A Dietitian Weighs In On Diabetes Management

Meet Stacey Horodezny, a registered dietitian who has been specializing in diabetes for 15 years. Stacey works diligently to promote education about diabetes and is passionate about providing excellent services for people with diabetes and their families.

Recently, Kraft had the opportunity to talk with Stacey about the importance of food choices and meal planning as they relate to Type 2 diabetes. Here are Stacey's top five things you should know about Type 2 diabetes – from a dietician's perspective:

1. The diabetes way of eating is a healthy way of eating.

If you're living with diabetes, you don't have to deprive yourself of certain types of foods. In fact, all foods can fit into your diabetes meal plan, as long as you find the right balance between how often you eat them and the proper portion size.

Furthermore, diabetes meal plans can work for the entire family since they're based on Canada's Food Guide. So, if you're living with diabetes – or caring for someone who has the disease – you don't need to make separate meals. Your whole family will benefit from the healthy guidelines set out in Canada's Food Guide.

2. Get to know your carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

What you may not realize is that all foods – from baked apples to baked ziti – break down into a combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Carbohydrates: All carbohydrates are not created equal, so the glycemic index (GI) is frequently used to rate carbohydrates. Foods with a high GI rating – like plain white bread and soda crackers – will raise your blood sugar level much faster than foods with a low GI rating – like whole grain breads, yams and legumes. For people living with diabetes, it's especially important to consume low GI foods that won't send blood sugar levels soaring.

When setting meal plans and grocery shopping, try to select foods that are close to their natural state – like raw fruits and vegetables, converted and parboiled rice, and whole grain breads and cereals. To learn more about the glycemic index, visit the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Proteins: Your body needs proteins to build and maintain tissue. The good news is that meat, fish, shellfish, poultry and other proteins don't have a significant impact on blood sugar levels. But they do contain calories. Studies have shows a link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, even moderate weight loss can be beneficial to one's health. Losing one kilogram a year has been shown to increase life expectancy by three to four months.1

Fat: Like proteins, fats will not significantly impact blood sugar levels, and they are necessary for the healthy functioning of your vital organs. But all types of fats contain a great number of calories. Not surprisingly, fats contain more calories than proteins and carbohydrates. So, it's important to limit your consumption of fats. You should also pay close attention to the types of fats you eat.

  • Look for products low in saturated and trans fats, like low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat.
  • Go easy on butter, margarine, oil and salad dressing.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods, like steaming, grilling and roasting.
  • Steer clear of anything labeled "hydrogenated."
Controlling the types and amount of fat you eat can help control your weight and make it easier for you to manage your diabetes.

Source: 1. Diabetes and Obesity: Time to Act, International Diabetes Federation, 2004.

3. Spread meals and snacks throughout the day.

Perhaps three meals a day suits you just fine. Or, maybe your preference is for three meals plus snacks. Whether you snack or not, if you have diabetes, it's important to spread your meals throughout the day, as this will help regulate your blood sugar levels and prevent peaks and valleys.

It's also important to remember that snacking can easily add extra carbohydrates and calories, which can negatively impact your blood sugar and weight. When you snack, you need to reduce the size of your regular meals, so you don't overeat. If you're unsure about working snacks into your meal plans, seek expert advice from a dietician or your doctor.

4. Type 2 diabetes is a complex disease.

Many variables can make Type 2 diabetes difficult to control. Healthy food choices are only one part of a good diabetes management strategy. A dietician can provide the information and resources you need to successfully manage your diabetes by factoring in variables that pertain specifically to you, including:
  • Your diet
  • Your level of exercise
  • Your blood sugar levels
  • Any medications you're taking

5. Healthy living can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Since genetic risk factors are associated with Type 2 diabetes, it's important to instill the principles of healthy living in your children and/or grandchildren.

By teaching them early on to make proper food choices and to exercise regularly, you can help reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

And remember that healthy eating doesn't have to be boring. The Kraft Living Well with Diabetes program offers tasty recipes and menu ideas your whole family can enjoy. Likewise, browse the cooking section of your local bookstore. You can also increase the health quotient of your own recipes with these easy adaptations:

  • Choose healthier fats, and use less of them (i.e., look for trans-free and non-hydrogenated fats).
  • Reduce your consumption of sugar.
  • Select low GI foods (e.g., sweet potatoes) over their high GI counterparts (e.g., white potatoes).

And one final note...

What should you do if you find yourself craving a rich and decadent slice of molten chocolate cheesecake?

Don't deprive yourself. By working with your dietician, you can probably find a way to fit desserts and other treats into your meal plan. As with most things in life, it's about finding the balance that works for you.

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