No Cape Required
Unlocking the power of superfoods is a smart choice for people with diabetes
If Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, what can superfoods do? According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), they can help diabetics jump over the hurdles and pitfalls of their condition. The items on the ADA’s list of superfoods not only provide essential nutrients and fiber, they also avoid causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels.
J. Russell Harrington, MD, of St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Primary Care located on the Islands, believes that the ADA’s recommendations can benefit anyone who is looking to modify their diet.
“We have to remember that about 60 to 80 percent of our medical problems are based on modifiable risk factors, including diet,” Harrington says. “These recommendations help to reinforce common sense medicine. Why wouldn't we do better if we know better?”
Diabetes Education Specialist Aggie Cowan agrees wholeheartedly with Dr. Harrington. Cowan, who works with patients in St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Center for Diabetes Management, hopes that patients can get excited about replacing their refined, low-fiber snacks with nutrient-rich superfoods such as:
“Beans are listed at the top because of their high fiber content,” Cowan says. “These include all legumes like pinto, kidney, navy and black beans, as well as black-eyed peas, chick peas, red peas and lentils. The soluble fiber in these beans can slow the rise of the after-meal blood sugar level.”
Strawberries, blueberries, and other varieties are filled with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, and are delicious when paired with fat-free yogurt (which is further down the list).
Grapefruit, oranges, and tangerines are best in their whole form in order to get the benefits of soluble fiber.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Just as with another superhero, The Incredible Hulk, green equals power when it comes to these leafy vegetables. Spinach, kale, and collards are very low in carbs and calories and can be eaten plentifully.
Fat-free Milk and Yogurt
“I like that this recommendation is fat-free, because it is important to avoid saturated fats,” Harrington says. “Also, I think yogurt is a good source of healthy bacteria, which plays a role in good digestion and absorption.
Fish (high in omega-3 fatty acids)
“Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids,” Harrington says. “I would recommend choosing wild-caught salmon over farm-raised, if possible.”
“Nuts are great sources of vitamins, some protein and healthy fat, which can help keep us feeling full and slow the absorption of glucose,” Harrington says. “But avoid those packaged or roasted in oil, and since they are high calorie, I would recommend only a handful of mixed nuts every day.”
The ADA notes that sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index, or GI, than regular potatoes. A food’s GI is a measure of the effects of that food on blood sugar levels.
Raw, pureed, or in a sauce…these plump veggies provide vitamins and iron no matter how they are prepared.
“Make sure to read the ingredients for breads and other foods, and if it says enriched, bleached, and even unbleached, then they have processed out the healthy components,” Harrington says. “It really isn't a whole grain anymore.”
Cowan believes that including these foods in your meal plan does not have to be too costly if you are able to purchase the fruits and vegetables in season, while items like beans are often inexpensive throughout the year.
“The take-away from this list is that a carbohydrate-based diet is healthiest when you include high nutrient, high fiber whole foods on a regular basis,” she says. “Especially when you use them to replace less healthy, refined carbohydrates.”
Both Cowan and Dr. Harrington agree that someone who is facing a diabetes diagnosis, or really anyone who wants to make smart nutritional choices, should consider these superfoods the next time they are in the grocery store.
“Our foods truly can heal us or hurt us,” Harrington says.