuts and seeds. Also avoid processed foods because they often contain added, unhealthy ingredients. And switch out sodas, fruit juices, and other sweetened drinks for water.
If you are living a lifestyle that is putting you at risk for developing diabetes, then it’s time to take to make a change. That can start with a diabetes-friendly diet.