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Starchy Vs Non-Starcy Vegetables

This is a question that I received from

Q:  I was recently diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes and I’m trying to follow a low fat diet.  I have a question I hope that you can answer.  Are sweet potatoes considered a vegetable and are they ok to eat in my diet?

Sweet potatoes are starchy vegetables, so they are much higher in carbohydrate than non-starchy vegetables.  Therefore, their carbohydrate content must be counted as part of your daily intake.  Half a medium sweet potato is considered one carbohydrate exchange (15 g carbohydrate).  The sweet potato is much higher in dietary fiber and lower in starch than the russet potato, and is therefore considered a better choice for those with diabetes.

If you are following a low-fat diet, cook the potatoes without using added fats or oils.  You can do this by baking or steaming them.


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Holiday Temptation

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Q:  I have diabetes and this time of year is the toughest for me.  It seems holiday treats/sweets are everywhere tempting me!  Is it ok to indulge a little?  If not, how can I build up enough will power to avoid holiday sweets?

The holiday season is a serious test of willpower for people with diabetes.  It really can seem like there are sweets around every corner at this time of year.  All you can do is try your best to avoid them, but remember that you are only human.  If you feel that you have to have a taste of your favorite holiday treat, don’t deprive yourself.  Just keep your servings small, the biggest hazard of holiday dinners is overeating.  Ask a friend or family member to split a cookie with you, or have half a slice of cake or pie instead of a whole one.  Do your best to make smart eating choices during this tempting time, but don’t be afraid to indulge just a little.

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The Low Sodium Lowdown

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Q:  I have pre-diabetes and have just been diagnosed with high blood pressure as well.  My doctor says to watch my sodium intake.  I feel like I’ve been hit with a double whammy!  In addition to trying to lose weight and watch my carb intake, I now have to watch my salt as well.  Could you give me some low salt ideas for dinner meals?

If you like to cook, maintaining a low sodium diet will be easy!  As long as you base your diet around fresh, nutritious foods you really can’t go wrong.  Experiment with different herbs and spices, and you will realize that it is easy to make flavorful foods without a bunch of added salt.  Make sure to include lots of vegetables at each meal, especially those that are high in potassium such as artichokes, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.  The high potassium content of these vegetables can actually help to regulate sodium levels in your body.  As always, avoid recipes that contain a lot of cheese or other high-fat dairy products, and use lean meats like fish and poultry.

For those who don’t cook often, adhering to any type of restricted diet is difficult.  If you really want to take charge of your health, I encourage you to get in the habit of cooking your own food.  Processed foods are usually packed with sodium and countless  other unhealthy ingredients.  However, if you must buy processed foods, be sure to check the labels for sodium content.  There are low sodium options for many foods, such as soups and cheeses.  Also, avoid smoked and cured meats such as lunch meats and jerky.

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The Soup

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Q:  I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last spring.  I enjoy eating hearty soups in the fall and winter months.  Can I still eat soup?  Are there any soups that are better for me to eat than others?

Soup can be an excellent choice for people with diabetes.  In fact, research has shown that eating soup at the beginning of a meal can increase satiety, making you feel more full and causing you to consume fewer calories throughout the rest of the meal.  However, you may have to make some modifications to the soups you usually enjoy.

  • Make homemade soups whenever possible, because canned soups tend to be high in sodium.  If you must buy canned soups, choose those labeled ‘low sodium’.
  • Make sure that the soups you eat are broth based rather than cream based, because cream soups have a much higher fat content.
  • Avoid high starch ingredients like potatoes, noodles, or white rice.  You could use whole grain pasta or brown rice as a substitute.
  • Use lean meats like chicken or turkey breast in your soup rather than using beef or other high-fat meats.

As always, make sure to include lots of vegetables!  Also, bean soups are a great source of fiber, and very tasty and filling!  A great idea for a diabetes-friendly soup would be a vegetarian or ground turkey chili.

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LOTS of Vegetables!

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Q:  I was just diagnosed with pre-diabetes.  The nurse told me to eat lots of vegetables.  Could you tell me what “lots of vegetables” means and what type of vegetables to consume?  Also, how should I prepare them?

I could go on all day about how amazing vegetables are, but I’ll try to keep this short!  EVERYONE should make vegetables a staple in their diet, whether they are at risk for diabetes or not.  Not only are they delicious and full of vitamins and minerals, but research has shown that they can reduce the risk for many diseases, especially cancer.

If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you will want to limit your intake of  starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas.  The great news is that you can have LOTS of non-starchy veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens,  artichokes, green beans, asparagus, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers (the last three are biologically fruits, but are often classified nutritionally as vegetables).  For people with diabetes, non-starchy vegetables are basically a ‘free food’ – they contain only about 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving, and most of those carbs come from fiber so you may not need to count them as carbohydrates unless you eat more than two servings at a time.  You should eat them in abundance, at least 3-5 servings a day.

There are several healthy ways to enjoy vegetables.  You can eat them raw, steamed, roasted, or sauteed in a small amount of olive oil (not butter).  Frozen vegetables can be convenient if you don’t have a lot of time to cook, just avoid boiling them because most of their healthy vitamins and minerals get leached out in the process.  DO NOT fry your veggies or smother them in dressings or cheese!

Replace unhealthy snacks with veggies - you'll be surprised how much better you feel!


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Finding Healthier Alternatives

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Q:  I have type 2 diabetes and love Mexican food.  Could you give me some tips on what to order at my favorite Mexican restaurant?

Breaking old habits can be difficult, but it is often necessary when you’re trying to plan a healthful diet.  You can still eat at your favorite restaurants as long as you learn to make healthier choices and practice portion control.

Many Mexican food selections are high in fat and carbohydrate, but following these simple tips will steer you toward some healthier choices:

◊  Make sure that the items you order are grilled or baked rather than fried.

◊  Lower the carb count of your meal by cutting at least one major carbohydrate item out of your meal.  For example, order your burrito without a tortilla or order your meal with no rice.

  Avoid high fat toppings like cheese and sour cream.  

Some healthier menu items include salsa, guacamole, black beans, grilled chicken or fish, and fresh salads (get the dressing on the side!).

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The Whole Truth

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Q: My husband has diabetes and we always eat whole wheat bread but wanted something different for a change.  Is rye bread or sourdough bread as good of an option as whole wheat?

Unfortunately, rye and sourdough breads are not good sources of whole grains, and would not be good choices for someone with diabetes.  However, there are so many different brands and varieties of whole grain bread to choose from that it should be easy to avoid boredom in your routine.  Whole grain, high-fiber foods are an important part of a healthy diet.

Just don’t forget that even whole grain breads must be consumed in moderation.  When counting carbs, a food that contains 15 grams of carbohydrate is considered one serving, and a person with diabetes should typically consume 3-4 servings of carbohydrate each day.  Keep this in mind, and choose foods made with  whole grains rather than refined starch, and you’ll be on the right track! 

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