It’s never too late to improve your diet

Good news was presented at a scientific session of the American Heart Association and is especially important news for adults with diabetes.

For more than 26 years researchers have been following the health behaviors of female nurses in an observational study. The study included eating patterns and the connection in developing chronic diseases. This study took baseline histories of a group of nurses and then followed them for over 26 years to determine what types of chronic diseases developed in relation to lifestyle behaviors, including improved eating behaviors.

The nurses’ health study showed that of the nurses who were healthy at the beginning of the study, yet developed diabetes – those who adopted healthier eating behaviors had a 52 percent reduction in their risk of mortality from all causes. Of the nurses who were the healthiest eaters, they reduced their risk of cardiovascular mortality by 49 percent. One side effect of diabetes is an increased risk for cardiovascular or heart disease, which this research indicates that adopting a healthier diet can help provide positive results for those with diabetes.

The study showed that nurses who increased their consumption of whole grains, nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruits and fish (or fish oil) were the healthiest eaters. Foods such as red meat, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages including fruit juice and foods containing trans-fat and sodium were decreased in their meal plans.

Does this sound familiar? It should if you’ve heard about MyPlate. For diabetics following MyPlate, a plate would include making half the plate low carb vegetables, one-quarter of the plate starchy carbs and one-quarter of the plate lean protein. In addition, a serving of both fruit and low-fat or fat-free dairy should be a part of the meal.

Here are some additional tips from the American Diabetic Association for healthier eating behaviors:

  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Try picking from the rainbow of colors available to maximize variety.
  • Eat non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, broccoli or green beans with meals.
  • Choose whole grain foods over processed grain products. Try brown rice with your stir-fry or whole wheat spaghetti with your favorite pasta sauce.
  • Add dried beans (like kidney or pinto beans) and lentils into your meals.
  • Include fish in your meal two to three times a week.
  • Choose lean meats like cuts of beef and pork that end in "loin," such as pork loin and sirloin. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Choose non-fat dairy such as skim milk, non-fat yogurt and non-fat cheese.
  • Choose water, unsweetened tea, coffee and calorie-free "diet" drinks instead of regular soda, fruit punch, sweet tea and other sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • Choose liquid oils for cooking instead of solid fats, which can be high in saturated and trans fats. Remember that fats are high in calories. If you're trying to lose weight, watch your portion sizes of added fats.
  • Cut back on high calorie snack foods and desserts like chips, cookies, cakes and full-fat ice-cream.
  • Eating too much of even healthy foods can lead to weight gain. Watch your portion sizes.

For more information on reducing your risk of diabetes, how to improve your lifestyle living with diabetes and for ways to incorporate healthier habits, Michigan State University Extension offers programs including the National Diabetes Prevention Program and Dining with Diabetes to motivate you.

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